The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday January 28th

Efficiency a priority for new ?nancial program

UNC-system officials are visiting campuses this month to ensure that administrators are following newly instated financial processes.

The visits are a part of a new initiative called the UNC Finance Improvement and Transformation initiative — a measure that followed several audits in 2008 of UNC-system schools that came back with irregular results.

FIT is designed to streamline the UNC-system’s financial operations and solve issues in areas such as financial aid, contracts and grants and general accounting, said Gwen Canady, the project manager.

A team of financial overseers will work with the universities and help financial officials collaborate to ensure accurate financial operations.

FIT began in October 2008 after an assessment conducted by Ernst & Young concluded that money was not being spent efficiently at some schools.

The first phase of the program, implemented last year, worked toward short-term solutions — mainly in payroll — and the development of a centralized office to handle the system’s back office work, Canady said.

With FIT, schools are required to send regular updates to an audit committee of the Board of Governors so that individual schools can be held more accountable, UNC-system President Erskine Bowles said in a memorandum sent to chancellors in October 2008.

“The idea was to cut expenses and make it more proficient, and to reduce any possibility of redundance,” said Irvin Roseman, the vice chairman of the audit committee that oversees and analyzes the regular reports.

Nine schools were asked to move to a centralized payroll system by June 30 and to appoint campus project managers.

The second phase, beginning later this month, will test new financial policies at three of the system schools.

UNC-Wilmington will experiment with a new program in general accounting, East Carolina University with contracts and grant monitoring, and N.C. Agriculture & Technical State University with financial aid, Canady said.

The response from the schools has been generally positive, she said. The schools have said they are enjoying the collaboration.

“The universities try to collaborate anyway, and this kind of gives us an outlet to kind of use each other’s expertise,” said Carol Strickland, director of financial operations at UNC-W.

But there is a downside to the newfound efficiency, said Scott Hummel, assistant vice chancellor for business and finance and comptroller at N.C. A & T.

With all the benefits of a uniform system, the people who have to monitor it have a lot to do. Significant time and communication are necessary to manage it properly, he said.

All three representatives from the second-phase pilots said the program was helpful in the resources it provides to the schools’ financial offices.

“If I have a problem, I know who to call at another school who’s in the same situation,” Hummel said.

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