IT Trends | Feature

10 Ways To Cut Campus Costs with Technology

IT organizations at American colleges and universities are getting clever with cost cutting. Two IT leaders share some of the small, creative tactics they've used to save hundreds of thousands of dollars for their schools while actually managing to improve services for their constituents.

On campuses around the world, technology is typically looked upon as an expense. There are upfront costs to consider, ongoing maintenance issues to fund, and consumables to purchase. Once in place, the new technology typically yields expected savings in costs, time, and resources, thus justifying the school's investment.

But what about the added benefits that no one thinks about? Even small savings afforded by technology can add up to big cost reductions--something that no institution of higher education can afford to ignore during the tight economy.

7 Cost-Saving Tips from Saint Leo University

1. Replace desktop printers with networked printers.

2. Create an online supply exchange.

3. Put student forms online.

4. Purchase laptops instead of leasing them.

5. Negotiate phone rates.

6. Upgrade servers that have beefy maintenance contracts.

7. Bring call center in house.

Saint Leo University's Cost-Saving Measures
"This is the time for everyone to take a look at their ongoing expenses, and to ferret out ways to cut costs," said Les Lloyd, associate vice president and CIO at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, FL. "You may be surprised at what you find."

Lloyd followed his own advice recently and came up with a list of technology-related cost savings for the school. The initiatives included the replacement of desktop printers with large, efficient, networked printers and a new online office supplies exchange that allows offices burdened down by extra items (ink cartridges, toner, and so forth) to post the goods for other offices to request.

"The new printers have quick service response times to alleviate concerns about downtime," said Lloyd, who estimated the resulting savings to be about $30,000 annually on employee printing and $60,000 annually on student printing.

Saint Leo also put student bills and 1098 forms online instead of having to mail those copies, resulting in about $70,000 per year in savings, and started purchasing laptops for students instead of leasing the equipment.

"For years we provided leased laptops for residential students to use that we had to turn in at lease's end," said Lloyd. "At a savings of about $100,000 per year, we purchased the laptops instead of leasing and students get to keep them if they live on campus for four years."

Lloyd said the school also renegotiated its long distance phone rates (to the tune of $20,000 a year in savings) and traded in two large, leased servers with expensive maintenance contracts for two new servers at the same annual cost. Finally, the university brought its financial aid call center in-house by purchasing a new phone system for "about the same amount of money we were paying to an outside call center," said Lloyd. "Now, we can install call centers in other locations on campus without having to spend more money."

3 Approaches for Saving with Technology from Central Pennsylvania College

1. Monitor printers with an eye toward cutting paper and toner use.

2. Bring some meetings online to reduce travel costs.

3. Review scheduling practices to improve efficiency.

Central Pennsylvania College's Cost-Saving Measures
As they deal with shrinking budgets, more schools are taking approaches like Saint Leo's and finding ways to cut costs with technology.

As a for-profit, employee-owned institution, Central Pennsylvania College in Summerdale, PA, is particularly interested in strategies that improve its bottom line. "We have strong incentive to keep an eye on costs around here," said Steven Birmingham, IT director.

Some of the school's most recent cost-cutting measures include monitoring printing across the organization, with a view to reduce paper and toner usage college-wide. Central Penn has also started experimenting with various online meeting tools to reduce the need for staff to travel between its three locations and is considering a scheduling tool that will increase scheduling efficiency, thereby reducing unnecessary class sections to save costs.

Introduced in 2010, the printer monitoring is expected to reduce expenses, particularly in terms of consumables like toner and paper. It's a two-part process, according to Birmingham, starting with a complete review of usage data. "We're running software that shows us exactly what's being printed and where," said Birmingham. "That's step one. When we have good visibility, we'll look at ways to cut back on printing (by using e-mail in certain situations, for example) without impacting education."

Central Penn's online meeting initiative is also going well, according to Birmingham. "We've had a couple of large meetings so far, with technology allowing everyone to convene without having to travel," he said. "Once we perfect the system for online meetings, we may even integrate the technology into the classrooms."

On Birmingham's agenda right now is another technology project that's expected to yield cost and time savings for the school. This one addresses the development of student schedules--a time-consuming process that the registrar's office spends about 40 hours completing, four times a year. "With a new scheduling tool, we'll be able to cut that time down by 75 percent," said Birmingham, "that alone will shave a few weeks per year from the scheduling process."

Birmingham said the school is looking at technology options that will allow it to automatically start up and shut down computers across campus. The school currently owns about 500 computers across its three campuses. "If someone turns one of those computers on and lets it run for days, that electricity usage doesn't benefit anyone," said Birmingham. "Our goal is to get to a place where those computers will shut down automatically when not in use."

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