TBR campuses show over $15 million in improved efficiencies, planning more

In an effort to keep costs down and identify more efficient ways of operating, Tennessee Board of Regents colleges and universities have identified more than $15 million in recent savings, most of which has been reallocated to programs to support student services.

The higher education system is also working with a consultant to identify savings through consolidating functions and collaborating on processes among the community colleges across the state.

The goal is to increase cost effectiveness, enhance efficiency and improve productivity of the schools’ current administrative services, officials say.

The cost savings and efficiency proposals were presented to members of the TBR Finance and Business Operations Committee yesterday as the group considered funding needs and weighs tuition rates in the coming weeks and months.

“We are particularly sensitive to the cost burdens placed on students today,” said TBR Chancellor John Morgan before the meeting. “While our institutions have always strived to be good stewards of limited resources and have been successful at keeping the per-student cost of education - when adjusted for inflation - to the same as it was almost 30 years ago, they continue to find ways to be more efficient and apply those cost savings to programs that support their students.”

The already implemented cost savings programs, spread out among the 13 community colleges and six universities within the TBR System, cover more than 300 projects in multiple function areas on the campuses and include many initiatives focused on improved services to students. Savings ranged from little to no measurable dollars and work efficiencies to more than $2.5 million for a voluntary employee buyout and $1.25 million for energy efficiency upgrades like lighting retrofits, water saving devices and heating/cooling upgrades.

Notable other projects include

  • Using interactive television technology to deliver courses in a new way saved almost $72,000 at Northeast State Community College;
  • Converting to electronic document management saved Northeast State some $350,000 and eliminated multiple filing cabinets of paper documents;
  • Implementing an online employment application process saved East Tennessee State University $85,000;
  • University of Memphis restructured responsibilities in its Business Operations unit, resulting in cost efficiencies of $194,000 and implemented a zone maintenance program that provided more than $1.2 million in savings;
  • Jackson State Community College’s lighting and heating/cooling unit replacements resulted in $45,000 in savings;
  • Tennessee Tech University converted its coal-fired energy plant to natural gas, saving some $368,000;
  • Chattanooga State Community College converted printers in labs to a managed printing system, saving almost $65,000;
  • Converting computer servers to a virtual environment and transforming to a virtual desktop infrastructure helped Cleveland State Community College recover some $360,000; and many more.

Committee members also heard a report from Huron Consulting Group, identifying possible savings through consolidating many administrative processes that are currently separate among the state’s 13 community colleges. 

By investing in the necessary work to implement collaborative functions, the system of community colleges could have a potential financial impact of $5.8 to $9.3 million.

But those efficiencies will require an investment to implement.

Some of the opportunities initially identified, among others, include centralizing the institutions’ business management software, sharing human resources and payroll, sharing financial operations services, automating enterprise management processes, and consolidating bookstore contracts.

“The report from Huron offers several options that could provide significant operational savings for our system,” Chancellor Morgan said. “The next question to answer is which options do we pursue and do we have the resources to implement and realize the potential savings.”

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.