Faced with fluctuating enrollment and funding, colleges and universities often have to do more with fewer resources. Their challenge is to hit their budget without shortchanging students, canceling programs, and negatively impacting staff. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more urgent.
COVID-19 has changed the higher education landscape, from enrollment numbers to financial health to adaptations colleges and universities need to make to their student services and learning environments. In addition to these challenges, 75% of college applicants factor sustainability in their enrollment decision-making. Plus, colleges and universities face an estimated collective $112 billion in deferred maintenance backlogs for energy-inefficient, aging facilities. This backlog will only increase given competing budget priorities and the reduction in higher education facilities staff. Because of these combined factors, higher education institutions have a tall order to fill to meet stakeholder demands and set themselves apart from their competition.
Colleges and universities need to take a hard look at reducing operational costs and operating more efficiently to free up budget for student acquisition and retention. Recurring maintenance costs and expensive emergency repairs for aging equipment and infrastructure diverts precious capital from where institutions need it most – student-oriented programs, especially in the current landscape.
Over 70% of college presidents consider their students’ mental health and well-being the most pressing issue facing them today. Many are worried about enrollment and retention rates due to a lack of access to mental health services. As a result, colleges and universities are making mental health services more accessible by prioritizing telehealth mental health services, forming partnerships with external mental health providers, and investing in more resources for existing counseling centers. Budgets are growing to support these efforts – some institutions report as much as a 10% increase in their budgets.
Colleges and universities must support student mental health to meet the needs of their stakeholders and remain competitive. In addition to improving access to mental health services, they can offer other ways to enhance overall wellness – including upgrading in-class learning environments to improve student performance and their ability to focus.
Building comfort, safety, and efficiency are more important than ever – and they are necessary for attracting students and talent. Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than outside. Modern HVAC systems create an optimal living, learning, and working environment. They improve indoor air quality by ensuring proper filtration, ventilation, and humidity levels – so that students and faculty can perform their best. They also use less energy than predecessor technology.
Another way to address the efficiency and comfort of indoor environments is through lighting. Multiple studies have shown that optimized LED lighting dramatically improves occupant performance in visual and cognitive tasks, reduces fatigue, increases activity, improves reaction times, and boosts morale. Applications aren’t constrained to interior lighting – institutions can also upgrade exterior lighting, like parking lot lights and pathway lights, to improve light quality and increase campus safety.
Increasing sustainability by addressing outdated infrastructure will ensure long-term success. It will enable you to focus your budget on your students and deliver a healthy, attractive, future-focused institution, instead of paying costly energy and maintenance expenses.
For example, when energy costs are high or unexpected maintenance on outdated equipment occurs, it forces you to make budget trade-offs that shift resources from other areas of your campus. Students want to see value in their investment. Freeing up your operational budget enables you to invest in offerings that students care about, like mental health support, the curriculum, dining options, student programs, extracurriculars, scholarships – even landscaping to enhance aesthetics.
Energy savings can even translate to teacher salaries or IT support to expand online offerings, enabling you to hire talent and offer additional learning opportunities that attract students to your institution. They can also translate into marketing dollars for recruitment efforts.
The question is, where would you instead focus your budget? Expensive yet necessary operational costs – or initiatives that will positively and directly impact your students and faculty?
Colleges and universities want to do what they do best, preparing generations of young adults to be successful in life. That can be difficult when aging, inefficient energy assets and infrastructure divert budget from students. Addressing deferred maintenance backlogs and implementing infrastructure upgrades to improve energy efficiency and sustainability will have lasting benefits for students, faculty, the community, and the environment.
While boosting energy efficiency, improving learning environments, and promoting student health and well-being are vital goals, many colleges and universities lack the capital to implement needed infrastructure upgrades. Where can they find budget to tackle the upgrades without diverting capital away from students?
Various financing mechanisms enable colleges and universities to fund infrastructure improvements without dipping into budgets or taking on additional debt. In particular, off-balance sheet financing is a good option for institutions to leverage. It requires no upfront cost, no impact on the balance sheet, and enables upgrade consolidation into one simplified contract. Instead of requiring an initial investment, this financing option uses the energy savings achieved by the infrastructure improvements to finance the project costs. These costs are paid for over time by the guaranteed annual savings and renewable generation.
Reaching your institution’s energy infrastructure and net zero goals is easy to say but hard to do. To get there, you need to overcome complex challenges and competing budget priorities. The first step is to partner with an Energy Service Company (ESCO) like Centrica Business Solutions.
Centrica Business Solutions will perform a feasibility study and identify areas for energy and infrastructure improvement, scope what solutions and technologies to implement to maximize infrastructure, and define a roadmap. Our full lifecycle support reduces complexity and helps you complete projects – we manage the implementation of your infrastructure improvements and provide ongoing support and optimization. We can help you overcome obstacles, get the right people involved, navigate all available opportunities and deploy sustainable, integrated energy solutions to conserve energy and reduce maintenance costs – so you can focus on serving your students and enhancing your learning environment.