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Higher Education Institutional Physical Infrastructure Backlog/Need

April 26, 2021, Alexandria, Virginia Higher Education institutions in the United States spend about $36.8B annually on facilities operations, maintenance, and utilities, and an average of $27.8B annually for the construction of new facilities and/or the renovation of existing buildings.  Colleges and universities provide more than 6.2B square feet of floor space in 210,000 buildings with an average age approaching 50 years which have a Current Replacement Value (CRV) estimated to exceed $2TR (includes utilities infrastructure, roads, and landscaping).  All of this investment is burdened today by a backlog/need (urgent deferred renewal) estimated at $112.3B.  

[These values have been validated through Gordian’s SCP (Strategic Capital Planning) and ROPA (Return on Physical Assets) databases; APPA’s FPI (Facilities Performance Indicators) database; the NSF (National Science Foundation) biannual survey of science and engineering research space; and the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) IPEDS (Interdisciplinary Post-Secondary Education Data System).] 


This backlog figure can be further subdivided as follows:

Public institutions                                  $76.1B

Private institutions                                 $36.2B


Research/Doctoral institutions            $40.8B (includes Special Focus)

Masters institutions                                 $29.5B

Baccalaureate institutions                   $14.3B (includes Tribal Colleges & Others)

Associates institutions                            $27.7B (2-year/Community Colleges)


A one-time investment addressing these needs would go a long way in stabilizing and catching up with the needs of the decaying portfolio.  However, it does not alleviate institutional responsibility to evaluate their current space utilization and keep up with strategic investments in their existing space. With total space outpacing enrollment growth in recent years, a misalignment has arisen between the amount of space institutions can afford to sustain long term and what has been built. 

Any funding provided by the federal government should also incentivize even more active stewardship of existing portfolios of facilities and infrastructure by individual schools.  The resulting alignment would preserve the impact of federal investments, enhance the condition of the aging portfolio, drive investment in healthy environments through critical HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) upgrades made so apparent during the pandemic, and sustain the physical communities so vital to the dynamic American collegiate experience. Institutions are then enabled to seriously reconsider/reimagine their physical footprint moving forward. 

For more information, contact Lander Medlin, APPA’s executive vice president.

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