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Trustees | Costs

Trustees Group Publishes Cost-Cutting Guide for Boards

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION   |  August 2, 2010 by Paul Fain

College governing boards should do their part to cut costs on campuses, according to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which has published a 20-page guide to help trustees find money-saving opportunities.

“If you think times are tough for your university’s budget, consider how difficult economic times are for your students and their families,” reads the report, “Cutting Costs: a Trustee’s Guide to Tough Economic Times.” “It is surely not the time to balance your university’s budget with higher tuitions and student fees.”

The group, which advocates on university governance as well as against what it sees as a liberal orthodoxy in higher education, distributed the guide on Monday to 10,000 trustees at more than 600 colleges across the country.

Experts generally recommend that trustees stick to strategic financial planning, over multiyear time lines, and avoid making annual line-item budget decisions. The council says it is not recommending micromanagement but courageous leadership. “Students, parents, stakeholders, and—for public universities—taxpayers depend on your vigilance and firmness.”

Several areas are ripe for eliminating budgetary waste, according to the guide, including building projects, search-firm contracts, travel expenses, administrative redundancy, and mission creep.

“Beware of building and maintenance projects broken into multiple small units, masking large expenditures beneath seemingly routine activity,” the report says.

Good data are key to making financial decisions, says the guide, which recommends that trustees review financial numbers from the Department of Education as well as reports prepared by university administrators.

The guide is peppered with specific cost-cutting examples, like a $20-million effort by the University of Missouri at Columbia. It identifies savings through distance education, partnerships and consortia between colleges, increased teaching loads, and forgoing specialized accreditation.

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