Monday, November 10, 2014

Budget challenges in higher education

Higher education faces particular budget challenges. As we have seen in various articles, hundreds of thousands of people emerge from college with a modest amount of debt yet no degree. Higher education must reduce the total cost of the university degree. The FDIC describes the issue in plain language, from a 2012 report: "The average annual cost of higher education has increased dramatically in the last decade. And with education debt continuing to rise along with the increase in costs, many people face a tough financial situation."

This pressure applies to the University of Minnesota, as well. A month ago, the U of M Board of Regents approved President Kaler's budget plan. Among other things in the proposed plan, the new budget would continue the U of M's partnership with the State where the University will freeze resident undergraduate tuition in 2013 and 2014.

At the University of Minnesota, we are working together to reduce administrative costs, to make higher education more affordable to all Minnesotans. It is a worthy goal, and I encourage everyone in IT@UMN to find new efficiencies, to reduce costs. "Simplify, Standardize, Automate" will get us only so far; we need to be innovative to explore new options that extend higher education while lowering the cost.

However, that puts us in a unique position. Higher education will not receive an increase in funding in the foreseeable future. In the past, higher education might have experienced wage freezes, or temporary budget freezes. In particularly tight budget bienniums, the University saw an overall decrease in funding, only to have that funding restored within a few years. But the past is in the past. Do not expect funding levels to rise. We will need to do more with less.

Usually, I'm not a fan of the phrase "do more with less" but in this instance, I believe we can do it. We just need to think creatively about how we deliver solutions to our campus. Don't be afraid to question the status quo. Look for new ways to achieve goals. Can we leverage other services, provided elsewhere within the U of M system? Are we really providing value in each of our services, or would it be better to "outsource" any of our systems to the Cloud? I challenge each of you to look to your own work systems, to find opportunities to reduce cost. I know we can do it together.
photo: Tax Credits

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