Audit of state university spending ( .PDF )
Topeka 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.”
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.