CU strives to cut costs while maintaining education standards

University cited as one of the most efficient higher ed institutions

Having faced budgeted institutional support reductions of $23 million from fiscal year 2009 to 2012, the University of Colorado has become adept at doing more with less. Kelly Fox, vice president and chief financial officer, and finance officers from each of the four campuses presented efficiency highlights to the Board of Regents at its Feb. 1 meeting at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS).

Fox said three studies have cited CU as “highly efficient” when considering the number of degrees awarded, state support and cost of tuition. Studies include the Delta Cost Study, National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Indicators, and the National Center for Higher Education Management (NCHEMS).

“The national Delta study showed the number of degrees awarded versus total funding. Colorado is in the upper quadrant of highest number of degrees and lowest cost,” Fox explained. The national and state averages for educating a student are $45,000 or higher, the study found. “All of our campuses fall below the national and state average.”

Efficiency highlights included:


  • co-located service centers such as Procurement, Payroll & Benefit Services and University Information Systems to reduce the service footprint from 65,000 square feet to 53,000 feet, a rental rate reduction of $5 per square foot or about $60,000.
  • launched the University of Colorado Health and Welfare Trust with the University of Colorado Hospital and University Physicians Inc. for an estimated initial savings of 3 percent, or $4 million.
  • strategized and streamlined services – such as programming copiers to automatically copy on two sides, computer efficiencies, utilizing green chemicals and papers – for savings of more than $3.5 million.
  • Saved about $204,000 savings in travel agency transaction fees since April 2011.


  • eliminated 135 positions, saving $11.7 million.
  • eliminated 70 courses from the arts and sciences core curriculum the past year, ultimately planning to eliminate 25 percent of the overall 600 courses by 25 percent.
  • consolidated multiple research computing locations into a single facility to increase security, reduce tech support needs and expand capacity.
  • streamlined and shared services, such as bundling phone and networking packages and consolidated some department services to reduce cost.
  • installed solar energy; implemented an energy-saving education campaign campuswide and enacted LEEDS certified green standards on all new building projects.

CU-Boulder Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Ric Porreca noted that by transitioning to virtual desktops -- several low-level desk computers linking to one centralized computer – university housing reduced its costs by 90 percent and IT support by $90 per computer.


  • enacted two-year unit budget cuts of $2.45 million.
  • enacted two-year campus budget cuts of $801,708.
  • reduced operating costs 24 percent from 10 years ago per student, adjusted for inflation.
  • saved $13,000 a year in printing and postage by switching to ebills.
  • converted floating holidays to assigned holidays, creating two long weekends each year and enabling energy conservation and cost savings.

CU Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus:

  • eliminated 36.5 positions at CU Denver, mostly through attrition for $2.8 million in savings; eliminated 77 positions at CU Anschutz Medical Campus, saving $6.1 million.
  • negotiated with Auraria Higher Education Center to change the allocation of facilities costs from headcount to square footage, saving $410,000 annually.
  • reduced and reorganized operations for savings of $3.4 million at CU Denver and $6.7 million at CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
  • changed technology strategies and policies, saving more than $174,000.
  • Reduced energy costs 16 percent per square foot the past three years.

The board praised the efforts of not only budget and finance officials from each campus and the system, but the employees and students who have initiated and implemented the efficiencies. Regent Michael Carrigan, however, stressed the importance of ensuring that services to CU students and communities do not suffer from the cuts.

“It’s easy to hear the message, ‘Oh, there are more ways to cut.’ But I’m afraid we have reduced efficiency so low that we have reduced our level of service,” he said, noting he has heard concerns about the quality of interaction in student services and other important areas. “I’m afraid the reality is . . . maybe there are some places that the excellent standards we want to make, we’re not making.”

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