Friday, March 15, 2013

(The Empire Strikes Back...)

Minnesota Lawmakers 

Consider Funds for College


Minnesota lawmakers are weighing a request for more money to hold the line on tuition at the University of Minnesota, in the wake of an independent staffing analysis that found some inefficiencies within the school's administrative structure.
The analysis was ordered by lawmakers in January after a Wall Street Journal investigation into administrative costs at the school. The analysis was presented during public hearings this week and concluded that the university had an appropriate number of management layers in four departments examined but that many managers oversaw fewer employees than is considered optimal.
Each manager should ideally supervise at least seven employees, according to one industry benchmark cited in the report. Analysts determined that in the university's procurement department the ratio is 3.6 to 1, in the finance department it is 3.9 to 1, and in human resources it is 4.9 to 1. Only in the office of information technology, where the ratio is 9.5 to 1, was the administration found to be efficient.
"I think the audit showed there is a lot of room for improvement," said state Sen. Terri Bonoff, the Democratic chairwoman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee and one of the legislators who asked for the analysis. "Corporate America had to tackle this five years ago in order to be cost-effective. In today's economy to compete globally, you have to have your costs organized."
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, who has contended that the Journal article overstated the problem in part because of faulty data provided by the school, said in testimony before lawmakers this week that the audit revealed "a good organization with room to do better." A second, more in-depth report—which will cost the school $495,000—is due by the end of May and will compare the school to other comparable universities.
"The university will use data from these reports to reduce costs and improve operations," Mr. Kaler said. "We expect that changing some of these alignments will require tough decisions. We will make those changes." The result, he said, will be to move money spent on administration into "core missions."
In outlining the school's efforts to become more efficient, Mr. Kaler is lobbying the Legislature for an 8.4% increase in funding. Lawmakers have suggested the report could affect their attitude toward funding. That additional money would enable the school to keep tuition flat for the first time in decades. In the past decade, tuition and fees have more than doubled to $13,524. That far exceeds the average at four-year public colleges of $8,655. Mr. Kaler has argued that cuts in state aid to the school have been deeper in Minnesota than in other states.
The Journal article in December examined 11 years of payroll data and determined that the university had hired more than 1,000 administrators between 2001 and 2012. Mr. Kaler told lawmakers this week that the data the school provided the Journal last year was inaccurate and the number of administrators hired was smaller than that.
The audit has been much anticipated in the state's capital and Ms. Bonoff said she was pleased with the result because it gave lawmakers a starting point measure the school's progress.
"I'm satisfied not because the audit says they're efficient but because they're willing to identify where they are not and that's the issue," she said. "Without data you're really flying blind."
Former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson has been an outspoken critic of the university's tuition increases and said the audit made it clear the administration needed to be cut back "today. Not tomorrow, today."
Write to Douglas Belkin at

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