Comparative Data

Vassar has historically examined itself in relation to a set of peers for the purposes of financial planning. This comparison allows the college to arrive at a set of benchmarks against which we consider our own particular situation. This peer group is made up of colleges similar to Vassar in terms of size, mission, and competitiveness. Despite these similarities, there are significant differences from college to college, and our planning process involves understanding those differences. Three factors are of particular importance when we compare ourselves to our peers in the current situation: our commitment to need-blind admission in relation to the size of our endowment, the size and condition of our physical plant, and the size of our workforce. The following charts help to illustrate how we compare to our peers on these key issues.

Follow this link to a graph that illustrates, for both our no-loan and need-blind admission policies, that Vassar has acted aggressively to provide educational access to a socioeconomically diverse student body. This is evident by comparing the percentage of our students on financial aid in relation to our wealth to those peers (in red on the graph) who have adopted a no-loan policy as well.

A benchmark for decision-making about staffing is the comparative size of faculty, administrative, and hourly staff in relation to student FTE.

Student/Faculty Ratio
Because institutions calculate student/faculty ratios in different ways, the following chart is only an approximate measure of relative faculty size.

Staff FTE to Student FTE ratios

Physical Plant
The following data help to understand the resource demands of Vassar’s physical plant relative to peers.

There are two factors that enter our planning about the resources for staffing, maintenance costs, and capital projects necessary to maintain our physical plant: its size, and its age and condition.

Benchmarking Physical Plant and B&G Operations Fall 2008

Vassar has retained Sightlines, a firm that benchmarks facilities and plant operations on college and university campuses. Sightlines has collected data on more than 230 campuses, including many peer colleges, and is providing Vassar with critical information used to evaluate conditions and operating efficiency.

The following graphs are based on financial information from 2007/08, and plant size as of June 2008. They were developed for an oral report to the Board of Trustees in 2008/09, and also shared with a number of campus committees. Buildings and Grounds administrators use the analysis summarized in these graphs to assess both capital budget plans and operating budget priorities within Buildings and Grounds Services.

Institution Location
Amherst College Amherst, MA
Bowdoin College Brunswick, ME
Bryn Mawr College Bryn Mawr, PA
Colgate University Hamilton, NY
Grinnell College Grinnell, IA
Hamilton College Clinton, NY
Mount Holyoke College South Hadley, MA
Smith College Northampton, MA
Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA
Wellesley College Wellesley, MA
Williams College Williamstown, MA

The following charts show that, while 87% of Vassar’s space was built over 25 years ago, about 65% of that square footage can be considered over 25 years old based on the most recent major renovation of each building. The 25-year point is considered a critical life-cycle threshold for structural integrity.

New space constructed in the last ten years includes the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, the Ingram Wing of the Library, various additions to athletic facilities, and a number of new student apartments.

The age profile of the campus indicates that there is a concentration of space at two ends of the spectrum, but newer state-of-the-art facilities are outweighed by an accumulation of older space badly in need of renovation to address building envelopes (roofs, masonry, windows), interior systems (heating, ventilating, air conditioning, electrical, plumbing) and programmatically-driven interior renovations and finishes.

Note: The following chart does not include major work just completed or underway, including the complete interior renovation of Davison; the bathroom renovations in the older Terrace Apartments; ongoing roof/masonry work at Van Ingen, Josselyn and other locations; and the major renovation of Wimpfheimer Nursery School now underway. A combination of bond proceeds, gifts, and annual appropriations from the operating budget have allowed us to continue to make progress on the backlog of capital renewal needed at Vassar in 2008/09.

Campus profile
133 buildings - 2.3M GSF, technical complexity 2.20

Each Sightlines client estimates the cost of bringing older facilities up to current standards. In Vassar’s case, the recent estimate is higher than peers for two primary reasons. First, we know that the campus is larger than most of the schools in the peer group. In addition, we know that Vassar has an accumulation of older facilities in need of modernization and facility renewal.

The total dollar amount needed to address facility renewal, modernization, and infrastructure needs at Vassar is estimated at $280 million, higher than that of any of our peers.

Comparison of capital renewal backlog as of 2008

The following chart indicates the distribution of spending on the physical plant between fiscal years 2002/03 and 2007/08, a six-year period that saw greater reinvestment in the plant than in previous decades. Funding during this period was provided by two bond issues (2001 and 2007), generous donations from alumnae/i and friends, and to a lesser extent annual allocations from the operating budget.

While the distribution of spending has addressed all systems, a significant amount has gone toward building envelope and systems, helping to maintain the structural and mechanical integrity of buildings.

It is important to note that in FY2003, while $40 million was spent, only $25 million went into existing facilities.

Total capital spending
New construction and older facilities FY 03-08

In the next chart, Sightlines compares the level of recurring capital and one-time capital provided for investment in facilities to the target rate of reinvestment they recommend for a campus of Vassar’s size and technical complexity. Recent higher spending levels have pushed Vassar above its target investment zone, addressing the backlog of capital renewal requirements but relying primarily on long-term debt or gifts to do so.

Funds provided by regular allocations in the operating budget averaged only about $5 million per year, less than half of the recommended annual reinvestment target to keep a plant as large as Vassar’s in good condition.

Budget pressures caused by the financial and economic downturn have forced the college to reduce projected funding for plant renewal. This outlook will unfortunately increase the backlog of capital renewal projects, as illustrated in the following graph.

Sightlines also conducts carbon footprint analysis for its college and university clients, and Vassar participated for the first time in the fall of 2008. The following graphs are excerpts from the “Greenline Report” published in April of 2009. (Further information on this report is available from Jeff Walker, Sustainability Coordinator, or Kiki Williams, Director of Facilities Operations and Grounds.)

Because a number of suggestions concerning budget saving measures related to energy consumption, we are providing information about fossil fuel consumption and electricity usage on campus, compared to peer colleges. It should be noted that the cost of energy consumed by the college amounts to about 2.5% of the total operating expense budget.

Consistent Decreases in Fossil Fuel Use

  • With 46% of Vassar’s emissions coming from utility combustion, fossil fuel usage should be an area of continued focus.
  • Over the past 4 years, these numbers have decreased significantly due to the efforts of the facilities management group.
  • Most of the decline in emissions can be attributed to this drop.
  • As with all utility emissions there are two distinct issues: how much you use and what you use.

Fossil Fuel Consumption Reduced to Less than Peer Average

The decline in energy consumption, especially over the past two fiscal years, has brought Vassar to just below the average consumption per square foot of a group of peers.

Consuming less Electricity than Peers

When it comes to consumption, Vassar is far below a group of peer schools.