Colleges Look to Cut Costs

Taking a close look at expenditures is something Indiana’s colleges and universities have been concentrating on in recent years. In Missouri, efforts are focusing on elimination of rarely used degree programs and increased collaboration between various academic institutions. Stateline reports:

Last August in Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon told state universities to look at making some hard choices they’re not accustomed to having to make. Nixon, a Democrat, wants to eliminate “low-producing” academic programs in order to save money. To that end, he asked universities to review any program that fails to award an average of ten bachelor’s degrees, five master’s degrees or three doctorates per year.

The results of this review aren’t due on the governor’s desk until February, but preliminary results offer an interesting look at what may lie ahead. Institutions have volunteered to terminate 61 of the 353 programs that fell below the threshold, including programs in French, engineering physics, public administration, antiquities, sociology and recreation. More courses are expected to be on the chopping block as the schools conduct follow-up and explore opportunities to consolidate or share programs. Instead of all of the state’s institutions of higher learning trying “to be everything to everybody,” Nixon says, “we have to take a good hard look at what we do well.”

This review is only the beginning of a major efficiency initiative that Nixon is pushing across Missouri’s 13 four-year universities and 21 two-year colleges. So far, these institutions have been spared the worst of the state’s budget crisis, thanks to an agreement they made with the governor two years ago to freeze tuition rates. Now, with that agreement set to expire soon — and Missouri facing a budget deficit of up to $700 million next year — higher ed is bracing for a funding reduction of as much as 20 percent next year.

While some of that gap may be filled with increases in tuition and fees, there’s a growing sense, both in Missouri and across the country, that state colleges and universities can’t go on simply charging students more. Increasingly, school leaders acknowledge that they need to cut their underlying cost structures, and that saving money on classroom instruction has to be part of the mix. As David Russell, Missouri’s commissioner of higher education, puts it, “The last real area of higher education that’s remained relatively untouched, the academic enterprise, the core of our reason for existence, is in danger of suffering some severe reductions."