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The Lost Art of Cost Containment

Say what you want about the State of Arizona. Lake Mead is in serious trouble. Their COVID-19 cases have increased by 750% in the last 90 days. And there’s The Audit. But they also have this: Arizona Revised Statutes §15-1650.03 (B). The Annual Cost Containment Report. The WCC Board of Trustees should try this sometime.

Arizona Revised Statutes §15-1650.03 (B) requires the Arizona Board of Regents to submit a comprehensive university cost containment report by September 1, of each year for each university under its jurisdiction and include at least the following:

  1. Historical data on tuition and mandatory fee levels and average on campus housing and meal plan fees at the largest campus for each university during the previous fiscal year and fiscal years 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014.
  2. The number of full-time employees (FTEs) and total salaries of university employees differentiated between faculty, classified staff and administrators at each university during the previous fiscal year and fiscal years 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014.
  3. Actions taken by each university to contain costs at the university and the savings associated with those actions.
  4. The allocation of faculty resources at each university based on the time needed to instruct students and to conduct other research activities.
  5. The number of credit hours required for a baccalaureate degree for the previous academic year and the 2003 2004 academic year for the 10 degree programs that had the largest increase in credit hours required for a baccalaureate degree between the 2003 2004 academic year and the 2017 2018 academic year, and between the previous two academic years.
  6. Detailed information on nontraditional or lower-cost degree options that each university currently offers, has recently developed or is pursuing.

Cost containment requirements are a form of oversight

If you want to read the current Annual Cost Containment Report, you can find it here .

Imagine the WCC Administration having to come up with and publish this information on an annual basis.

Costs to students, along with historical comparisons. The size of the current staff versus the size of the staff over the past 5, 10, 15 and 20 years. Cost containment actions. (I’m not sure the WCC administration knows what cost containment even is.) An explanation of how the faculty spends its time (research v. instruction). Changes in degree requirements. Lower-cost degree options.

The value in the statute isn’t in the answers to these questions. Rather, the value is in doing the exercises required to answer these questions.

How are we spending the money we’re given? What are we doing to reduce our costs? What is happening to the size of the staff? How much of our faculty time is focused on instruction? Are we needlessly inflating degree requirements? What are we doing to limit the cost of a degree?

To be sure, there are major differences between research universities and community colleges. But focusing the administration’s attention on its spending is the first step in cost containment.

What are we doing to reduce our spending? How are we increasing the efficiency of our operations? Are we being responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars? How do we justify hiring more staff when our enrollment is declining? Exactly how much money is the Health and Fitness Center losing?

Hiring 13 Vice Presidents isn’t responsible stewardship. Permitting the WCC administration to hire 13 Vice Presidents isn’t responsible oversight. Washtenaw County taxpayers cannot continue to combine irresponsible spending with irresponsible oversight and expect positive results at WCC.

Photo Credit: Herry Lawford , via Flickr