Workgroup no. 1 recommends studying options

Cassie Buchman, News Editor

 

A report made by Workgroup no. 1 of the vitalization project, which looked at Student Services, recommended that student services be reorganized and that the university study the possibility of outsourcing some services.

However, certain changes could still take a while to be put into action, if they are decided on at all.

The recommendations are still just suggestions and have yet to be approved by the administration.

English professor Angela Vietto, a workgroup member who co-authored the report, said in most cases the group saw all of the recommendations as valuable, so prioritizing them was mostly a matter of what they thought could be most easily acted on, as well as what was most urgent and essential.

“The impact it would have (on students) was our guiding principle,” she said.

To make their recommendations, the Workgroup interviewed staff unit leaders and students, used budget data and student surveys, and studied the Student Affairs division and several student services not in that area.

One of the conclusions that group came to is that the areas struggling the most with budget issues are the ones that are funded by student fees, as this revenue depends directly on enrollment.

Workgroup no.1 suggested re-examining both the student fee structure and amount of student fees.

One recommendation the group made was reorganizing student services in a way that would reduce the number of direct reports to the vice president of students affairs and group together services that have similar missions.

Vietto said in terms of reorganizing student services, it is important to be aware that the division of student services had been discussing reorganization prior to the vitalization project.

“We were endorsing the idea that they should be organized in a way that would make sense from a student’s point of view,” she said.

The group recommended studying the possibility of outsourcing several programs, though they wrote in their report that they advise “extreme caution in considering” this option.

“The recommendation is for careful study for the potential negative and positive effects rather than an immediate recommendation to outsource,” Workgroup no. 1’s report said.

Outsourcing in this case would mean moving from a non-profit approach to a for-profit model.

Workgroup no. 1 wrote that it thinks a “thorough cost-benefit analysis” should be completed before deciding on outsourcing a service, since a change like it could increase costs for students.

The group suggested studying the option of outsourcing Dining Services and studying the possible savings and costs of outsourcing the credentialing of international students. It also recommended studying “the possible savings and costs of moving from a self-insured model of student insurance to other funding and operational models.”

“If we’re doing outsourcing to save money, we have to figure out, will it really save money?” Vietto said.

Vietto said another aspect that needs to be considered is that a business or outsourcer will see students differently that a university would.

“We don’t think of students as customers; we think of students as students who have come to us for an educational living experience,” Vietto said. “…They see (students) as a customer only; we see you as part of a family.”

Mark Hudson, director of Housing and Dining, said the early idea is to study and objectively figure out what makes the most sense to do.

“Just because it’s been suggested doesn’t mean it’s a definite,” he said. “It’s early to make any kind of definitive statements about the other side of the evaluation when we haven’t gotten there yet.”

He said even an evaluation process could take “quite a while.”

“I think that’s one thing to know, it’s not like ‘oh next fall, it’s gonna be all different,’” he said. “Things don’t move along that quickly.”

Paul McCann, interim vice president for business affairs, said state laws that deal with outsourcing dictate that if there are unionized positions in place, the firm or contractor would have to employ people in those positions.

When a university has moved to having an outside group providing a service, Eastern President David Glassman said, in cases he has experienced, it hires the employees already working at the school.

“Whether (outsourcing) would ever happen or not, I don’t know. We’ll begin to look at it because the vitalization (Workgroup) said that that was something that we ought to consider,” McCann said.

McCann said outsourcing has been looked at “a number of times” before and that the service to the student and cost to the university would be the primary aspects looked at.

“There may be some savings in it, but there’s not going to be a significant amount,” McCann said. “That would be my opinion, but we’ll look at it.”

If outsourcing was looked at, the process would start with putting a Request for Proposal out to tell companies it is something the university would be willing to do.

Any purchases of over $250,000 have to approved by the Board of Trustees. McCann said there are some approval processes the university would have to go through internally as well.

“The question that’s being asked is what is the way that best serves EIU,” Hudson said. “If that means what we’re doing now is serving the students, and now we’re doing it at a price that’s competitive and students are happy, then we’ll maybe not change. But if you can lower the price, if you can increase the service, if you can do things to help the students feel better served, then you might consider it.”

The process of studying these options could be tricky, Hudson said, and would involve contacting other universities to see what works and what does not work as well as hiring a consultant.

Regarding student insurance, the report said some studies have already been undertaken and that a Request for Proposal has been drafted for a “multi-tiered insurance product” that would provide students with supplemental insurance and the opportunity to purchase a primary care plan that complies with the Affordable Care Act.

This potential plan would combine the student insurance fee and Health Service fee into one fee that students would not be able to opt out of.

For this change to happen in the coming academic year, a decision would need to be made in the 2017 spring semester, according to the report.

Vietto said the group is suggesting that the university be prompt when deciding whether to go with the plan in the current Request for Proposal or when seeing if there is a better alternative.

“Action is needed as soon as possible to reduce costs and liability in this area,” Workgroup no. 1’s report said.

 

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]