Regent efficiency review identifies opportunities

Initial report provides few specifics

Green grass grows on the Pentacrest in front of the Old Capitol at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. The east side of the building is one of the few areas on campus that is regularly watered during 2012's dry weather conditions. (Matt Nelson/The Gazette - KCRG-TV9)
Green grass grows on the Pentacrest in front of the Old Capitol at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. The east side of the building is one of the few areas on campus that is regularly watered during 2012's dry weather conditions. (Matt Nelson/The Gazette - KCRG-TV9)

A consultant being paid millions by the Board of Regents to review the efficiency of its public universities has identified eight broad areas of cost-saving opportunities — including academic programs and building use.

Within those eight areas, Deloitte Consulting on Wednesday made public a list of general recommendations, such as improving building use rates, more effectively using university infrastructure to reduce utility consumption, and finding ways to simplify the delivery of finance services.

The list includes few specific recommendations, and Board of Regents spokesman Sheila Doyle Koppin said the information made public is just a summary of what the regent’s Efficiency Review Task Force received.

Meetings for that task force — which has said it aims to be open and transparent — have not been open to the public, and Koppin said they don’t have to be.

Regent Larry McKibben, who heads the task force, said last week at the Board of Regents’ meeting that Deloitte had compiled a list of more than 100 possible efficiencies that it planned to pare down. It’s unclear whether the list released Wednesday was the result of that effort and whether the more complete initial list will be made public.

Koppin said Wednesday’s summary of efficiency recommendations is what the task force authorized for release. She said more details could be released at three public forums scheduled in the coming weeks on the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa campuses.

UI President Sally Mason, speaking at a Staff Council meeting Wednesday, said Deloitte’s report really is just a list of concepts. It’s unclear, at this point, where each university might realize savings, she said.

Still, Mason said, the university always is looking for ways to save money and be more efficient, and it will take seriously any specific recommendations that do emerge.

UI staff present at the Wednesday meeting expressed disappointment with the broad nature of the initial Deloitte report and asked Mason about possible job cuts.

Mason responded by saying the UI will protect is most valuable asset.

“And that’s you,” she said. “We want to keep morale healthy.”

In light of the UI’s plans to grow its student body, Mason said, “We need all of you to step up and help with this.”

Phase one

The Board of Regents hired Deloitte Consulting last year to head its efficiency review at an initial cost of $2.5 million. Deloitte was charged with finding cost savings and new efficiencies at the universities and in the regent system as a whole through a three-phased process.

Wednesday’s report caps the end of the review’s first phase. The board agreed at its meeting last week to pay the consultant up to $1 million more to continue its second-phase work longer than expected — a move that has drawn criticism as it wasn’t specifically listed on the board’s agenda.

During the 10 weeks of phase one, Deloitte reportedly visited each campus twice and conducted more than 390 interview sessions and focus groups, met with nearly 700 people across the three campuses and the Board of Regents Office, and participated in public town hall meetings.

The agency then compared current practices and approaches to industry best practices to identify key themes and possible areas of improvement, according to the Board of Regents Office.

The review looked for ways to cut costs, increase revenue or improve services in 12 areas, including the purchasing of goods, construction, academic programs, athletics, information technology services, facilities management, construction, marketing and student services.

It identified strengths and challenges, including that there is limited cross-university collaboration; “silos” within universities leading to overlapping and duplication of roles, services and programs; and a high degree of complexity across functions “resulting in inefficient processes that cause time delays and frustration.”

Deloitte outlined room for improvement in eight of those 12 areas, such as academic programs, in which it suggested decreasing the time it takes for students to complete degrees, increasing access for non-traditional students through distance education and furthering enrollment management principles.

One of the few specific recommendations identified suggested evaluating whether a common application portal across the three universities would be beneficial.

Details of how that might work weren’t made public.

Although the Board of Regents hasn’t specified how much it hopes to save through the efficiency review, Regent Larry McKibben said he expects to see a return on investment of more than six to 10 times what the regents spend.

“It is my firm belief that we will exceed that number very successfully,” McKibben said during the board meeting last week.

Looking forward, Deloitte is developing a schedule and plans for phase two, which begins this month and is expected to wrap up in December. The review will focus on administrative processes over the summer, and the academic review will ramp up in the fall when faculty, students and staff return to campus.

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