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Sep 15, 2023

Beyond Lobbying: The Case for Efficiency Audits in Higher Education

In the constant cycle of budget cuts in higher education, divisions within a university often turn to internal advocacy. They argue, "Do not cut from us; cut from them." University leadership, lacking detailed knowledge of each division's operations, usually sides with the most convincing argument. This is a flawed approach. In my 38 years in higher education, I have read about but never seen an efficiency audit conducted. It is high time we change that.

An efficiency audit is a systematic examination of how well a company or organization is using its resources to achieve its goals. It can also be called a performance audit or profitability audit (in private sector). Efficiency audits offer a more objective, data-informed way to assess resource use across an institution. They are not just about identifying cuts; they are about optimizing what you have. Auditors dig deep, examining course offerings, facility usage, and workflows. For example, an audit might reveal that some units are still stuck in the age of manual data entry, a process ripe for automation. The solution? Training staff to use advanced technologies, thereby streamlining operations.

Another common finding could be staffing imbalances. Perhaps two low-paid positions could be gradually combined into one higher-paid, more efficient role. Or maybe the audit will uncover courses with low enrollment that are resource hogs. The solution could be as drastic as pruning the mission and reversing mission creep, or as straightforward as abandoning non-essential programming.

The point is, these are data-informed decisions. They are not influenced by internal lobbying or colorful PowerPoint presentations. An efficiency audit provides the kind of comprehensive insights that university leadership needs to make informed decisions, particularly when budgets are tight.

So, the next time budget cuts are on the horizon and divisions start crafting their "Don't cut us" narratives, consider a different approach. An efficiency audit might not solve all financial challenges, but it can offer a roadmap for smarter, more equitable decisions. The knowledge that all divisions have undergone the same rigorous, external audit process can also relieve the suspicion that others are not trying hard enough. In an educational landscape where every dollar and decision counts, that's not just efficient; it's essential.

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