Penn State Intercom......March 20, 2003

University seeks ways
to increase efficiency

By Julie A. Brink
Public Informationaddress01

Penn State has a nationwide reputation as an efficiently operated university, but the Task Force on University Cost Savings wants to take that status to a new level. The task force is calling on every faculty and staff member University-wide to assist in identifying areas where savings can be implemented.

"With state appropriations at a relatively low level and falling further, rising costs of delivering a high-quality education and upward pressures on tuition every year, we owe it to our students and their parents to ensure that we get the maximum return on every dollar we spend in fulfilling the multiple missions of the University," according to Executive Vice President and Provost Rodney Erickson.

The group, appointed last year by President Graham B. Spanier, has a mission to look at ways to conserve additional financial resources. It was charged with identifying central costs savings, recommending cost avoidance strategies, developing new ideas for generating non-tuition revenues and making investments now that will further reduce costs in the future.

Erickson and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz are the co-chairs of the task force. It includes Eva Pell, vice president for research and dean of The Graduate School; Dan Larson, dean of the Eberly College of Science and chair of the Academic Leadership Council 2002-03; Dick Althouse, University budget officer; and Steve Curley, financial officer in Office of the President.

"Everything is on the table," as far as identifying cost- savings strategies, Erickson said. So far, the task force has identified $3 million in central cost savings to help hold down next year's tuition increase. These include administrative streamlining, program consolidation or elimination and fringe benefit cost containment. The task force also is examining publication costs, telecommunication services and travel expenses.

It has identified some sources of non-tuition revenue such as enhanced recovery of facilities and administrative costs on sponsored research programs as well as the possibility of generating revenue from services provided to the non-University public. Meanwhile, many efforts directed at financial stewardship already are under way across the University.

As part of the current strategic planning cycle, last year the University also commissioned the Finance and Business Expenditures and Operational Efficiencies Team, led by Jim Dunlop, director of procurement services, to evaluate and identify significant opportunities for efficiencies and cost saving while maintaining customer service. Part of the team's mission is imparting a sense that thinking about cost-savings is everyone's job.

"We want to cultivate a culture of economic stewardship based on trust," Bob Fantaske, coordinator of management engineering, said. "We want people to be comfortable in bringing forth ideas that will save Penn State money."

Fantaske is a member of the Finance and Business team, which made a recent presentation to the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment on what the team is doing to identify cost savings and operational efficiencies. The finance team is taking a look at the long-term, broader picture. They've identified several areas for exploration: end-of-the-fiscal year purchasing practices; travel process, electronic communication, flexibility in work scheduling, supplemental pay, cell phone usage and policy review.

The cost-savings process is taking many other forms of collaboration across the University. Check out the $UCCE$$ Program in Outreach and Extension. The team has been in operation since January 2002. It solicits suggestions for cost savings, process improvements or program/service opportunities from Outreach employees. Each person who submits an idea is individually acknowledged by senior Outreach administration. So far the team has received 53 ideas and implemented 25 of them which have generated $200,000 in one-time or annual savings, according to Jeff Smith, director of finance, facilities and information systems in Outreach and Cooperative Extension.

Other groups working toward economic stewardship are focused on moving paper-based work online. For instance, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions set up an online reservation system that allows some 30,000 students and their parents to register for visits, choose dates, get traveling instructions and receive a printable parking pass. The system, which took a year to develop and implement, recently went online, according to Julie Williams, visitation coordinator. Since the system has been in operation for only a few months, the office doesn't have any data for analysis, but she expected that printing and mailing costs will drop. "What we're hoping to see," she said, "is that the number of mailings go down significantly."

The Human Resource Development Center (HRDC) improved registration for professional development programs by implementing online registration and direct billing. The program, which was introduced this past August, has already reduced costs through more efficient use of staff time.

"We're seeing reduced data entry and staff time as approximately 40 percent of our customers utilize the online registration system," said Sue Cromwell, assistant manager of HRDC. "Now we're able to serve customers better, answer questions, help with course choices and just focus on the customers' needs instead of processing forms. In looking at a return on the investment, I think we're using staff time much better."

No ending date has been set for the task force, which plans to continue working until it's satisfied that it has achieved all that it can. Suggestions may be e-mailed to

Julie A. Brink can be reached at