November 16, 2011

Student and Academic Services Looks to Cut Costs

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University administrators touted an initiative in the Division of Student and Academic Services that they said will drastically reduce costs without compromising services at a meeting on Wednesday.

The plan, one part of the Administrative Streamlining Program, is projected to save the University nearly $2 million by the 2016 fiscal year through cuts and improvements. The plan examines cost saving opportunities within four areas of SAS: dining, housing, conference services and athletics and physical education.

After examining ways to achieve savings across all administrative units, the University determined that SAS could make cuts within its own division and decided to include it in the Administrative Streamlining Program, according to administrators.

“Though we weren’t a part of the initial, approximately $80 million cuts of the Administrative Streamlining Program, we are now included in that with a $1.9 million [savings] target,” said Kellie Page, assistant vice president for Student and Academic Services.

In dining, for instance, SAS aims to save the University $700,000. Page said several means of accomplishing these savings were discussed, including closing under-performing units, outsourcing services and increasing dining fees.

Page said that the team was reluctant to increase dining fees and ultimately decided against doing to in order to keep Cornell competitive with other universities’ prices. Instead, the team has already begun reorganizing commissaries to provide hot food to on-campus dining locations, and has started to eliminate some commissaries that provide cold food on West Campus.

SAS also examined a number of options in the area of housing, including increasing undergraduate housing rates across the University, increasing occupancy in undergraduate housing and creating a system of differential housing, which would increase housing rates for newer West Campus dorms. The housing team ultimately decided against all three of these options and instead focused on graduate housing, Page said.

“There were two graduate students who had a voice in this process, but no undergraduates assisted in the decision-making nor were the S.A. or other undergraduate student groups consulted,” Page said.

SAS recommended that graduate student housing rates be increased by $50 per month by the 2013 fiscal year.

“Though this is an increase, we believe that we are still offering competitive housing rates in comparison to our peers at other universities,” Page said.

In terms of athletics and physical education, SAS had two goals: to increase the number of self-funded athletic teams, and for these teams to cover all of their direct and indirect costs. From these measures, SAS administrators said they expect to save $489,000.

“We previously had ten teams that were self-funded, and we will now have eleven,” said Larry Quant, associate athletic director of Financial Operations, who worked on the initiative. “The new team will be women’s tennis, and we expect that this team, and the others, will all be self-funded by the 2016 fiscal year.”

Quant suggested that one way the teams could obtain this funding is by attempting to increase endowment gifts.

“Through this increase, we believe our goal is entirely possible,” he said.

A team also investigated the possibility of increasing the revenue gained through the University’s conference services. The team determined that organizations seeking to host conferences at the University should be able to schedule rooms on campus earlier than in the past, a change that would attract larger conferences to campus and thus generate more revenue for the University.

“The practice, which has been in place for many years, has been to give precedence to summer session classes, which are scheduled in April,” said Barbara Romano, director of residential and event services for the Campus Life Management Office, who worked on the conferences services initiative. ”Afterward, then we can schedule conferences in the summer. Now, we intend to block academics earlier, so we can book conferences as early as two years in advance.”

The administrators spoke optimistically about the changes that improvements in all four areas would bring to the University.

“Though the process will take several years and a great deal of planning, we believe that the changes we can make in SAS have the potential to make a great impact on the work the University is trying to accomplish in its Administrative Streamlining Program,” Page said.

Original Author: Kerry Close