Texas A&M System chancellor orders audits to identify savings

Michael K. McLendon, professor of higher education policy and leadership and associate dean at SMU's Simmons School of Education and Human Development, talks about the Texas A&M System chancellor ordering audits to identify savings.


Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, who presided over the largest outsourcing of services ever at a public university, is now heading up moves to examine information technology, communications, airport operations and every single administrative position in the system.

The 62-year-old former state comptroller is leading the system through a self-evaluation aimed at examining efficiencies and quality of service.

Contracts have been awarded to private consultants to scrutinize the system's information technology services and communications staff, with completion expected this year, and the university is trying to outsource the management of Easterwood Airport. All 17,000 employees across 11 Texas universities and nine state agencies in the A&M system are set to be assessed in separate administrative audits that could be awarded to a contractor as early as this month. . .

The comprehensive search for cost savings may be somewhat new to Texas A&M, but is representative of trends in higher education, according to Peter Eckel, vice president of programs and research at the Association of Governing Boards, a national association focused on quality in higher education.

For several institutions of higher education, Eckel said, talks about restructuring started in 2008 with the U.S. financial crisis. He called the search for places to cut back a common practice, and said he was not surprised at the A&M System's outsourcing or reviews.

Michael McLendon, professor of higher education policy at Southern Methodist University, acknowledged the economic trends impacting higher education, but said that the policy change in Texas has been heavily influenced by political debates about good governance and institutional performance. Texas has weathered the economic climate better than most states, and McLendon said broad discussions about higher education accountability are driving state university systems to look for ways to save money.

McLendon also noted that savings from outsourcing are not always a given, and the possibility exists for third-party contractors to raise costs over time.

"The devil is in the details," McLendon said. "Universities and the public are hopeful for lower costs, but at the same time it doesn't always happen that way."


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