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Leverage Your Growing Influence as a Facilities Manager in Higher Ed

May 18, 2023

The 2023 State of Facilities in Higher Ed Report reveals that facilities departments continue to play a central role in post-pandemic decision making. It’s a trend that’s continuing strong from last year, when the report found that 56% of facilities leaders have greater influence on campus since the pandemic.

CTA to Guide to Higher Education Facility Management

Historically undervalued by campus leadership, facilities managers are now taking the lead in determining the smartest ways to invest institutional resources.

In other words, it’s your time to shine. How can you leverage your influence to lead your school into a better future? Let’s find out.

What challenges are higher ed facilities facing?

Higher education enrollment peaked during the 2012/2013 school year. Since then, it has been steadily declining – and current projections estimate enrollment will continue dropping until 2038 (based on birth rate data from the Center for Disease Control).

At the same time, campuses have been expanding. The 2020 campus was 113 percent larger than the 1970 campus. Yet from 1970 to 2018, the population of 18-21 year-olds grew only 17 percent.

Although space growth is now slowing, institutions are struggling to maintain their current square footage. Research reveals a 13-year pattern of underinvestment in existing space.

On top of that, inflation is driving up the costs to maintain spaces. The dollars needed to maintain existing space has ballooned to $6.76/gross square foot.

As a result, campuses keep falling further and further behind on building upkeep.

Fewer students paying tuition combined with the rising costs of maintaining campuses is putting intense pressure on school budgets. In order to survive these lean times, colleges and universities face the challenges of:

  • Identifying new revenue streams
  • Controlling costs
  • Improving space utilization
  • Maintaining facilities with shrinking staff numbers
  • Increasing recruitment
  • Building public support
  • Promoting the institution’s brand

Facilities management is at the heart of every one of these challenges. And campus leadership is appreciating this like never before. So by getting facilities management right, you’ll directly help overcome your institution’s biggest hurdles.

What facilities management recommendations should you make for your higher ed institution?

You probably have a facilities wish list a mile long. So your first step is to prioritize what’s most essential to the ongoing success of your team and your institution. If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself questions such as:

  • What gaps does my institution’s facilities management program have that need to be filled?
  • Does my team have the necessary tools to efficiently and effectively do its job?
  • Does my institution have complete, accurate facilities data on which to base long-term decisions?

Important items you should consider pushing for at your campus (if you don’t have them in place already) could include:

1. A plan for campus spaces to bring in outside revenue

Turn your unused or underused buildings into additional revenue streams to help overcome budget shortfalls. Your school could:

  • Lease out a floor to a local company for use as co-working space
  • Create an executive office suite for area entrepreneurs
  • Use larger spaces for conventions, receptions, and other events during the summer

Develop a strategy around these ideas that you can bring to campus leadership to jumpstart the conversation.

2. Facilities management software

As we said above, overcoming campus challenges starts with getting facilities management right. Well, getting facilities management right starts with getting your facilities data right. By that, we mean being able to collect facilities data quickly and accurately, organize it in meaningful ways, and ensure everyone who needs to can access it. A good FM software solution can help you achieve that.

A comprehensive FM software system:

  • Enables data-driven decisions on everything from deferred maintenance to capital planning
  • Serves as a single source of truth where all of your facility information lives
  • Helps you capture any institutional knowledge from key team members who may be retiring or leaving
  • Supports more efficient and productive facilities management processes
  • Allows you to prove quantitatively if something your team is doing is working well or needs improvement
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There are a lot of different software solutions out there, so take the time to carefully research your options. We break down the different types of facility software and the pros and cons of each in this blog post: 5 Types of Building Management Software (and Which One You Should Use).

3. A facilities condition assessment (FCA)

If your last FCA is more than a few years old, it’s time for a fresh one so you can understand the true current state of your facilities. FCAs are not cheap – especially if you have to re-do them from scratch every time. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Look for an FCA provider that does living FCAs. In a living FCA, your results come in a software program (which can tie in with your FM software depending on the solution you choose). This lets you:

  • Keep updating data after the initial assessment is done – meaning you’ll always have a current snapshot of your facilities’ condition
  • Stop having to buy a brand new FCA every 3-7 years
  • More easily sort through and view any of the data you’re interested in

Read More: Why Paper FCAs are No Longer Relevant

4. Better facilities capital management

Traditionally, the facility capital budgeting process has relied on assessing your facilities’ current state and then asking for the money you think you need to keep the buildings warm and the toilets flushing. The result is basically a bunch of estimates and guesswork.

More accurate capital planning ensures you ask for the right budget to achieve your objectives and enables you to show the data behind your budget request. As higher ed institutions face pressure from every side to cut spending, it’s vital that every budget dollar is properly allocated. So there’s never been more urgency to reform your capital planning.

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5. A plan to catch up on deferred maintenance

The higher education sector faces an estimated $112 billion in urgent deferred maintenance needs. And as budgets tighten, that number will only increase. While completely clearing your deferred maintenance backlog is probably impossible, you can take steps to chip away at it and keep it from getting bigger.

It starts with reliable facilities data. It’s essential that you know the current condition of all your building systems and assets, the cost of repairing an asset today or in the future, and the cost to replace a building system or asset today or in the future.

With this information, you can make calculated decisions on what can continue to be deferred and what should be addressed. Start by identifying the weaknesses in your current data.

  • Do I have granular, accurate projections of lifecycle and replacement costs?
  • Is my asset data current?
  • When was our last facility condition assessment?
  • Is there a master list of all deferred maintenance tasks?
  • Can I quickly find the maintenance history of every asset?
  • Is our facilities data organized in one easily accessible place?

If not, this is where you should make improvements. Good data helps you properly prioritize deferred maintenance tasks, greatly reduce the chances of expensive emergency repairs, and allows you to confidently make your case for the budget you need.

6. A strategy to address aging infrastructure

Every school year brings higher ed facilities closer to needing major repairs and renewal. Here’s a scary stat: as many as ¾ of facilities at some institutions are 30-40 years old. Most likely, some of your buildings have already gone through a cycle of major renewal.

As more of your buildings come due for major repairs, it’s a good time to evaluate your current approach to deal with aging facilities.

  • How difficult is it to pull together a list of what is approaching end-of-life on your campus?
  • Is it time-consuming to find the replacement costs of various assets?
  • Do you have lots of paper floor plans and manuals?

If your facilities data is outdated, decentralized, paper-based, or incomplete, it’s not easy to prepare for inevitable asset replacements. Consider how you can streamline this process. A faster, more accurate planning process will get you ahead of the curve for your next round of renewals.

Read More: Capital Planning for Aging Higher Ed Facilities

How to get buy-in from higher ed leadership on facilities management recommendations

Now that you’re finally being seen as the real leader you are, it’s time to make the case for change. But it’s not as simple as walking into a meeting with campus administration and recommending x, y, and z. These 4 tips can help get senior leadership on your side.

1. Tie your recommendations to the main concerns of campus leaders

A recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities shows 74% of faculty, mid-level, and senior administrators are concerned about financial constraints and how the pandemic might impact their colleges long-term. More than 60% are uncertain their institutions could handle another crisis.

Begin by acknowledging the issues that are most important to the leadership team. Then, using current, accurate facilities and industry data, show how your recommendation can help alleviate those issues.

2. Speak their language

Some leaders won’t budge until they have concrete data about hard costs. Others are more moved by human interest stories that show how the situation might play out. Learn the preferences of your senior leadership.

In addition, use terms, goals, and objectives they understand. Translate your “facilities speak” into “administrator speak.”  And don’t just show general data or trends. Having data and examples from your own campus in hand will make your case much more compelling.

3. It’s not you vs. them, it’s us vs. the problem

Remember, you aren’t enemies – you’re allies. If your leadership team isn’t immediately swayed by your recommendations, keep your frustration to yourself. Otherwise, you risk looking uncooperative and not open to compromise.

Instead, make it clear you’re on their team and you care about what they’re working towards. Try phrasing the objections you’re receiving as questions. “I understand your concern about x. What do you think is the best next step here?” Another option is to pose different alternative solutions to the problem.

4. Don’t rock the boat too much or you’ll swamp it

You have so many great ideas – there’s no time to waste! Keep in mind that the wheels of authority often move more slowly than you might like.

Don’t overwhelm campus leadership by throwing all of your recommendations at them at once. Select your top one or two ideas and work to build consensus around those first. As you solidify your role as a trusted guide and your recommendations bear fruit, senior leadership will be more open to your next set of ideas.

Find Trusted Partners to Help You

As a facilities manager, you played a pivotal role in guiding institutions through Covid-related challenges. Now your school needs help navigating other equally challenging hurdles. That’s a lot to carry on your shoulders. But you don’t have to do it alone.

Take advantage of available technologies and tools (and the industry experience of the companies who create them).

At AkitaBox, we help schools of all shapes and sizes take control of their facilities’ future. Our facilities management, capital management, and FCA software unlock the valuable insights hiding in your building data – so you can leverage it to save money, prevent catastrophes, and ensure your campus is equipped to fulfill its mission.

Our team understands the unique situation of being a higher ed facilities manager and we’re full of ideas to help make your job (and your team’s jobs) easier. Let us be your trusted FM partner.

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Betsy Francoeur

Betsy is AkitaBox's Content Manager. She loves to write blog posts, e-books, whitepapers, emails, and magazine articles about all things facilities management. She also enjoys traveling, running 5ks, and cuddling with her dog.

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