Posted on 07/27/2017

By Neha Shah and Tim McLean

Strategic Capital Planning in Higher EducationCompetition is expected in any industry.

It forces us to evolve and grow to provide what our customers are demanding.

Higher education is no exception. Universities are finding ways to drive enrollment with the promise of a budding campus life or the allure of a state-of-the-art campus infrastructure for even the smallest of commuter schools.

But, with the constant need for change and the ebb-and-flow of enrollment, how can universities keep up with customer demands?

Higher Education Problems 101

In an increasingly data-driven world, university financial officers need deeper insights to assess and justify their budgets. Institutions are realizing that they need to align both their short-term and long-term needs when preparing to meet program needs through facility expansion.

While capital expansion projects may appear to boost enrollments, the financial commitment associated with expansion is long-term. In some cases, especially that of colleges with smaller student populations and endowments, it can have dire consequences if new construction takes up too large a percentage of total resources.

Managing facilities, specifically the deferred maintenance backlog on campus buildings, has never been more important. But while there’s general agreement that the capital planning teams should prioritize the mission and values of the institution, it has been challenging to bring about efficiency and objective prioritization of campus budgets.

How do you ensure your capital planning dollars are allocated in the best way to provide the maximum impact towards your institutional goals?

How to "Capital Plan"

While there’s no university course on how to be strategic in capital planning, there’s an answer you won’t find in a textbook – it’s all about the data.

By implementing a data-driven approach, university officers can:

  • reduce inter-departmental tension
  • present accountability and transparency for their strategies
  • offer budget proposals to board members and other stakeholders such as students and parents

When it comes to overall budget success, Accruent’s data-driven framework relies on 3 critical steps:

1. Plan Strategically

What you don’t know WILL hurt you. You can’t bury your head in a textbook and hope all works out for the best. The ivy-league-like campus you’ve boasted about for years comes at a cost. The technology, the infrastructure, the equipment – all of that requires a substantial investment.

So, understanding your long-term capital needs is critical. What’s it going to take to reduce your deferred maintenance backlogs? What’s it going to take to adapt and repurpose your existing spaces to new uses?

The sooner you plan and answer these types of questions, the sooner you can begin to tackle your budgetary puzzle.

2. Achieve More Effective Uses of Resources

Newer may not always be better. In an effort to boost enrollment, a large public institution in Massachusetts initiated an expansion project across the entire campus and ended up with a $3 billion debt that is not maintainable.

Alternatively, a smaller college in Western Massachusetts has a relatively old campus with historic buildings. That legacy is what helps drive the student experience. Still, even though their campus isn’t shiny and new, they have close to zero entries of deferred maintenance. How? They made a commitment to ongoing maintenance and repair through an approximate 2 percent annual reinvestment that’s funded through their operational budget.

Understanding your resources, spaces, and available assets moves you away from thinking “newer is better” and toward increasing productivity with what you have.

3. Improve Customer Satisfaction

In an industry centered on excellence, it’s safe to say your efforts will be measured – and scrutinized. Find a solution that allows you to track progress internally and with full transparency. By increasing transparency, you’re reducing subjectivity. There’s no mistaking “A” for “B”.

With transparency and satisfaction in mind, it’s important to deliver relevant information to your stakeholders. Students, parents, alums, faculty and trustees don’t just want to know you’re bringing a spacious, ivy-league campus to life. They want to know:

  • the time necessary to complete
  • the costs involved
  • your ability to produce a large number of projects

The excellence will come in time – if you implement a solution that keeps your customers at the forefront of your mind.

Accruent’s easy-to-understand reports and built-in decision support tools provide visibility into multiple planning options that consider accurate current facility conditions and future states tied to funding levels. These tools empower you to minimize risks, forecast, prioritize, plan for the future, and create actionable plans.

For those still trying to find a crash course on “How to Be Strategic in Capital Planning” get in touch with us. You’ll be fighting less budget battles and bringing more value to your community.

Get in touch with us to see how we’re committed to changing Higher Education.