The Outsourcing Solution

Colleges could cut their costs (and, in turn, their prices) by letting companies perform some non-academic functions, James A. Boyle says.

September 9, 2005

Everyone is abuzz about the rising price of college, and the resulting student loan debt that America’s college students are accumulating. Students and their families wring their hands and complain loudly, while the politicians, for the most part, place blame and pass the buck.

As head of College Parents of America, a national membership association dedicated to advocating on behalf of current and future college parents, I would prefer to discuss solutions. One of the ways that businesses gain productivity, and save money, is by outsourcing certain functions -- an approach that colleges and universities, in searching for ways to keep their own expenses down, should consider.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about sending thousands of university jobs to India.

Instead, I am referring to the practice of contracting with an outside company to provide a service or product that otherwise might be too expensive, complicated or time-consuming for the institution to do internally. I suggest that some non-academic functions on campus could be much better, and more efficiently, accomplished by a contractor. Parents are fed up with price increases and insist that campuses operate more efficiently. In order to hold down costs without sacrificing academic quality, why shouldn't colleges outsource non-academic functions? 

What sorts of functions? Information technology is at the top of the list.  Trained technology professionals, battle-scarred from decades of creating connectivity solutions for businesses, seem uniquely well positioned to help forge similar solutions for college and universities. After all, it is on those same campuses where many of these pros were trained.  

But information technology functions are far from the only non-teaching areas that a school might consider for outsourcing.  For instance, certain back-office functions of financial aid, such as loan certification or disbursements, can be effectively outsourced and create win-win situations, where schools can save money and still serve students and their families more effectively.

Human resources is yet another function that institutions may be able to manage more effectively when outsourced. Items such as payroll services, workplace training and staffing solutions are transparent to the college or university customer, but critical to keeping the institution running smoothly. 

College Parents of America applauds any effort to reduce institutional costs; we also advocate that cost savings in non-teaching arenas be passed on to those of us who are customers of colleges and universities, namely students and their parents, in the form of lower tuition or lesser fees or, at the very least, less dramatic increases in both of those billable areas.

In addition, we believe that these dollars saved by schools should be dedicated to more human investment “in the classroom” through the recruitment and training of the best professors, and more capital investment in the “learning environment” through the building of clean, safe, technically sound structures where the ability for teachers and students to interact is mutually enhanced.

We recognize that our young people are being served by the greatest system of higher education in the world and our goal is simple: to make our system even better, while keeping it affordable for families.

And simply put, colleges could do a lot more with less by outsourcing some functions, providing a much-needed break to bill-paying parents in the process.


James A. Boyle is president of College Parents of America, a nonprofit advocacy group for parents of current and future college students.


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