Cost-Saving Ideas

  • The University of Houston owns Bayou Oaks, but pays approximately $250,000 a year to American Campus to run it. There would be considerable savings if UH Residential Life & Housing took over management. Though some money would be needed to hire additional staff, some of it could be used to enhance RLH programming, including support for transfer students, a sophomore year residential experience program or living/learning programs. Other advantages include: greater flexibility to shift residents and populations if necessary; the ability to offer programming more in tune with the university’s academic mission; the ability to ensure that repairs are consistently made  and that IT, cable and telephone services are consistent; and the ability to establish fees, rules and policies consistent with the rest of RLH housing.
  • Explore alternate solutions to getting new campus housing projects built. For example, the university could approach Habitat for Humanity to see if they would be willing to partner with UH to build a family housing project. Some Habitat for Humanity affiliates have taken on multi-family dwellings. This could be helpful to the great many students with children, especially single parents, who are struggling financially and are in great need of affordable housing. If UH students, faculty and staff helped by volunteering for this project and providing the “sweat equity,” it could turn into a model community collaboration.
  • Turn off the Robertson Stadium sign and scoreboard when it is not in use. Make sure the practice lights for the fields around Hofheinz are off unless they are in use. Turn off the electronic billboard in front of Hofheinz.
  • Most offices are brighter than they need to be, as much work is done at terminals. The university’s safety office can advise on proper illumination levels.
  • Reduce campus shuttle services except where necessary to provide accessibility for the disabled or enhance safety at night. This would save money and also have the added advantage of helping able bodied students, faculty and staff to meet minimum physical activity guidelines.
  • Install better temperature gauges and monitor them regularly in offices/buildings. It is ridiculous to have excessive air conditioning going when it is 55 degrees outside. As well, even raising the thermostat temperature from 62F to 65F in the summer would result in significant cost savings.
  • Turn off lights or put lighting systems on an automatic timer. It is really unclear why lights need to be on between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.
  • Until the financial crisis is averted, building projects should be stopped. The Internet age should have substantially decreased the need for more classrooms, offices, library space, etc. When building is resumed, those projects that are unique to the mission of the university should be pursued (stadium, dorms, etc.)
  • As more universities have turned to adjunct and clinical faculty to shoulder the bulk of their teaching, UH should require each dean to justify hiring new faculty in terms of funded research and/or graduate teaching.
  • Many companies in Houston have moved to flexible scheduling, allowing either four 10-hour days per week, or nine days and 80 hours every two weeks. With proper management of building services, this could decrease utility costs. Job sharing is also an opportunity to save money. For some jobs, rather than employ one full-time, benefits-eligible employee, hire two without benefits. This is often thought of as a family friendly strategy.
  • As businesses have discovered, the value of some business processes is not in "owning" the process, but in consuming the value generated from that process. Human resources, maintenance, benefits, landscaping, health clinics, payroll and other accounting functions are just a few examples of activities that are not core to the mission of the university, but are still needed, making them ideal candidates for process outsourcing.
  • During the time of deregulated tuition and fees, many colleges used some of the funds generated to substantially increase the size of their administrative structure. Some colleges added assistant and associate deans, more clerical support, communication and technology departments. A quick look at administrative budgets before and after this time, is telling. While the argument of providing higher quality services to faculty and students was and is justified, in times of financial stress, these positions may be excessive.
  • To the extent allowed by law, put our development teams on commission.
  • There is likely very little value added to owning and operating our own version of Blackboard.  Many universities and public school districts are investigating hosted solutions that require little on-site support.
  • Although the percentage of overall faculty headcount in the program is declining, offer early retirement buy-outs to those faculty still in the Texas Teacher Retirement System.
  • Aggressively push large section undergraduate classes online. A large percentage of our undergraduate students prefer to take online classes.  If handled correctly, these students will learn just as much at a lower cost as they would in the less cost effective face-to-face environment.  If a college wishes to teach large undergraduate sections face-to-face, they would provide justification for doing so. This would have the effect of making large undergraduate sections online the norm.
  • Outsource the operations of basic information technology support in the colleges and the university. We currently operate and support much of the computing infrastructure on which UH does its business. However, our colleagues in industry are discovering that there is very little value-add in owning and operating data centers, network closets, telephone switches, voice mail, etc. My suggestion is to contact outsourcing companies such as IBM, Accenture, etc. and begin investigating the outsourcing of these items.
  • Make it mandatory that all employee reimbursements be made electronically with no exceptions. The system issued 9,768 checks to individuals at a cost of approximately $1.52 per check. If all employee reimbursements were made electronically, the system could save $15,000. We have the technology to make this happen.
  • Last fiscal year, the university issued 66,000 accounts payable checks to businesses. If all entities that did business with the University of Houston System were paid via ACH, the university could save $100,000 per year. Additionally, approximately 100 checks are returned to the university per month due to bad addresses. If we moved to electronic payments, the system could realize an additional cost reduction of $1,200 per year in postage and supplies, not to mention the inefficient use of time and effort required to locate a new address and reprocess the payment.
  • In response to ideas to help save the University of Houston money, I propose the elimination of campus shuttles that constantly ferry students from parking lots to their classes. I would only allow campus shuttles for individuals who are handicapped, or at night due to security concerns.
    - Luxury: Campus shuttles are a luxury item that should not be allowed to continue in an economy that is costing people jobs, research funds, and salary reductions.
    - Green: The environmental impact has to be considered of having five separate routes running constantly around campus.
    - Cost: Salaries for bus drivers, maintenance on buses, and fuel for buses all cost this university a hefty sum each fiscal year.
    - Obesity: One of the goals of health promotion is to increase physical activity in all individuals, even college students. Removing campus shuttles could add 20-60 minutes of physical activity for each individual every day they come to campus.
  • Set up a program whereby local businesses/corporations donate the time of personnel capable of providing instruction in topics UH needs to teach. Set up situations, if appropriate, whereby the corporate instructors use the UH compressed video network at University Information Technology to deliver their information and interact with students they are teaching. The corporate instructors could go to points around Houston where CVN installations exist and broadcast their class sessions from there. Alternatively, corporate instructors might tape their remarks and be permitted to use Blackboard/Vista at UH to post additional materials and obtain feedback from students. Use of corporate instructors might make it possible to increase the number of faculty without spending as much money to do so. There may be possibilities for using retired university faculty to volunteer to teach other courses.  In these ways the community could become directly involved in supporting the university during a very difficult time in our nation’s history – a time when it is important that knowledge generated by universities continues to flow to benefit the greater society.
    Perhaps as a quid pro quo, it might be possible for some UH staff or faculty to volunteer at other Texas state institutions a few hours a week or month. Cutbacks are affecting other institutions, including some in the Texas Medical Center. UH personnel who work in the Health and Human Performance Program might possibly have skills to help out at local hospitals, for example. Students in the program might serve internships at local hospitals and health facilities. Other institutions could make some of their needs known.
  • Examine and renegotiate telephone contracts: Every month, I see a report that shows my telephone calls and expenses, and I’m always surprised to see that it costs so much for so few calls. In addition, I’m sure there are many lines that aren’t being used, but the university is still being charged.
  • Propose a one -time buyout of three years time toward retirement. The retirement date would be effective as of Feb. 28, 2011. This allows any employee to acquire one more year towards retirement by working through Jan. 16, 2011, in addition to the buyout offer of three years.
    The cost of the buyout would be offset by not having to pay six months worth of salary + benefits for the remaining six months of the fiscal year. The cost also would be a one- time extraordinary expense; whereas the savings would be ongoing for future years.
    The buyout could be done through an ERS provision which allows up to three years to be purchased. Example: Assume you have an employee that is currently earning $100,000/year, which would further assume an additional benefit cost of approximately 38%, or $38,000/year. This would be an expense total of $138,000 for the current fiscal year.  The immediate budgetary savings for a retirement effective in February would then be one half of the above expense; or, $50,000 salary savings and $19,000 benefit savings ($69,000.00). Purchasing three years of retirement time for this employee would be approximately:
    Three year purchase price =    $68,100
    Compared to remaining six month salary + benefits for this fiscal year:
    $50,000 salary for six months + $19,000 benefit expense= $69,000.00
  • Use Skype.
  • Currently in my department (Psychology), graduate students are given unlimited access to printing using the department copier/printer. Although students printing articles to enable their research seems to me a reasonable use, I also notice that many students (and possibly some faculty) print PowerPoint slide handouts for classes for which they are the instructor of record every week. Given that undergrads can be provided the slides via Blackboard (I do this for my classes) it seems a waste for instructors to print copies for them as well. Perhaps by limiting printouts for class to syllabi, exams, and necessary handouts for in-class activities, the university can save money and eliminate waste.  Of course, we can take this a step further by limiting copying privileges for grad students to only those materials that are related to courses. At the risk of sounding old, when I was in grad school at USF, grad students made copies of articles and other materials related to research on their own dime. Given the availability of electronic media today (e.g., e-journals), restricting copy access should not hinder student productivity.
  • Voluntary furloughs.
  • Reduce the number of office telephones. This has been done successfully on other campuses. Many faculty do not need to be reached by office phone and would willingly give up their extension. Messages could be taken at a central phone. Email could be used instead.
  • Turn off sprinklers when raining. Turn off lights inside buildings at night.
Change the temperature settings in the buildings. The overly cold air-conditioning in buildings uses up a lot of energy, esp. during weekends. Often times we have to wear extra clothes or even use area heater to keep us warm in summer.  Also it tends to be too warm in winter. Could also consider setting different build temperature during weekends.
  • Potluck Holiday events for all departments.
  • Make sure that the administrative staffs, i.e. numbers of assistant and associate deans be looked at in each college.  Administrative costs have sky rocketed in many cases.
  • Specific to Engineering:
    • Merge industrial engineering into mechanical engineering (saves a chair, assistant, business administrator)
    • Merge computer science into electrical and computer engineering (saves a chair, assistant, business administrator)
    • Reduce the size of the dean’s office:
      • Abolish the $150,000/year, newly created position of strategic planner
      • Reduce the number of associate deans from four to two: one for undergraduate and one for graduate studies/research
      • Provide 10 (at most 11) months salaries, instead of 12 months,  to the associate deans, and eliminate their stipends.
      • Salary increases given to faculty upon becoming administrator should be reset to their pre-administration salary once they return to regular faculty duty.
      • Replace relatively high-paid administrators, e.g., Director of Career Office, by a lower-paid person, or merge into related function, such as the Coop Director.
      • Reduce/eliminate the assistant-to-the-associate etc positions.
    • Renegotiate the telephone contract. Why is UH paying more for one phone line than most of us are at home?
  • Ask UH vendors to reduce their fees to UH one-quarter to one-half percent. If the faculty, staff, and students are expected to contribute to addressing the budget deficit, that vendors, many of whom make significant money off their contracts with UH, also be asked to share some of the burden. 
  • There may be an opportunity to conserve costs and energy by aiming for a target indoor temperature that is warmer than current practices.  Start by evaluating temperature control systems in all buildings for how well they maintain a target temperature and addressing any difficult-to-manage control systems.  Well-controlled systems could aim for a temperature that is moderate (75 to 78 degrees F) in the summer.
  • Arizona State is a state school, but the decision recently has been made to privatize its law school, while retaining state funding for the rest of the university.  It's a private law school, in effect, within a state university.  Maybe this is the way of the future.
  • Utilize our expertise on campus.  We have professors and professionals who are experts in their field, yet the university hires outside consultants for advice.  Utilize our school of architecture for designs and building infrastructure.  Create an internship for a student with the best concept.  Use the C.T. Bauer College of Business' team to help with investments with some of our stocks.  Bauer could host an accounting class to help new employees who work with Peoplesoft learn basic accounting principles to help minimize mistakes.
  • There should be a method to have labs directly participate in their utility and space costs to encourage energy savings and right-sized lab planning.
  • Reduce the duplication of structural support. It doesn't make sense that each college or department has their own secretarial support, own business manager, etc..   We should search at a "pod" concept of merging these functions across colleges and departments.  It doesn't make sense that support structure should be along the same lines of academic structure.  These are two different processes.
  • Collapse departments but keep academic areas.  This will put more burden on faculty for the academic side but move towards a more centralize management structure within colleges.
  • Identify academic programs with low-enrollment or high cost that are not supporting the university mission and then consider eliminating these marginal programs. 
  • The lights in Welcome Center stay on 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  I would suggest turning the lights off after closing to reduce costs.
  • I also would like to suggest four day work weeks for staff.  The University will still remain open five days a week but staff can work in shifts of first group Monday - Thursday 8:00am-7:00pm and the second group would work Tuesdays - Friday 8:00am - 7:00pm.  This would also reduce the traffic, emissions, issues with parking on Mondays and Fridays, staff would save money on gas but it would also allow the University to remain open longer to assist students.  Staff would be excited about a four day work week during a time period of workforce reduction.
  • UW-Green Bay is saving money by simply switching fonts in university communications. According to the article I read, the Century Gothic font uses roughly 30 percent less ink when printed on paper saving resources and money.
  • In break rooms or any rooms not being occupied by staff all day, turn off lights when empty.  If it is a room with good lighting from windows, turn off lights all day. 
  • Oftentimes when departments see that they are coming in under budget at the end of the fiscal year, they will spend money that is left over from their budget... Provide an incentive to have departments come in under budget at the end of the fiscal year rather than spend that extra money.
  • UH should consider the value of cloud computing opportunities. This will dramatically offload capital expenses for IT infrastructure and related operations and some administration.
  • Refurbish existing unused furniture for redeployment. Thousands of dollars are being spent on new furniture when there are a number of high quality pieces now sitting in ERP Building #19 in storage space for various executive offices.