Effectiveness and Efficiency at the University

By Dr. Donald Spicer

In addition to articles by faculty, The Faculty Voice occasionally publishes other articles which may be of general interest to the faculty. Dr. Donald Spicer is Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and CIO of the University System of Maryland.  Public information about this initiative, including additional links, is available at: The USM “E&E 2.0” Initiative. The Faculty Voice welcomes responses to this article, and may publish some in future editions.

What are University System of Maryland (USM) institutions to do when state support is at best flat, raising tuition puts stress on students and their families, and all stakeholders—students, faculty, and legislators—have rising expectations regarding improving quality and access to higher education? The solution proposed by the USM Board of Regents (BOR) is to use available resources more effectively and efficiently, freeing up resources for new priorities.

Some might think that would be true at all times, but it is too easy to continue doing things as they have always been done, and the academy has historically been slow to embrace change.  While this status-quo approach has sometimes served higher education well, advances in technology, rising costs, and expectations about how learning should take place are making a conservative approach less tenable. Within this context, the BOR has established a Work Group on Effectiveness and Efficiency (E&E). The USM has had such efforts underway since 2003; therefore this new phase is called E&E 2.0, indicating a reinvigorated initiative.

As evidence of the comprehensive scope of the E&E work, USM institutions have been reporting the outcomes of efficiency improvements annually. In AY2015 they collectively identified approximately $30 million in cost savings, cost avoidance, strategic reallocation of resources, or new revenue.  Also as a result of E&E, there are productive collaborations related to technology, libraries, and academic initiatives within the USM and with other segments of Maryland education. The goal of many of these initiatives is to improve organizational effectiveness; going forward, the efficiency outcomes of these collaborations will be aligned with the above-referenced financial categories. Current estimates of these efficiencies through collaborations, which are conservative, indicate that the USM institutions have saved collectively more than $28 million in AY2015.

As part of E&E 2.0, each USM institution is reexamining its internal processes; some have launched major efforts with campus steering committees while others are enhancing existing groups.  While the BOR Work Group is providing oversight, the USM has established an E&E 2.0 Leadership Group to focus on multi-institutional opportunities; ways to enhance collaboration; and facilitate sharing, adopting, and recognition of best practices. The leadership group comprises one to three representatives from each institution—typically the leaders of individual institutional E&E efforts—appointed by institutional presidents. After a start-up phase in early 2015, the leadership group is meeting on a quarterly basis to evaluate opportunities, transform them into projects, and monitor progress.

The original E&E initiative, launched in 2003, first looked at the collective purchase of energy, improved energy management, and other operational and administrative issues. The primary academic activity under this initiative was a System-wide approach to course redesign to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of large-enrollment courses. That led to a broader emphasis on academic transformation, both at the institutional and System levels, involving  a re-examination of teaching and learning in the 21st century using new tools and recognizing the changing demographics of our students. One of the early E&E 2.0 initiatives is to use data about student performance to help them be more successful. Initially, this “Analytics in Support of Student Success” project is building on capabilities that have been developed largely outside of the USM, knowing that analytics is being increasingly recognized as a powerful tool that could improve a wide range of academic and administrative activities. It is hoped that the USM will both build internal capacity and establish a USM Community of Practice in this area.  Developing such a capacity is currently difficult and expensive, and this is one area where our “System-ness” can bring synergy and success.

Also underway are several E&E 2.0 studies of back-office operations in such areas as procurement, business processes, and developing a strategy for the next generation of software used to run our institutions. Additionally, there are some human resources (HR) process improvements underway that are likely to be of interest to the faculty. For example, the Faculty Retirement Program has been moved under E&E 2.0 and is examining ways to make the program more attractive to select faculty and to enhance the institutions’ ability to recruit a new cohort of faculty. A second HR process that is being examined is tuition remission. The current process has substantial overhead on participants and institutions. Improvements are expected within a year.

As one can see, there are many moving parts that either offer opportunities for faculty involvement and/or will impact them. The best opportunities for faculty involvement are likely with the institutional E&E activities, either formally or informally. Interested faculty should ask their Provost’s Office about how they can become involved. Also welcomed is faculty input into the multi-institutional activities. Much of the detailed work on these initiatives is being done by small working groups.

E&E 2.0 is intended to be an ongoing initiative and the opportunities in as complex an organization as the USM, or within any of its institutions, are numerous. While perhaps everything can’t be fixed, the organizers are actively soliciting suggestions for improvements. Please send any suggestions you have to dspicer@umd.edu with your contact information, a brief description of the activity/process that can be improved, and your assessment of the problem.

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