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by Shari L. Ellertson

Shari Ellertson is a doctoral student in educational leadership and policy studies at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. She can be reached at sellert@iastate.edu. This is her first article for Facilities Manager. Special thanks to Professor John Schuh for his encourgement and advice on this research.

Chances are pretty good that America's most beautiful campuses have provided an ideal setting for many students, faculty, and guests to take a leisurely stroll at some time or other. Is the appearance of a college or university campus important? If so, how does one judge aesthetic success or beauty?

In fact, the beauty and appearance of the campus may be more important than is realized. A Carnegie Foundation survey published in 1986 found that 60 percent of college-bound students indicated "visual environment was the most important factor in choosing a college." In addition to marketing, facilities play an important part in retaining students (Lenington, 1996). If true, the aesthetic appeal of a campus is particularly important in the current times where enrollment issues are critical and institutions look for ways to set themselves apart from the competition.

Gaines (1991) identified spatial planning, architecture, landscaping, and overall appeal as criteria for determining America's best campuses. He suggested that most of America's colleges and universities are "condemned to visual mediocrity" for lacking the ability to create and sustain aesthetic traditions. Gaines, however, identified the "top 50" campuses that when evaluated on the four aforementioned criteria stand above the rest. He cited these campuses as "works of art."

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has also rewarded campuses for outstanding aesthetic achievement. Their Medallion Program (ASLA, 1999) recognized 362 outstanding landscapes in 1999, 16 of which were college or university campuses (R. Leighton, personal communication, October 10, 2000). Medallions were awarded to landscapes that "improve the quality of life in communities around the nation" (ASLA, 1999).

Eight campuses received distinctions of both "top 50" as identified by Gaines (1991) and Medallion Award Winner as bestowed by ASLA (1999). Iowa State University is one of those campuses. ISU publicizes these awards in marketing and promotional materials and calls attention to the awards as "Points of Pride" (ISU, 2000). Certainly, Iowa State is not alone in trying to extend the benefits of being award winners. Prospective and current students, alumni and major donors, the Board of Regents, and the state of Iowa can all take pride in these accomplishments, which hopefully will translate into higher enrollment and retention rates, increased private gifts, sustained support from the state, and elevated status and prestige for the university.

Well-planned, operated, and maintained facilities and grounds, however, do not come without a price. Nonetheless, the funding pattern would suggest otherwise. Funding for operation and maintenance of plant has declined steadily over time, from 12 percent of the total education and general expenditures in 1929-30 to 7 percent in 1989-90 (NCES, 1998).

Furthermore, budget reductions and deferred maintenance strategies have put additional stress on physical plants (Gardiner, 1984; Lenington, 1996). Although deferred maintenance may serve as temporary relief for budget shortfalls, Gardiner called this "select neglect." In other words, every time an institution chooses deferred maintenance, it is, in effect, postponing crucial work that will lead to more problems and greater costs later on.

So, how is it that some campuses are able to maintain functional, aesthetically pleasing, and even award-winning spaces given that overall funding of operation and maintenance of plant has decreased over time? Is the amount spent on operation and maintenance of plant somehow reflected in the recognition or awards that are bestowed upon the colleges and universities? This study was initiated to explore four general questions:

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) were used to gather data for this study. Following are the detailed descriptions of how data were collected and analyzed.

Data were collected from the IPEDS Finance Surveys for the years 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999. IPEDS pooled and calculated data on the selected institutions. Ratios of Operation and Maintenance of Plant to Total Education and General Expenditures and Transfers were calculated.

The IPEDS Finance Survey defines operation and maintenance of plant as follows:

Report all expenditures for operations established to provide service and maintenance related to grounds and facilities used for educational and general purposes. Also include expenditures for utilities, fire protection, property insurance, and similar items. Do not include expenditures made from the institutional plant funds account.

The IPEDS Finance Survey identifies Total Educational and General Expenditures (E&G) and Transfers as the sum of the following categories: instruction, research, public service, academic support, student services, institutional support, operation and maintenance of plant, scholarships and fellowships, mandatory transfers, and nonmandatory transfers.

The "top 50" colleges and universities identified as "works of art" by Gaines (1991) and the 16 selected by ASLA (1999) for the Medallion Award were used in this study (see Table 1). Among the "top 50," 13 institutions received the highest ratings, thus placing them in the "top tier." Twenty institutions received the next highest ratings, making them the "second tier," leaving 17 institutions to occupy the "third tier." Two institutions from the "top 50" could not be identified and were eliminated from this study. Of the ASLA Medallion Award recipients, eight of them were also in Gaines' "top 50," making the number of different institutions in this study total 56.

Table 1: Institutions Identified as "Top 50" (1991) or ASLA Medallion Award Recipients (1999)

Top Tier (in ranked order) 2nd Tier (in alpha order) 3rd Tier (in alpha order) Medallion Award Winners (in alpha order)
Stanford* Air Force Academy Arizonza State Bowling Green State
Princeton U. Cal - San Diego U. Cal - Los Angeles U. Cal - Berkeley
Wellesley U. of Chicago U. Cal - Santa Cruz, Stevenson* College of Charleston
U. of Colorado Duke Connecticut College U. of Dayton
Indiana U. (Bloomington) U. of Illinois, Chicago Emory Furman
Evergreen U. of Illinois, Urbana Grinnell Iowa State
Columbia Iowa State* Harvard Michigan State
Mount Holyoke Johns Hopkins Kenyon U. of Michigan
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Michigan State U. of Massachusetts, Boston U. of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)
SUNY Albany U. of North Carolina (Cahpel Hill)* Oberlin Stanford
Louisian State U. of Pennsylvania SUNY Purchase U. of Toledo
U. of Kansas Smith Union* Union
U. of Wisconsin-Madison U. of South Carolina Wake Forest Utah State
Swarthmore Washington University U. of Virginia
Sweet Briar William and Mary Weber State
U. of Virginia*
U. of Washington, Seattle
U. of West Florida

Note: One campus could not be identified and was eliminated.
* Indiciates 1999 Medallion Award Recipient, Amercian Society of Landscape Architects

Data Collection
All data were collected using the IPEDS Peer Analysis System that is accessible via the World Wide Web. The data can be accessed online at: www.nces.ed.gov/ipeds.

Data Analysis
The IPEDS Peer Analysis System provides a variety of data calculation options online. In order to obtain the percentage of E&G expenditures spent on operation and maintenance of plant, this study employed the use of the ratio function. IPEDS divided the amount of money spent by each institution on operation and maintenance of plant by the total educational and general (E&G) expenditures and transfers for those institutions in the same survey year. Ratios were calculated for 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999. Data was transferred to a Microsoft Excel 2000 spreadsheet where means and medians were calculated. For this study, medians are reported as they account for outlying data, that is, data that are extremely large or small and present the possibility of skewing the set. Complete (or very nearly complete) data sets were obtained for the years 1990, 1995, and 1996. Data for private institutions are not complete for the years 1997, 1998, and 1999; thus, although those data were collected, they are not reported in this study. Lastly, where differences are discussed in this study, statistical analyses were not conducted; therefore, the differences noted are practical in nature.

Patterns of decline (as previously noted) in the percentage of E&G spent on operation and maintenance of plant continued into the 1990s. For campuses that have been identified as "works of art," the situation is no different. With few exceptions, nearly all campuses in the "top 50" experienced some decrease in the percentage of E&G spent on operation and maintenance of plant. The same is true for campuses that received ASLA's Medallion Awards. Following is a presentation of the results that address the four guiding questions of this study.

By Rank
The first two questions of this study explored whether a difference exists in the percentage of E&G spent on operation and maintenance of plant among "top 50" campuses and between them and other institutions of higher education. Table 2 reports data by rank as obtained through IPEDS and also presents data for all institutions as reported by NCES (1998). There is little difference in the amount spent on operation and maintenance of plant between the top, second, and third tiers of rankings nor is there much difference between them and all institutions. In fact, it appears that institutions ranked as "top tier" may spend slightly less than second and third tier institutions and all institutions, suggesting that they are not outspending their competition. Thus, they are not receiving awards because they spend more money. Between 1990 and 1996, there was an overall decrease in the percentage of E&G spent on operation and maintenance of plant in each of these rankings, ranging from 0.5 - 1.0 percent.

Table 2: Percentage of Education and general Expenditures Spent on Operation and Maintenance of Plant by Rank, 1990, 1995 and 1996

Rank 1990 1995 1996
Top Tier (N=13) 7.0 % 6.0 % 6.0 %
2nd Tier (N=19) 7.0 % 7.0 % 6.5 %
3rd Tier (N=16) 7.0 % 7.0 % 6.0 %
All Institutions 7.0 % 6.4 % 6.5 %

Institutional Characteristics
The third question of this study was to look at institutional type (Carnegie classification) and institutional control in the "top 50" campuses to see if there were noticeable differences in the percent of E&G spent on operation and maintenance of plant. Tables 3 and 4 present these data.

Table 3: Percentage of Education and General Expenditure Spent on Operation ad Maintenance of Plant by Institutional Type, 1990, 1995, and 1996

Institutional Type 1990 1995 1996
R I (N=26) 6.5 % 6.0 % 5.0 %
R II (N=3) 8.0 % 6.0 % 6.0 %
D I (N=1) 6.0 % 5.0 % 5.0 %
D II (N=1) 4.0 % 4.0 % 4.0 %
M I (N=3) 9.0 % 8.0 % 8.0 %
B I (N=11) 9.0 % 8.0 % 7.5 %
B II (N=2) 14.5 % 11.5 % 11.5 %
O/S (N=1) 17.0 % 22.0 % 25.0 %

Table 4: Percentage of Education and General Expenditures Spent on Operation and Manetenance of Plant by Institutional Control, 1990, 1995 and 1996

Institutional Control 1990 1995 1996
Private (N=22) 7.0 % 7.0 % 6.7 %
Public (N=26) 7.0 % 6.5 % 6.0 %
All Privates 6.4 % 6.0 % 6.1 %
All Publics 7.4 % 6.6 % 6.7 %

By Carnegie Classification
When broken down by Carnegie classification, the majority of the "top 50" campuses were Research I institutions (N=26), followed by Baccalaureate I (N=11), with other categories being represented in single digit numbers. The Research and Doctoral institutions showed the most modest spending on operation and maintenance of plant compared to the Baccalaureate, Masters, and Other Specialized. It is important to note that research dollars are included in Education and General Expenditures. Research I and II institutions would presumably have greater total research dollars which are figured into their E&G. This creates the possibility that their data are skewed due the large amount of research money in their budgets.

The one institution identified as "Other Specialized" consistently had a much higher percentage of E&G spent on operation and maintenance of plant than other institutions. Its percentage of E&G spent on plant was up to five times more than some of the other categories. Furthermore, it was one of five institutions in the "top 50" whose percentage increased from 1990 to 1996. Its increase, however, was "8 percent", whereas the other institutions that increased did so on a more modest level, from 1 to 4 percent. Aside from "Other Specialized," most categories saw a 1 to 3 percent decrease in percentage spent on operation and maintenance of plant from 1990-1996.

By Institutional Control
Twenty-two of the "top 50" institutions were identified as under private control and 26 were identified as public. There were similar funding patterns in both types from 1990 to 1996 with the publics declining slightly more over this time period, 1 percent. The private institutions in the "top 50" seem to hold their own and only declined by 0.3 percent.

Data on percentages of E&G spent on operation and maintenance of plant for all public and private institutions of higher education (NCES, 1998) are presented for comparison purposes in Table 4. Public institutions in the "top 50" spend slightly less than all public institutions, whereas privates in the top 50 spend slightly more (nearly 1 percent) than all privates.

Award Status
The final question that guided this study was whether or not a difference existed in percent of E&G spent on operation and maintenance of plant between institutions who were given the Medallion Award by ASLA (1999) and those who were identified as "works of art" (Gaines, 1991) but who were not recognized by ASLA.

Table 5: Percentage of Education and General Expenditures Spent on Operation and Maintenance of Plant by ASLA Award Status, 1990, 1995 and 1996

Award Status 1990 1995 1996
ASLA winners (N=16) 7.0 % 6.0 % 6.0 %
Non-ASLA winners (N=40) 7.0 % 7.0 % 6.0 %

Eight of the institutions that were characterized as "works of art" in 1991 also were awarded by ASLA in 1999. Therefore, 40 institutions were awarded as works of art, but not given the ASLA Medallion Award. Overall, no big difference in percentage spent on operation and maintenance of plant was noted. Both categories were at 7 percent in 1990 and 6 percent in 1996. The only difference was that non-ASLA winners stayed at 7 percent until 1995 before declining, whereas ASLA winners declined in 1995 and then remained steady until 1996. Table 5 presents this data.

The data from this study showed that operation and maintenance of plant as a percent of education and general expenditures continued its decline into the 1990s. Award status or recognition did not seem to affect the amount of decline as "top 50" and Medallion Award winners appeared to decrease at about the same rate as (if not more than) all others. Therefore, what makes a campus a "work of art" or award winner does not appear to be reflected in what they spend on operation and maintenance of plant.

Gaines (1991) suggested that sustaining visual achievement and maintaining a clear direction in spatial planning, architecture, and landscaping were the largest obstacles to campuses becoming "works of art." Perhaps the campuses that have been lauded and awarded for their achievements have been able to change and grow physically and adapt with the times without losing their plan or sense of direction.

Limitations and Recommendation for Further Study
As previously mentioned, data for private institutions were only complete through 1996. This was a major limitation of this study because nearly half of the institutions in the sample were private. More data on private institutions would allow for a more detailed look at funding patterns for operation and maintenance of physical plant. Furthermore, data for the latter part of the nineties could be used to see if there were different funding patterns in the years leading up the ASLA Medallion Award that seem to set ASLA winners apart from others.

A second limitation lies with the comparison of data on institutions in this sample separated by Carnegie classification. Very small data sets make it difficult to truly compare funding levels across all institutional types. Furthermore, data from Research I and II institutions may be skewed due to their research budgets being included in education and general expenditures.

Other variables could be examined to compare rankings, institutional type, institutional control, and award status. Such variables might include physical plant assets or indebtedness. In other words, is the percentage of E&G spent on physical plant reflected by how much the institution has in assets or in debt? Another variable that could be examined is the amount spent on salaries/wages toward the operation and maintenance of plant. One could wonder whether or not more staff or more highly paid staff do a better job of operation and maintenance that contribute to the overall quality of the facilities and grounds. Finally, campuses could be looked at by region to determine if some institutions have an advantage simply because of where they are located. Or, is it possible that campuses surrounded by natural beauty have more or less of a need to spend money on the operation and maintenance of their plant?

Perhaps it will never really be known why some campuses are considered to be more beautiful than others. As much as campuses can be rated by objective criteria, there will always be the subjective influence of the rater. Personal preferences, taste, fond memories, time-honored traditions, pride, and even competition can all influence how we view beauty and aesthetic success of a space. Ultimately, creating an environment conducive to educational pursuits and one that instills pride in the members of its community may be all that really matters.

American Society of Landscape Architects (1999). Three hundred sixty-two historic sites across country honored with Centennial Medallions: Landscape architects announce winners at award ceremony June 29th on capitol grounds Available: www.asla.org/nonmembers/ press062199.htm.

Gaines, T. A. (1991). The campus as a work of art. New York: Praeger.

Gardiner, W. S. (1984). Principles of good budgeting. In Facilities management: A manual for plant administration (pp. II-11-II-16). Washington, DC: Association of Physical Plant Administrators of Universities and Colleges.

Iowa State University Website. (2000). Points of pride

Lenington, R. L. (1996). Managing higher education as a business. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1990). Integrated Postsecondary Education System finance survey Available: www.nces.edu.gov/ipeds.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1995). Integrated Postsecondary Education System finance survey Available: www.nces.edu.gov/ipeds.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1996). Integrated Postsecondary Education System finance survey www.nces.edu.gov/ipeds.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1998). Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS). See U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. From website (www.nces.ed.gov), downloaded August 2000.