April 17, 2024

7 Ways to Overcome Deferred Maintenance Issues in Higher Ed

Students walking on the lawn of a college

Deferred maintenance has become a significant challenge for many institutions in higher education. With limited budgets and competing priorities, it's easy for maintenance tasks to be postponed, leading to deteriorating facilities and infrastructure. 

Some scholars on the issue are even labeling the problem a crisis. According to a talk given at the Higher Education Facilities Forum event in January 2024, there is currently a “backlog of $112 billion in urgent deferred maintenance” across the U.S. 

Addressing these issues is crucial for providing a conducive environment for learning and research, so higher education facilities must implement a strategy to take care of the problems. 

What is Deferred Maintenance in Higher Ed

Deferred maintenance in higher education refers to the equipment and buildings that need repair or renovation and the repairs have been delayed for varying reasons, often these include budgets and policies. 

Some examples of deferred maintenance include aging ventilation and HVAC systems that result in poor indoor air quality, aging building infrastructure that often needs renovation or complete rebuilding, plumbing issues, and water and air leaks that lead to wasted resources. 

What Are the Risks of Deferred Maintenance?

Delaying maintenance or repair can cause problems with reduced equipment efficiency, downtime, and health and safety risks. It can also result in code compliance issues if regular safety inspections of building fire prevention systems and other health code compliance issues are not routinely checked. 

Ultimately, not resolving the issues promptly can result in problems compounding into more serious issues that can be dangerous and costly to fix. 

We’ve outlined 7 ways to overcome deferred maintenance issues for leaders of higher education facilities. 

Prioritize Maintenance Needs

The first step in addressing deferred maintenance is to prioritize the most critical needs. Conduct a comprehensive assessment of facilities to identify areas requiring immediate attention. 

Prioritize repairs based on 

·      Safety concerns 

·      Impact on operations

·      Potential for cost savings

By focusing resources on high-priority maintenance tasks, institutions can prevent further deterioration and minimize future expenses.

Develop a Long-Term Maintenance Plan

Create a long-term maintenance plan that outlines specific goals, timelines, and budgets for addressing deferred maintenance issues. This plan should be integrated into the institution's overall strategic objectives and regularly updated to reflect changing priorities and resource allocations. 

One recommendation according to Schmidt Associates, is to alternate repair and rehabilitation projects with larger capital projects to ensure both are being addressed long-term. This helps to keep deferred maintenance projects in the budget and front of mind. 

By taking a proactive approach to maintenance planning, higher education institutions can better anticipate future needs and allocate resources more effectively.

Invest in Preventive Maintenance

Preventive maintenance involves regularly scheduled inspections, repairs, and upgrades to prevent equipment failure and prolong the lifespan of facilities.  

In the case of annual equipment repairs, according to FMX, a facilities maintenance management solutions provider, it can cost up to 4x the original amount to repair equipment when the maintenance is deferred. 

FMX shares the example of a piece of equipment that costs $1500 a year to maintain and, when deferred, can cost nearly $4500 to complete the work. “For every $1.00 of maintenance deferred to a later date results in $4.00 of capital renewal.” 

By investing in preventive maintenance programs, institutions can reduce the likelihood of costly emergency repairs and extend the life of their assets. Implementing preventive maintenance practices can also improve energy efficiency, reduce downtime, and enhance the overall reliability of campus facilities.

Leverage Technology and Data

Utilize technology and data analytics to streamline maintenance processes and make more informed decisions.

Implementing a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) can help track work orders, schedule maintenance tasks, and manage inventory more efficiently. Leveraging data analytics can provide valuable insights into asset performance, maintenance trends, and cost-saving opportunities. 

Additionally, adopting robotics technology with data tracking capabilities can also help improve efficiency, consistency, and productivity. 

Cobi 18, an autonomous floor scrubber by ICE Cobotics, for example, is integrated with fleet management software, i-SYNERGY. While the robot cleans, it collects cleaning data that is stored in the Cloud and then saved to the i-SYNERGY platform. 

End users can review the data and examine how often floor cleaning is completed, how long the unit runs, and how much square footage is cleaned each day, week, month, or year. 

By tracking this data, facilities managers and directors can make cleaning plans that better address important areas on campus and better leverage staff to focus on those areas that are of higher priority. 

In addition, when implementing robotics, staff are freed up to focus on other priorities and can help tackle items on the deferred maintenance list. 

By harnessing the power of technology and data, higher education institutions can optimize their maintenance operations and allocate resources more effectively.

Higher Ed facilities maintenance and janitorial team using Cobi 18, autonomous floor scrubber to increase productivity

Seek External Funding Opportunities

Explore external funding opportunities to supplement existing maintenance budgets and address the deferred maintenance backlog. This may include applying for government grants, securing private donations, or partnering with industry sponsors. 

 Collaborating with external stakeholders can provide additional financial support for critical maintenance projects and help alleviate the burden on institutional budgets. By diversifying funding sources, higher education institutions can access resources to tackle deferred maintenance issues more effectively.

Foster a Culture of Maintenance

Promote a culture of maintenance awareness and responsibility among faculty, staff, and students. Encourage proactive reporting of maintenance issues, regular inspections, and responsible use of facilities and equipment. 

Provide training and resources to empower stakeholders to contribute to maintenance efforts and prioritize the upkeep of campus assets. By fostering a culture of maintenance, higher education institutions can engage the entire community in preserving and enhancing campus infrastructure.

Collaborate Across Departments

Facilitate collaboration across departments and stakeholders involved in maintenance planning and execution. Establish cross-functional teams to coordinate efforts, share resources, and leverage expertise from various disciplines. 

By breaking down silos and fostering collaboration, institutions can optimize resource allocation, improve communication, and implement more comprehensive maintenance strategies. Collaborating across departments also allows for a more holistic approach to addressing deferred maintenance issues and ensures alignment with institutional goals and priorities.


Addressing deferred maintenance issues in higher education requires a multifaceted approach that combines strategic planning, preventive maintenance, technology, external funding, cultural change, and collaboration. 

By implementing these seven strategies, institutions can overcome deferred maintenance challenges and create safe, sustainable, and conducive learning environments for students, faculty, and staff. 

ICE Cobotics is a leading floor cleaning technology and equipment company specializing in autonomous solutions available through an all-inclusive subscription. If you’re in the market for robotic floor scrubbers, we can help. Reach out to our automation specialists to answer your questions.

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