Friday, February 01, 2008

Taking The High Costs Out Of Higher Education - Innovative Ways To Reduce U of L's Budget

The governor of Kentucky this week announced a 12% cut to higher education. This is a very drastic cut. It’s not just asking us to tighten our belt buckles, but to cut off the excess belt and sell it, and sell the remaining belt and buckle to advertisers. Now although I very much intend to delve into this cut, and where it shows our priorities lie, (and don't lie) that will have to wait for another post. Today, I'm putting forward some ideas I have for cutting the costs of higher education here at the University of Louisville, and more broadly at other universities in Kentucky and the United States. Many of these I would be for even in times of economic boon, but especially now that we have a budget cut we need to take innovative approaches.

1- Cut the insanely, ridiculously high mandatory meal plan. When I was a Freshman I was required to purchase an $850 per semester meal plan. (per semester!) There was no way I could spend it all on my own, nor should I have to have spent that much of my money at U of L's poor food services. I had to buy food for friends, and then at the end of the year by a bunch of overpriced groceries, to keep our food service (Chartwells) from getting free money. But now it’s gone up to $1000 per semester. It’s not a question of if tuition will go up, but by what insanely huge amount. Reducing the meal plan would put real money into student's pockets, helping to offset some of the tuition increase. Just cutting back to the level when I was a freshman would save residential Freshman $300. It’s the least we can do, and it doesn't take much to do it.

2- Another easy thing we can do to help students in lieu of a major tuition increase is stop going to new edition of textbooks that are almost identical as the old edition. It’s no secret that textbook manufacturers make money by releasing new editions. Let’s say no to this, at least for the next couple of years while our budget is cut and tuition extra high. Professors should have to show a legitimate reason for requiring a new book.

3 - Get rid of our current, crappy e-mail system. Most students don't use it for their primary e-mail, most just have it forward e-mail to their personal account. I only log in to clear it out every so often. There are plenty of free options out there, my favorite Gmail, let’s just use them. Believe it or not, there are universities that have switched to Gmail. Google takes over, they keep the same domain name, e.g. louisville.edu, and the same addresses, customize the logo, etc., all for FREE. We should not continue to pay for a dissatisfactory service that doesn't have enough storage. (And if you go to U of L you know the spam filter for all our money isn't even built in, you have to login to another system.) We could use Gmail for free and get gigs of storage. Take our backroom operations and make them someone else's front room operations.

4- Gmail of course makes money by showing ads based on your e-mail. So along those lines, put advertisements on our other online systems, (e.g. Ulink, Blackboard) to help pay for them, if not make money. And while we're on advertising, put ads up on campus, especially on those wasted flat panel TVs that show the weather. (I've obviously already been outside, I know the weather)

5- Corporate sponsorship. Anything a company is willing to pay for, let them. It’s happening in sports, why not in the world of academia. Sell the naming rights to buildings on campus. How about the KFC Student Activities Center? We can't make people change what they call places, but guarantee everything in official university communication their name will come up with the mention of their building. Hell, if they offer enough, sell the naming rights to U of L. "Papa John's University of Louisville?"

6- Advisors, what do they really do. So far, I've haven't been impressed with most of my advisors. (A few were ok.) They seem to just rubber stamp your schedule rather than truly guide you. We should develop a dynamic online system for aiding students in picking out classes. It could check your proposed classes against your transcript to make sure you meet the prerequisites and check against your degree requirements. If you don't have a prerequisite you would either change or fill out an online form seeking an exception. And if it doesn't meet a requirement or its one you've already done, it would confirm that you are aware of this and let you either change or continue. Additionally, you could enter in the classes you want to take and have it generate some different possibilities that don't conflict. And as you make changes it would eliminate choices. This would useful even if we didn't have a budget crisis. No one enjoys firing people, (besides Donald Trump) but with a 12% cut in funding some hard choices are going to have to be made. Between keeping professors and keeping advisors, I choose professors. The remaining advisors could respond to exemptions, e-mails, phone calls, and requests for face-to-face meetings. Or, perhaps we could outsource some of this advising, or have student volunteers from each major provide advice, and cut the number of advisors down further. If we implement this with the help of all the current advisors, they can put the development and implementation of an online advising system on their resume and use it to get a better job elsewhere. In effect, they digitalize their own job, and could do the same elsewhere for more money.

7- Push online classes. Do we really need to be spending so much money so students can sleep through lectures with hundreds of other students? Those classes are prime targets for being done online. Technology has advanced enough to make this possible. No more falling asleep in an 8 am class. No more straining your eyes to read your professor's horrible handwriting on the chalkboard or text on PowerPoints that are too small for the room, just peruse your professor PowerPoints notes on your computer at home. Submit your homework online. Of course, you would have to come in occasionally to take tests, which maintains the credibility of online classes. Right now at U of L they charge more for online courses, even if you're full time. Online classes should cost less for U of L to run, if not we're doing them wrong. We should be encouraging online classes, not discouraging them through higher costs. We can market this not as a budget cost, but as a benefit of coming to U of L. "Your schedule shouldn't be flexible to class, but your class should be flexible to you." I'm not saying U of L should move all our classes online. I'm saying we should offer classes where there is not participation, not discussion, but just your professor lecturing in an online format. A lot of your higher classes in your major would probably stay as physical classes for the time.

8- Going hand in hand with online classes is the outsourcing of grading of homework, quizzes, and tests. Right now U of L has fired student graders. You can't tell me that won't affect what assignments your professors give you. If I were a professor I would move towards multiple choice scantrons and questions with one right, clear cut answer. Partial credit, not my problem. If outsourcing grading of some work would allow professors to have graders then its better than nothing. Submitting homework online would be pretty essential for this to simplify the process and allow for speedy processing of your assignments. If ran right the time between turning in an assignment and getting it back graded would decrease, maybe even to the next day. Another thing to do is have homework be filled in on a site so that a computer can grade it, and then you challenge anything you think the computer missed because of spelling, etc.

9- We can't just push the envelope anymore, we have to push beyond the envelope. Mailing costs too much, use e-mail. U of L sends out late notices via snail mail. These mailings for me go to my parents' house, my permanent address, not where I live during my time at college, and I don't find out for several weeks that I have forgotten to return a book. If that was done via e-mail (at least for a couple of weeks) it would not only save mailing costs, it would speed up the return of books and other materials. This can be applied across the board. Besides legally required mailings, and marketing material to potential students (we wouldn't want to look cheap), we should be doing mass mailings via e-mail.

10 - Every time I'm on campus late at night I notice the lights on in academic buildings, long closed. We are just throwing money away. We need to install motion sensors to turn lights off when people are absent. Some areas during the day are near windows and when the sun is shining bright could do without artificial light. So we also need ambient light sensors. Do we really need lights on in stairwells with windows during the day? Another place that could cut power, deserted book stacks in the library. Perhaps we could add solar panels too, if they can be shown to be fiscally feasible in Kentucky's climate. The initial costs to get these energy savings could perhaps be paid for using bonds, with would be paid off with a portion of the energy savings.

11 - Along with the cutting of our electric bill, if we aren't already expand recycling and use it as a way to cut waste disposal costs. We can either have the recycling taken away for free or even get paid for it, depending on how much effort we're willing to go to. Many large companies have turned to recycling to cut costs. Use these efforts to market U of L as a green university, turn cost cutting efforts into a marketing advantage. "U of L is turning green." "Green is U of L." "Green is the new red." I'm sure there are other efforts that could go into this. We should require all new campus buildings to be eco-friendly. (Not that there is going to be many new buildings with a 12% budget cut.) It's no longer enough to think outside the box, we have to get out if it and sell it for recycling because boxes cost too much.

12- Get rid of phones in the dorms. Most people today have cell phones. When I was living in the dorm I hardly ever used my dorm phone. I gave people my cell phone number and called people from my cell phone even when in my room. I'm sure I'm not the only one. If someone doesn't have a cell phone they can take their savings from not having a landline and apply that
to a cell phone. Or use Skype, etc. Or perhaps U of L could switch to running phones through the ethernet, surely that would save money and preserve dorm phones. One of the newer residence halls I stayed in did that, so apply that across campus.

13- Considering the cost of campus housing, there is no way building a new dormitory or residential hall doesn't pay for itself in a few years. So, increase on campus housing either by encouraging private businesses to do it or sell bonds to build them, to be paid off using the revenue from rent. We know that there is more housing demanded than U of L has, so this is a pretty sure bet as you can get that you will have increased revenue. Those bonds could perhaps be coupled with bonds to cover a system to turn of lights and other energy saving efforts. Perhaps a parking garage could be covered by those as well.

14- Encourage high schoolers to take new online college classes to get a leg up. More revenue, self-explanatory.

15 -Stop charging to pay tuition via credit card. We should be encouraging people to make payments online, cutting out paperwork, cutting overhead. If anything, lets either require payments be made online, (if you don't have a credit or debit card to put it on you could always provide your bank account routing number from your check) and charge to process paper checks. Students have access to computers on campus, so lack of access is no excuse. While we're at it, cut down the number of check writing by payroll by requiring all employees paid via direct deposit, and get rid of paper stubs. If they don't have a checking account then they can get one.

16- Conduct season ticket sales online. It used to be tickets were given on a first-come, first-serve basis and people camped out to get good tickets. Last year we switched to a lottery system to give tickets away, but you still had to show up at a certain time. When they got rid of the need to camp out they got rid of the need to conduct ticket sales in person. It’s a chaotic, inefficient process that needs to go. You stand in long lines to pay with a physical check or credit card number on a form filled in by hand. If you can't make it at that particular time and date you get screwed. Lets conduct it online, give a couple day window to go online, fill out an electronic form for everyone in a group seeking tickets together, enter in a credit card number or bank routing number, and let computers, not people do the work. It would save money, it would save time of both U of L and students, and it would reduce stress. This one makes sense no matter the budget situation.

17- Outsource tech support. I shouldn't be able to call tech support and hear an American voice on the other line. Additionally, besides switching to Gmail, we could see about outsourcing all of our IT to a company who specializes in that, if it will save money and improve service.

18- I would say cut orientation down to one day, no overnight stay, or better yet move it online, but I'm pretty certain U of L makes money off that. If that's not the case then get rid of it.

19- When it warms up shut off hot water to buildings where it’s not necessary. So, everywhere besides residential halls, the Student Activity Center since the gym is there and people don't want cold showers, the natatorium for the same reason, and maybe some of the buildings with labs depending upon the type of research. (Who knows what they're developing in the Belknap Research Building.) You don't have to have hot water for washing your hands, that's a luxury.

20 – This would go along with the online classes. Grad classes need to be offered online. At my workplace in Louisville, I know people who were getting Master's Degrees that the company pays for from schools hours away since they could do it online rather than physically show up for class at a particular time. That is lost money.

Just For Fun
1- Lease Miller Hall (probably the worse dorm on campus) out as a minimum security prison. Win-win for the state and for U of L.
2- Require tuition to be paid in Euros
3- Cut all sports that don't make money or at least break even.
4- On all tests add this question: "What's a 16 digit number that will provide U of L with $20?" (5% of grade)
5- Shut off AC and sell cold drinks outside of class.
6- Add "volunteer" hours as a requirement to degrees. Coincidentally, there will be many new "volunteer" "opportunities" on campus with all the layoffs.

There's how I would cut costs at U of L. I doubt these would add up to all our lost money from the state, but I think these would help. (I guess it depends in part on how many online classes we push, and how many professors we layoff because we have less classes to cover on a daily basis.) Drastic times call for drastic measures. A few thousand dollars here, a few thousand there add up. No cost is too small to consider cutting. As I mentioned, many of these make sense even if there wasn't a budget crisis, and some of these would actually result in improved quality. I tried to stick with things that wouldn't result in lower quality, although I'm sure those cuts are coming.

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