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Regent Review Identifies Cost-Saving Possibilities, But Few Specifics

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

Within the eight areas, Deloitte Consulting LLC made public on Wednesday vague recommendations for improvement, such as exploring a “common application portal” across the three institutions, more effectively using university infrastructure to reduce utility consumption, and finding ways to simplify the delivery of finance services.

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

The stated goal of the review is to ensure the universities are sustainable into the future while remaining true to their academic missions of “education, research and service as well as learning, discovery and encouragement.”

Wednesday's report caps the end of the review's first phase, and the Board of Regents last week agreed to pay the consultant up to $1 million more to continue its second-phase work later than expected.

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 firm 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, such as the purchasing of goods and services, academic programs, information technology services, facilities management, construction, marketing and student services.

It identified strengths and challenges, including the fact 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 a variety of areas, such as decreasing the time it takes for students to complete degrees, increasing access for non-traditional students through distance education, and furthering enrollment management principles within the area of academics.

Although Deloitte outlines room for improvement in each category, it makes few specific recommendations. For example, within the area of finance, the consultant found that staff and faculty felt overwhelmed by the number of finance areas they need to be proficient in and suggested “there may be an opportunity to simplify how finance processes are performed.”

One specific recommendation suggested evaluating whether a common application portal across the three universities would be beneficial. Details of how that might work weren't immediately 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. As part of those plans, Deloitte is returning to each campus beginning next week to hold additional public forums and obtain more input from stakeholders.

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.

Deloitte also is continuing to gather public feedback on the Board of Regent's website.

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