The 2023 State of Facilities in Higher Education

For ten years the State of Facilities in Higher Education has been recognizing trends and opportunities based on our database of information from schools around the U.S. For a decade, this report has borne witness to the efforts of colleges and universities to confront challenges, focus investments and enable the learning and research at the core of their missions. Over time, the insights in the State of Facilities have evolved and our recommendations have followed suit. It has been a decade of reporting about the remarkable resilience of an industry embedded in the fabric of our culture, anchoring communities across the nation and central to the innovative energy that powers the future.

The past few years have been extraordinarily complicated across the globe. The pandemic in particular changed the rules suddenly for just about everything. The war in Ukraine begun amplified mounting global supply chain issues, drove energy costs sky high and refocused the attention of governments across the planet. And the recession which may or may not officially materialize in 2023 has kept institutional planning on edge.

But higher education, which has a notoriously long history of being slow to change, pivoted in weeks back in 2020 to return to business in many different forms, addressing the many different desires for educational experience. Everyone started predicting schools would collapse, but a surprisingly small number to date have succumbed. Our own observations of rising deferral, shrinking operational resources and excess space have continued to grow more prominent but still, schools persist.

A nexus of trends underscores the industry’s fragile resilience:

  • The pandemic revealed important financial vulnerabilities in higher education that have been discussed here and in other forums for some time, accelerating the need to confront them – if they haven’t already been thrust upon the plates of leadership. As government support wanes and student population decline looms, it has hard to believe business as usual can be sustained.
  • Strong facilities departments and professional leaders, long undervalued by leadership but central to pandemic-era decision making, are not relinquishing their influence. And they mustn’t.
  • The scale of deferred capital renewal at schools has reached a level that cannot be tolerated – a 36% shortfall. This gap is simply not possible to fund given new financial realities.
  • Thoughtful, proactive institutions are making efforts to address the facilities implications of their actions from lagging reactions and integrating them into the future planning conversations.

Our data this year says that despite awareness growing about the risks, the historical trends for space, capital and operating investment continue, and capital renewal needs have skyrocketed to a startling $13/gross square foot. Ultimately, we observe that stewardship demands are now so acute, facilities issues can no longer be reactive, and every facilities, planning and business leader will need to be a key participant in institutional decision making going forward. Institutional planning must be transformed so that facilities considerations are truly integrated into the very fabric of institutional decision making.


About Gordian 

Gordian is the leading provider of Building Intelligence Solutions, delivering unrivaled insights, robust technology, and expert services to fuel customers’ success through all phases of the building lifecycle. Gordian created Job Order Contracting (JOC) and the industry standard RSMeans Data. We empower organizations to optimize capital investments, improve project performance and minimize long-term operating expenses.

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