Example of deferred maintenance

Deferred maintenance dogs many theological schools -- especially those freestanding institutions with beloved old campuses that were built for a bygone era. Surely every administrator knows that when you're creating an annual budget, it's very easy to put off a big capital expenditure for one more year or to balance the accounts by shaving a little off the facilities line.

A recent piece over at the Chronicle of Higher Education is a must-read for presidents, CFOs, and board members who serve on the finance or buildings and grounds committees. It was prompted by a report of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) that documents a sharp decline in capital spending in recent years. The report suggests that either maintenance of college buildings is being deferred at an alarming rate, or those old buildings are painting themselves.

We all know that letting the physical plant slip can present problems with regard to campus safety, regulatory compliance, and liability. But it can also sully a school's curb appeal, which can negatively affect enrollment and donations. When considered more holistically, the impact of deferred maintenance may have far-reaching implications that hurt the bottom line more than it helps balance the budget.

These are tough choices, to be sure. How can you determine what physical improvements are most important? One way to start is by surveying students -- those who matriculate and (perhaps more importantly) those who don't. A couple questions on new-student and admissions questionnaires can help an administration prioritize campus projects that will have the most pay-off in terms of student sentiment. In the hands of a development officer, student survey data may also be helpful in fundraising.

Procrastination has its price, and that is certainly the case with deferred maintenance. But we may not know just how much it costs in the long run.