Archive for Friday, August 28, 2009

State audit says universities can reduce costs by cutting faculty, eliminating classes

Report suggests eliminating some faculty and courses

August 28, 2009, 12:06 p.m. Updated August 28, 2009, 4:12 p.m.


Related document

Audit of state university spending ( .PDF )

— A state audit released Friday said that Kansas regents universities could reduce costs by shedding faculty, eliminating low-enrollment classes and consolidating departments.

The Legislative Post Audit report also showed a wide variance in per-student cost among the six universities.

Joe Lawhon, the lead auditor presenting the report to lawmakers, conceded, however, that the study was a “macro look” and didn’t investigate how students might be affected by such reductions.

And, the audit was based on funding from last fiscal year and didn’t take into account the 12 percent, $76 million, in cuts made to higher education during the current fiscal year because of the state budget crisis.

State Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said because of the recent budget cuts “it would appear that the universities are going down this road in terms of the recommendations that you have proposed in this report.”

Kansas University Interim Provost Danny Anderson, said, “We’re doing a lot of the things that the audit is talking about.”

Lawmakers look for savings

The report comes out at a time that legislators are facing a projected $500 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year. Meanwhile, state funding to higher education continues to fall as a percentage of total costs while tuition has risen 209 percent at Kansas University from 1997 to 2008, according to the audit.

Some higher education officials expressed disappointment in what they said was the audit’s lack of context.

Instead of comparing costs with peer institutions across the nation, the audit compared the regents universities with each other.

The audit found that in fiscal year 2008, general use operating expenditures per full-time equivalent student ranged from $8,330 at Fort Hays State University to $14,191 at KU.

“Our universities differ in size, mission and even face different regional and geographical considerations,” said Kansas Board of Regents Chairwoman Jill Docking. “Comparing KU to Fort Hays or K-State to Pittsburg State isn’t a meaningful exercise.”

Cutting costs

But the audit maintained there were savings to be found.

For example, about 13 percent of all undergraduate course sections had nine or fewer students. Of those low-enrollment courses, 91 were sampled and university officials reported that 20 of those could have been combined or offered only once per year, the audit said.

“It’s not efficient to teach low-enrollment sections,” Lawhon said.

Lawhon said money-saving opportunities exist in combining departments, increasing online courses, more collaboration between schools and better use of building space.

And he said some states have increased faculty workloads to save money. A 10 percent increase in the average faculty workload in the fall 2007 semester would have resulted in the need for 330 fewer instructors, the audit said.

In a written response to the audit, KU’s Anderson said, “However, a recommendation such as reducing the number of faculty members would be counterproductive to maintaining the quality of the educational experience for our students and would harm our ability to attract research dollars to Kansas.”

But despite the pushback from the schools, the regents announced that they would instruct the state universities to create efficiency task forces to analyze the audit recommendations and report back to the regents, which will then submit a report to the Legislature when the 2010 session starts in January.


budwhysir 8 years, 10 months ago

Reduce costs by consolidating???? how bout lowering hemenways compensation? or better yet, just take away those sports tickets

fletch 8 years, 10 months ago

I learned more in my classes with 10 students than I ever did in my class with 1000. You can consolidate all you want, but at the upper level of difficult programs (especially in the sciences and engineering programs), you're going to need small classes to graduate effective students who know what the hell they're doing. Consolidating everything into massive classes and picking off smaller majors that require extreme specialization will just dilute the quality of the education and university's prestige.

Phillbert 8 years, 10 months ago

"Joe Lawhon, the lead auditor presenting the report to lawmakers, conceded, however, that the study was a “macro look” and didn’t investigate how students might be affected by such reductions."

And now we know why the Legislature has no problem cutting education. "Students? Why would we care what happens to them?"

Bob_Keeshan 8 years, 10 months ago

Any performance audit that completely ignores outcomes isn't a performance audit at all.

What a waste of time and money. Notice that there is one branch of Kansas government still hiring and still spending - the Legislative branch.


kla4one 8 years, 10 months ago

Wow--the same day Hemenway gets 300,000 plus in compensation, the legislature says drop faculty and cut classes to save money.

davidsmom 8 years, 10 months ago

I don't know what is appropriate for Dr. Hemenway, but if he is semi-retiring, his salary is way overboard for teaching just one course. However, the conclusions of this audit are ridiculous, for reasons already stated. One was particularly well said by fletch.

A few years ago the State of Arizona was considering eliminating duplicate programs at its state universities (i.e. chemical engineering at only one university instead of two) but there are inherent problems with that approach, as well. I don't know whether or not they followed through with this plan.

Jonathan Becker 8 years, 10 months ago

The governor says one week that acceptance standards are too low; this week state auditors say cut small classes. Do you guys talk to each other before you open mouth and insert foot?

The application of efficiency methods to education demonstrates a lack of education on the part of the auditors. Please return to bean counting where there is little chance of hurting yourself.

. . . I wonder if the conclusion of cutting faculty and shedding low enrollment classes applies to the accounting department? We should have a demonstration model of how well this recommendation will work in the accounting department first.

Steve Miller 8 years, 10 months ago

You got it right budwhysir, just what i was thinking. Another typical example of the "perk" syndrom. I think i'll stop by and get another corn dog.

parrothead8 8 years, 10 months ago

They needed an audit board to tell them that fewer employees means reduced overhead?

Maybe we should have fewer people on the audit board...

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 10 months ago

One quick way to save money would be to reduce the number of provosts and deans and reduce the salaries of those remaining.

These administrators do very little work of the university. They often do no teaching or research and simply sit in meetings with one another telling each other what they want to hear.

Change starts at the top. Eliminate many provost and dean positions, and reduce the inflated salaries of those who remain.

Phil Minkin 8 years, 10 months ago

A university is not a retail business and attempts to make it run like one are misguided. i'm sure there are some ways to save money, but simply looking at a P&L or balance sheet fail to understand the nature of education. Some cost exceed their monetary value. I am reminded of the prof I had while studying restaurant mgmt years ago. He was an economist on loan to our dept. He said that if you ran our of coffee a half hour before closing it didn't make economic sense to brew another it there were only 3 or 4 customers left. Maybe good economics but really bad customer realations. Bean counters sometimes don't get the bigger picture.

jayhawks71 8 years, 10 months ago

The monster-sized classes exist to allow the smaller classes to be taught. A 3 credit hour class of 1000 generates 3000 credit hours. A conservative estimate, using ONLY in-state students means that a course that size generates $735,000 in tuition. If that course has 1/3 of the students paying out-of-state tuition, that course generates $1.13 million. It is that type of course that justifies the teaching of necessary classes that have 10 students. This is the model that the sacred athletics departments run on. Football and Men's basketball are typically the money makers that pay for sports such as soccer, swimming, tennis, volleyball, and softball. The variety of courses must remain because they allow for opportunities for academic inquiry by both faculty and students. The notion that a school should cut courses that "lose money" is short sighted because it fails to take into account students and faculty who come to a school because of the opportunities it affords.

das 8 years, 10 months ago

I've said it before in another post...KU should look to ISO 9001 for guidance. KU does offer a product/services and has "customers". Quality of service improvement can be done and measured effectively....and at this KU MUST look to a better model. SEE:

pace 8 years, 10 months ago

I hope it was a cheap audit, cause if they had just asked me I would say, fire faculty, fire support staff and cancel lots of classes, great short term savings. Heck close those pesty high schools, that will leave more tax monies for roads.

headdoctor 8 years, 10 months ago

For some time now we have realized the problems associated with all types of budgets. This is particularly true around universities. All we have to do is destroy the following element.

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