Bringing efficiency to public higher education
Unified payment and procurement systems for UMass will yield big savings
HIGHER EDUCATION can be hidebound and slow-moving.
In some instances – such as the pomp and circumstance of commencements – adherence to tradition and ceremony are essential to the academic experience.
But the emergence of disruptive forces in higher education – including a demographic decline that will shrink the pool of college-age students and the increasing pressure of student debt – has required that colleges and universities become more nimble and efficient. And amid these challenges, public universities must redouble their effort to ensure that affordable, high-quality education remains accessible to students from all backgrounds.
One area ripe for reinvention is back-of-house business operations.
The savings and efficiencies of shared services result from economies of scale through enhanced strategic purchasing and a new mode of operation that is more data-focused and streamlined.
It may sound boring, but the results are not. The initiative is expected to save $16 million in the first 12 to18 months with annual savings to follow – roughly equivalent to a 3 percent increase in tuition or the endowment distribution of a $400 million gift.
But cost-saving are not the only benefit. The new model will improve service delivery, provide greater transparency and measurement, and create new professional development opportunities for employees. By establishing a working model for how the five UMass campuses can work together in an integrated system to improve service to employees and partners, it will also create a foundation to explore new efficiency opportunities in the future.
The successful implementation of the shared services initiative at UMass will be a watershed moment for public higher education in the Commonwealth. It will demonstrate that with input and collaboration from stakeholders, even institutions steeped in tradition can adapt to a rapidly changing landscape.
As importantly, it will point the way for other institutions seeking to tackle large efficiency and effectiveness projects thoughtfully and collaboratively.James Peyser is the Massachusetts secretary of education. Marty Meehan is president of the University of Massachusetts.