The State of Facilities in Higher Education Highlights Trends Further Aggravated by COVID-19 Pandemic

April 14, 2020

Gordian’s research and compilation of the 7th Edition of the State of Facilities in Higher Education report confirms the continuation of troubling trends.

Greenville, SC – Gordian released the 7th edition of the State of Facilities in Higher Education report, which confirms a deepening disconnect between space growth and enrollment trends. Over the last decade campuses have continued to expand at a rate of 8.5% to 19%, depending on institution type, despite demographic declines in traditional-aged students that are projected to accelerate in 2026 and extend far into the future.

The combination of swollen campus footprints and declining tuition revenues has been aggravated even further by the COVID-19 pandemic, putting many institutions at risk for the foreseeable future. Facilities strategies are at the forefront of the industry’s race to confront its greatest challenge in generations.

“Current events and trends highlighted in this year’s State of Facilities report will be a catalyst for forward-thinking actions in the rapidly changing higher education environment,” said Pete Zuraw, Vice President of Market Strategy and Development for Gordian. “There has never been a clearer set of signals that now is the time for leaders to reevaluate the future of their institutions.“

Each year, Gordian compiles an extensive amount of information on higher ed campus facilities from its Sightlines database, then releases the findings in the State of Facilities in Higher Education report. The study includes data from 325 higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada, with a collective enrollment of 3.5 million students and 1.4 billion total square feet of campus space. Approximately 40% of the institutions in the study were private and 60% were public.

Throughout the report, the database research and expert insights also affirm the following trends that are shifting the higher education landscape:

  • Facilities backlogs have grown nearly 30% over the last decade, surpassing the $100/GSF mark nationally. This caps a steady climb that began in 2011 and presents a real threat to higher education institutions.
  • Funding shortfalls to annual investment targets are approaching 20%, guaranteeing that some campus demands are being deferred to future years.
  • Compounding the problem, the construction age of buildings reveals that the two greatest historical surges of construction are producing equipment and system life cycles that will overlap in about 10 years.

The report also details four key strategies to help leaders achieve their institutional mission amid the current environment: actionable institutional planning, aligning priorities, transparent communication and controlling and optimizing facilities expenditures. With schools now utilizing online learning by necessity for the remainder of the 2020 spring semester, there are opportunities to explore creative facility utilization strategies in real-time. The current events unfolding on our campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic only underscore the fundamental importance of effective space utilization and a prioritized facilities’ maintenance plan.

Click here to download the full report.