Editor's Note (The View From Here)

How Much?

For the first time since 1999, a national survey was completed on the condition of public K–12 school facilities. Based on survey responses, 53 percent needed to spend money on repairs, renovations and modernizations to put the school’s onsite buildings in good overall condition. The total amount needed was estimated to be approximately $197 billion, and the average dollar amount was about $4.5 million per school. But the $197 billion needed by K–12 schools is only a part of the story. Colleges and universities also need an infusion of dollars for facilities.

The call for an investment in facilities is widespread. In a piece that appeared on The Florida Times-Union Jacksonville.com website, the University of North Florida student body president wrote, “Students at Florida’s public universities are united behind a simple message: The quality of our university academic facilities contributes to the quality of our education. Under the banner ‘Hard Hats for Higher Education,’ we’re teaming with our university administrations, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida and others to support a renewed investment in our academic facilities and infrastructure.”

In the Governors’ 2014 State of the State Addresses education was by far the most popular topic, with almost every state and territory mentioning the importance of an enduring commitment to a competitive learning environment. In New York State, the 2014-15 budget proposal increases capital spending at SUNY schools by $272.9 million, for a total of $1.3 billion. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2014-15 State Budget allocates $175 million for deferred maintenance and instructional equipment, and $39 million in Proposition 39 funds for energy efficiency and workforce development projects in California’s community colleges. The California State University (CSU) Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan (2014-15 through 2018-18) calls for $50,000,000 for minor capital outlay to upgrade and/or renovate campus facilities in order to accommodate the academic program, and an additional $300,000,000 to address CSU’s highest priority deficiencies in campus primary infrastructure and distribution systems.

It is time for an “official” survey of higher education facilities’ condition and need. Based on the fact that education facilities scored a “D” on the American Society of Civil Engineers 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, we know the need is great. As for a return on our investment, while I can’t find an undisputable source, most show a return of $4+ dollars for every $1 dollar invested by a state in higher education. Where else do you see that kind of payback?

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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