Tackling the Deferred Maintenance Crisis

Tackling the Deferred Maintenance Crisis

Five Things Every Institutional Leader Should Know About the Campus Threat and Strategies to Improve

Colleges and universities face daunting deferred maintenance backlogs. Budget shortfalls are only amplifying the issue, and maintenance needs have begun to impact the student experience, impair critical research efforts, and ultimately prevent institutions from achieving their strategic goals.

Our briefing outlines five insights campus leaders should keep in mind when navigating deferred maintenance decisions.

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Address Critical Deferred Maintenance Backlogs Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

1. Deferred maintenance is not just a Facilities problem—it affects everyone

Deferred maintenance has been a top priority for facilities leaders for decades. As institutions face aging buildings and growing maintenance backlogs, tackling deferred maintenance has increasingly become a primary concern for boards, presidents, academic leaders, and students. The growing attention on deferred maintenance is unsurprising given that maintenance issues affect all areas of campus. Unaddressed capital needs have a direct impact on the ability of other leaders to recruit students or attract star faculty critical to research excellence.

Facilities forced to make budget trade-off between planned maintenance and landscaping/grounds

Facilities must sink research lab renewal dollars into unexpected HVAC failure in same building

Facilities deprioritizes classroom upgrades in favor of infrastructure investments

Facilities executive told to refresh teaching labs, expands work to address critical overdue renewal

VP of Enrollment Management worries about recruiting students due to diminishing curb appeal of campus

Provost unable to recruit star faculty with current research labs

Deans forced to invest their own budget into upgrading classrooms and lecture halls

CBO becomes frustrated when a series of modernization and renewal projects go over budget

2. Capital renewal needs are more complicated than a single backlog number

Most institutions can point to a single number that represents their deferred maintenance backlog. This figure roughly approximates all projects a campus must complete to return various infrastructure components (like roofs and foundations) and building systems (like plumbing and HVAC) to “like-new” condition.

It’s a whole lot better to get $10 million a year for 10 years than to get nothing for nine years and then have $100 million dumped on you all at once.

Dennis Bailey, Senior Associate VP, Facilities, Florida State University

3. Diminishing Facilities resources have fueled growing backlogs

Nearly all institutions face declining revenues due to changes in enrollment, public support, research funding, and debt capacity. Unfortunately, tightening budgets have negatively impacted Facilities units the most.

At public institutions, every spending category has risen above its pre-recession level—except plant operations and maintenance (O&M) spending, which has dropped 8% since 1987. At private institutions, plant O&M has grown at less than 1% each year, the slowest pace compared to the other categories.


average growth of deferred maintenance backlog compared to inflation
average growth of deferred maintenance backlog compared to inflation

4. While daunting, the backlog is surmountable

Addressing a growing deferred maintenance backlog represents one of the single greatest challenges facing most campuses. However, there are a select number of institutions that have achieved zero (or close to zero) deferred maintenance. And while not every strategy will be replicable for each institution, these campuses offer pieces of a roadmap that others can pursue.

One institution that has seen great success in the past decade is the University of Denver. Their estimated backlog in 2007 was $145 million. Recognizing that figure would seem insurmountable to the board, Facilities leaders first set aside three components: $51 million in long-term needs, $19 million of non-critical work in low-priority buildings, and $11 million for projects with potential donors. Facilities leaders framed the remaining $64 million as $12.8 million a year for the next five years.

5. EAB has a suite of resources to help you address your backlog

Progressive institutions offer a number of lessons on how higher education can begin to turn the tanker and address the deferred maintenance backlog. To equip institutions with the information they need, the Facilities Forum offers multiple resources.

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