- Colleges' capital investment into existing facilities is at its highest in more than a decade, reaching nearly $5 per gross square foot in 2017, and more will be needed — even as many colleges face enrollment declines and chronic budget gaps, according to a new report by Sightlines that pulled data from 360 campuses.
- Institutions scrambled to add new buildings in the years following the Great Recession to lure more students, but this "arms race" could leave many colleges "with swollen campus footprints and declining tuition revenues."
- Higher education has had two periods marked by high levels of building construction in the past 125 years, one from 1950 to 1975 and one from 2000 to today. Over the next decade, buildings from both of these periods will require a large amount of capital investment, "whether or not the resources to meet that demand exist," the report notes.
Backlogs of needed building maintenance are projected to increase as colleges fail to generate the necessary funds for what the report calls "the largest demand for capital investment that higher education has ever seen."
Other recent reports have warned of similar problems. Colleges and universities have overspent on new construction beyond what enrollment levels required, creating a backlog of maintenance, according First American. The lender suggests that budget squeezes are also keeping some colleges from developing appropriate security measures, implementing new technology on campus and slowing their uptake of energy efficiency measures that would save money over time.
Colleges are already feeling the effects from maintenance backlogs. Missouri's public institutions, for example, need more than $1.4 billion to fix more than 2,400 buildings, according to a report from the state's higher education department. The agency noted that common issues include failing pipes, crumbling sidewalks, and carpets full of holes.
And on the West Coast, University of California System campuses have an estimated $4 billion backlog in maintenance that is resulting in overcrowded campuses and deteriorating roofs and cooling systems, while the California State University System has a similar deferred maintenance backlog of $3.7 billion.