Is poor facilities management costing higher ed billions?

Report from facilities management company says colleges and universities could drastically improve the allocation of faculty and space.

facilities-managment-educationHigher education, nationally, could save roughly $14.7B by tightening the use of their facilities and better manage course scheduling. That’s just one major finding of a recent report that aims to help the higher education arena cut costs and ease tuition burdens by examining facilities management.

Ad Astra Information Systems, L.L.C.—a company that offers data-informed software solutions and professional services to help allocate space and faculty resources, forecast student demand, and accelerate student completions—has collaborated with more than 800 campuses and many state systems toward what the company says is “effective stewardship of instructional resources and improving student outcomes.”

This report from the company reflects national averages derived from its Information Systems’ Higher Education Scheduling Index (HESI) database of 114 colleges and universities. The performance metrics track allocation of faculty and space on these campuses.

The HESI metrics aim to provide the context for comparing institutional performance to the industry and a subset of like institutions. It also provides a framework to measure and “more effectively manage the highly decentralized model of scheduling employed on campuses today,” notes the report.

“Student success and finances are the two biggest concerns in higher education today,” said Tom Shaver, Ad Astra’s founder and CEO. “An argument could be made that the most important opportunity to address these concerns is effective allocation of faculty and space. Our extensive research and experience in the industry has demonstrated that strategic scheduling can provide solutions for each of these challenges.”

According to the Chronicle’s Almanac (2013-14), institutions spend roughly 58 percent of their core operating budget on faculty and academic space—approximately $147 billion spent annually as an industry (not including capital expenditures for new space and renovation).

But, emphasizes the report, “very few campuses are actually out of space, and new space is a luxury many can’t afford.”

(Next page: The report’s findings on higher ed’s facilities management)

According to HESI industry observations on course offerings of the institutions surveyed:

1.While overall course fill rates (Enrollment Ratio [enrollment divided by enrollment capacity]) are at a respectable level (78 percent) for the industry, this masks the fact that only 33 percent are “Balanced” (the percentage of unique courses offered that are balanced with student need [enrollment ratio between 70-95 percent]) with student demand for seats in those courses.

2.The largest group of courses are Under-filled (43 percent) (the percentage of courses that are under-filled relative to student need [enrollment ratio less than 70 percent]), leading to 19 percent of the sections in a typical schedule being unneeded relative to student course demand.

3.The remaining courses are “overloaded,” a problem, states the report, that’s so impactful that it perennially rates as the number one student challenge in the student satisfaction survey conducted each year by Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

4.Addition Candidates (the percentage of total sections in a schedule that could potentially be added to meet demand) are less than one-third the number of Efficiency (Reduction Candidates [sections that could potentially be removed from the schedule without negatively impacting student need] and Elimination Candidates [courses that could potentially be removed from the schedule as long as graduation requirements are not compromised]) Candidates in a typical schedule, meaning that most institutions have the capacity today to meet students’ course needs without additional faculty resources.

5.Given that over 13 percent of a typical course offering schedule is not needed (Efficiency Candidates less Addition Candidates), efficient schedules would greatly increase effective classroom capacity for most institutions. The report highlights that, nationally, over 10 percent of course schedules could feasibly be “recaptured” through management, for an annual impact of $14.7B—more than 10 percent of the $143B paid by students annually in tuition and fees.

Space Management Findings:

1.Most institutions feel and express that they are “out of space,” even though a typical classroom is in use less than half of the Standard Week Hours (the number of hours typically used in a scheduling week) and is only 62 percent full when in use.

2.A typical campus wastes over 15 percent of its classroom capacity due to Off-Grid Scheduling (the percentage of scheduling using non-standard meeting patterns) during Primetime (the number of hours that have significantly concentrated usage within the standard week). “With careful management, most campuses can reduce this number to less than 10 percent,” says the report, “creating over 5 percent ‘free’ classroom capacity (e.g., a campus with 100 classrooms effectively loses 15 classrooms of capacity, but could reduce this to 10 or fewer).”

3.While the industry widely compares classroom utilization statistics, there is a large variance in the number of Standard Week Hours on the various campuses measured (from 43 to 96).

4.Primetime Hours, with concentrated usage, are less than half of Standard Week Hours on a typical campus.

“An integrated approach to using data to inform scheduling of both courses and space frees the industry from the common misconception of limited capacity,” concludes the report.

Ad Astra hopes to expand research to focus on the credentials students pursue and the correlation between student-friendly schedules and improved student outcomes. Specifically, the company’s algorithms will examine factors that may contribute to program completion delays.

For more information on these findings, including methodology and individual case studies, read the full report, “The Higher Education Scheduling Index Report.”

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