Iowa regents think efficiency study could find even more savings

Outside consultant being sought for study of public universities

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April 1, 2014 | 1:48 am

Many efficiencies have been gained in recent years at Iowa's three public universities, Regents President Craig Lang said, but regents leaders think an outside consultant could possibly find millions more in efficiency and productivity savings.

Plans are moving ahead to solicit bids from outside consultants for an efficiency study of Iowa's three public universities governed by the state Board of Regents, Lang said. The idea of hiring an outside consultant for the study was first announced at the September regents meeting, and a request for proposals will hopefully go out in a few weeks, Lang said Wednesday in discussing the plan during a visit with the University of Iowa Staff Council.

The cost of such a study would be shared by the UI, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, though Lang said they have no cost estimate at the moment. It's possible the scope and breadth of the study will be dependent on the estimated costs, he said.

"I just think it's a good check and a good proof to Iowans" that the universities are operating efficiently, Lang said.

The universities have done much work in recent years on efficiency and more collaboration, Lang said. They have, for example, saved more than $2.4 million through collaborative purchasing since 2010-11, he said. Officials are happy with the progress, but think an outside look may help identify more ways to save money, Lang said.

"To take these to the next level we believe requires the expertise of an outside consultant whose specific focus will be to study the three public universities as separate entities and operating systems," he said. 'Sometimes it makes sense to bring someone in from the outside."

Similar efficiency studies of the universities have been done several times in the past 25 years, Lang said, including the Pappas Report in 1996 and the Peat Marwick external audit in 1989.

Studies in the past have suggested combining programs among the three universities, such as the recommendation from one study to close ISU's journalism program and keep the UI's program, which did not end up happening. Lang said they don't want a consultant to "step in and just cut and slash," but that debate and discussion about programs and consolidations is healthy.

He pointed to a 2009 efficiency study of the University of North Carolina by Bain & Company that found $50 million in savings in campus operations and reduced administrative costs.

"I'm saying that within our universities, if there's a way we can do that that doesn't affect the value of education, we need to look at it," he said.

One thing Lang himself is curious about is university ownership of a golf course. Maybe it's necessary, but maybe it's not, he said, which is the type of question such a study could ask.

Lang, along with Regents Ruth Harkin and Bruce Rastetter are working with the university vice presidents for finance on the planned study.

 

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