Higher education capital planning isn’t getting any easier. Students at many colleges and universities are returning in droves now that COVID-related restrictions are being lifted, but the flow of attendees is anything but predictable. Will more students use online and hybrid options, or are they eager to return for the traditional campus experience? Among those who do return, what are their expectations regarding amenities, upkeep and technological improvements?

Either way, are you prepared?

Higher education institutions must also consider the financial impacts of still-in-place pandemic restrictions and new rules regarding sanitation, distancing, and building alterations designed to tackle the lingering threat.

Three-quarters of institutions spent more than they expected keeping up with COVID protocols such as face masks and social distancing, according to a recent survey. At the same time, 87% also experienced a loss of revenue from conferences and other events. On average, that loss was between $5 and $35 million.

With enrolment and attendance constantly in flux, addressing these concerns through capital planning is a game of logistical cat and mouse.

Fortunately, there are a few strategies that can make higher education capital planning more accurate and reliable, even with so much uncertainty. From data-driven project prioritization to work order automation and detailed asset tracking, Here are a few specific steps you can take.

Prioritize high-traffic facilities

Lecture halls, large classrooms, and other high-traffic areas are often at the top of the list for capital expansion projects, but are these still the places most important to your students and faculty? With distance learning growing more popular, these areas that were once central to campus life may become less so. Even students who live on campus may choose to watch recordings of some lectures online while only attending in person those that require more discussion and interaction

On the other hand, student unions, gyms, cafeterias and conference centers may become even more central to campus life. Learning is possible from afar, but group projects, hands-on learning, dining, events and other auxiliary services are still major draws to your campus. If your large lecture halls are still relatively well-equipped to meet your needs but your conference center needs some work, consider carefully which capital improvements will produce the greatest ROI.

Of course, prioritizing high-traffic, high-attraction areas requires hard data. For instance:

  • What is the average daily occupancy for your lecture halls?
  • How much did you spend on maintenance and upkeep at your conference center prior to the pandemic compared to the revenue it brought in?
  • Which residence halls had the most work orders and the highest overall maintenance costs?
  • How often do equipment breakdowns occur in your student dining facilities?

Answering these questions can help you keep up with daily maintenance and guide your capital planning decisions. With greater insight into the use of your facilities, you can also allocate maintenance labor hours more efficiently.

Balance long-term projects with short-term risks

Imagine you’re about to embark on a campus expansion that’s been in the works for years. Several new buildings are set for construction, along with a few long-awaited renovations to your oldest buildings. Based on feedback from students, faculty, and prospects, you’ve determined this project will pay for itself through greater enrolment numbers, higher tuition rates, and rent from food vendors occupying the new space.

The problem? This project will take three years, and students’ daily lives will be significantly disrupted. Between construction noise, rerouted commutes, and temporarily unavailable facilities, life on campus won’t be the same. Current students may consider transferring. Potential students will be less impressed, and non-tenured faculty may think about taking their careers elsewhere.

This project will also tie up a large amount of your capital planning budget. You’ll have to postpone other projects, and your maintenance backlog will grow.

This isn’t to say you should avoid long-term, major capital outlays in favor of backlog reduction and day-to-day facilities management tasks, but you still need to consider the impact.

At a time when many organizations are re-evaluating their real estate strategy, any significant expense should serve the mission and values of your school, provide a clear ROI, and minimally impact your present-day ability to retain students and faculty.

Track facilities and assets

To make the best capital planning decisions, you need real-time insight into all your buildings and equipment.

You need to know where every printer and copier is located, the age of each asset, and how much you spend on repairs for them.

Your financial decision-makers should have the same knowledge of equipment repair and replacement costs as your maintenance crews and vendors. The same goes for renovations, repairs, and routine maintenance in your buildings. These expenses likely comprise a tremendous portion of yearly outlays, and you need a reliable asset tracking system to plan them.

Consider a furnace in one of your residence halls that has aged past its expected lifespan, but has proven to be reliable and incurred lower-than-expected maintenance costs. Based on the singular piece of lifespan data, your capital planners might choose to replace it. With insights from your digital inspection records, however, they’d understand it would be an unnecessary expense.

This level of detail is difficult to track, particularly between different departments without the right tools.

Develop a preventive maintenance strategy

Given thinly stretched budgets and constant demands, many universities still employ a deferred maintenance strategy, repairing buildings and equipment only when they are at or near a failure point. While this strategy may seem financially sound in the near term, it is costly in the long run and hampers accurate capital planning. A plan that seems sound at the beginning of the fiscal year can quickly fall apart when costly, unexpected repairs require the immediate use of previously accounted-for funds.

In fact, every $1 in deferred maintenance costs could cost up to $4 in related failures and replacements, according to a recent study by Allegion. A long maintenance backlog also tends to coincide with visibly declining facilities and safety hazards, both of which hinder student retention and a productive learning environment.

Some assets are fine to run to failure, but with so many building systems, state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, and other assets needed to maintain a comfortable, attractive campus, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Preventive maintenance software makes it easy to schedule these activities in advance, assign them to the right technicians, and keep track of the costs.

Streamlining capital planning with EAM software

While the pandemic has made some aspects of capital planning more challenging, having the right data at your fingertips makes it easier.

Enterprise asset management (EAM) software brings all your assets, maintenance, inspection, inventory and vendor data into one digital, mobile platform so you can make decisions based on real-time and historical information.

You can store detailed information on each asset, including its age, cost, lease agreement, warranty information, and inspection and repair history, making it easier to decide whether to repair or replace it.

You can schedule and track preventive maintenance, optimize purchasing, and even manage work orders and payments to vendors from the same place.

When you have an efficient process for managing all your campus facilities and assets, you can spend more time focusing on the future.

Solve your campus facility management challenges with EAM software. Download our Ebook

To learn more about how EAM software can solve your biggest campus facility management challenges, download our e-book.

About the author

Jason Cockerham

Jason is a storyteller at heart with a career spanning everything from film and TV to iPhones. Just don't expect much before his first cup of coffee.
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