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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC system strategic plan works to streamline operations

In the past few years, the UNC system has been hit repeatedly by state budget cuts.

And to combat the constraints of a smaller budget, General Administration leaders want to continue streamlining the system by sharing administrative duties across the 17 campuses and evaluating university courses to eliminate low-productivity degree programs.

Maximizing efficiencies is the fourth of five goals set out in the system’s five-year strategic plan.

“Efficiency is essential if we’re going to maintain confidence of the taxpayers and win crucial support from decision-makers in Raleigh for needed investments,” said Peter Hans, chairman of the system Board of Governors.

In 2006, the system’s President’s Advisory Committee on Efficiency and Effectiveness, comprised of state business leaders, was appointed by then-President Erskine Bowles to make recommendations to save money and reduce costs.

This was the logical first step for the system to increase efficiency, as well as foster an environment to cut costs, said Jack Evans, interim dean of the UNC-CH Kenan-Flagler Business School, who was co-chairman of the committee.

According to the strategic plan, as a result of the committee’s work, the system realized $32 million in annual savings and avoided $170 million in potential expenditures. It also reduced the number of state-funded General Administration employees by 40 percent during Bowles’ term.

“The first step is to improve costs and efficiency, so that when we have to ask for funds, we can demonstrate to Raleigh that the UNC system could be responsible,” Evans said.

As part of the strategic plan’s fourth goal, system leaders are trying to expand the capacity of the UNC Finance Improvement and Transformation initiative, which seeks to enhance system efficiency. Measures implemented through the initative have saved the system $15 million annually.

The initiative looks at two main areas of saving: strategic sourcing and improved business processes, said Charles Perusse, chief operating officer for the UNC system.

For instance, the campuses are coming together with the state to make bulk purchases, including scientific supplies and office supplies, to lower costs.

The system has also cut costs by conglomerating residency verifications and financial aid assessments, which were run though individual campuses but is now a single, systemwide review, eliminating duplicate processes.

“We are about greater efficiency, transparency and accountability in all activities,” Perusse said.

The system is also implementing a database that collects system information on students, employees and programs called Student Data Mart. The system’s Office of Institutional Research will manage the database, and General Administration staff and campus leaders will have access to it.

“We look at data from the number of enrollments to the amount of graduates in a program, and we flag those that are low,” said Dan Cohen-Vogel, senior director of institutional research for the system. “We then get in communication with the universities to have a conversation about these programs — established programs need to maintain a certain level of enrollment and number of graduates.”

Recently, system schools have been identifying low-productivity degree programs for discontinuation. For instance, history and political science programs are among those being considered for elimination at Elizabeth City State University.

“Each of our campuses needs to prioritize programs in a quest for excellence,” Hans said. “Trying to be all things to all people is expensive.”

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