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Campus facilities operations are approaching a fundamental shift

What top challenges facilities leaders are facing in 2024

March 18, 2024, By Molly Bell, Research Analyst

The last several years have brought significant changes to higher education. Leaders have navigated the pandemic, disrupted labor markets, changing expectations from students and their families, and uncertainty on both political and economic fronts. These changes have unquestionably impacted campus footprints and operations.

To understand the magnitude of the impact, EAB surveyed Facilities and Estates organizations across North America, Europe, and Oceania during December 2023 to better understand their challenges and opportunities. Five key findings rose to the top across the survey.

Financial sustainability and budget pressures are the top challenges Facilities leaders are facing…

With an ever-looming economic recession, inflation, and daily announcements of budget cuts in higher ed, it is no surprise that 44% of Facilities leaders list financial sustainability and budget pressures as their top challenge in the next year.

Top challenges facing Facilities and Estates leaders

  • Financial sustainability: 44%
  • Deferred maintenance: 15%
  • Space utilization: 9%
  • Talent: 9%

Meanwhile, only 37% of institutions have a budget model that even charges for space. Given budget model restrictions and increasing pressures to reduce costs, Facilities leaders need to evaluate their cost containment options.

…But talent management remains a strategic priority

For the third year in a row, talent remains a pressing concern for Facilities leaders with nearly three-quarters indicating it as among their top priorities. Institutions continue to struggle with recruitment and retention for skilled tradespersons and janitorial/cleaning positions with average vacancy rates of 13% and some experiencing vacancy rates as high as 40%. Amid record-setting employee turnover and disengagement, higher ed leadership teams have little choice but to rethink how they recruit and retain talent.

Institutions are still reluctant to eliminate space despite lower utilization post-pandemic

The pandemic saw major shifts in campus space utilization due to increases in remote and hybrid work. These trends persist today with usage rates of academic and administrative offices only around 50%. When it comes to classroom space, institutions use centrally owned classrooms more effectively than college/department-owned classrooms, with average utilization being 15% higher (59% vs. 44%).

Facilities leaders are optimistic they could reduce about 20% of office space and 12% of total campus space without impacting student success and customer satisfaction. However, political considerations, as well as maintaining a level of buffer space, often limit the ability to eliminate space. Despite these limitations, any reduction in total campus space would have a significant impact on overall Facilities management, including cost savings and talent distribution.

Most institutions are making progress towards sustainability goals with reductions in carbon emissions on campus

Based on our survey from 2022, more than 65% of survey participants reported their institution had committed to achieving carbon net zero. Many institutions have already made progress on their goals with 85% of schools decreasing their emissions by an average of 11% annually since January 2021, with some seeing reductions as high as 30%.

While 2050 remains the most common target for carbon emission reduction, a growing number of universities have selected dates between 2030 and 2045 for their initial targets, especially for scopes one and two of emissions.

Satisfaction with CMMS systems continues to decrease

EAB has been tracking CMMS vendor adoption and satisfaction since 2017. Archibus, AiM Asset Work, and IBM Maximo are the most common vendors among respondents, but there has been an increase among institutions using other CMMS vendors.

Percentage of institutions using various CMMS platforms

  • AiM Asset Works: 14%
  • Archibus: 29%
  • IBM Maximo: 17%
  • WebTMA: 2.9%
  • Other: 29%

However, compared to near-universal satisfaction with CMMS systems in 2021, leaders reported their lowest level of positive experience with their systems since EAB began tracking this data: only 27% of institutions reported being satisfied with their CMMS product.

Molly Bell

Molly Bell

Research Analyst

Read Bio

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