Bain & Company

Consulting firm report details areas for improvement at SU

For Syracuse University to be successful in the next five years, a majority of faculty and staff members believe the school must “significantly change,” according to a sweeping, 38-page report from an outside consulting firm released late Friday afternoon.

The report from Bain & Co., a global management consulting firm based in Boston, analyzes ways the school can become more efficient and effective. SU commissioned the report last fall and formed a committee made up of faculty, staff, deans and administrators to help compile the analysis.

Bain & Co. is separate from Bain Capital, an investment company founded by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But, Romney worked for Bain & Co. from 1977-85, and again for a short time in the early 1990s.

The analysis was put together during the course of four months and its findings have been presented to Chancellor Kent Syverud. Bain conducted interviews with more than 110 faculty, students and administrators. The company alsosurveyed 1,221 employees and drew on existing university data as well as information from peer institutions for the report.

The report examines 16 different areas of the university and looks at financial trends; compares SU to peer institutions; and identifies places of “concern, inefficiency and ineffectiveness” in the way the school works.

Here’s some of the report’s findings:

Strategic Plan

First, the company found SU lacks an “overarching strategic plan” — a clear vision and objective for the school. This plan would help with decision-making in areas such as enrollment, hiring and spending.

Because there is no strategic plan, some individual schools and colleges at SU have come up with their own. The university also does not have a “regular process” for setting and evaluating goals, according to the report.

‘Organizationally complex’

The university is “organizationally complex” and has a higher staff-to-faculty ratio than peer institutions, according to the report. Thirty percent of managers at SU have only one person who report directly to them. Employees who were surveyed suggested the main reason for inefficiency at SU is “too many decision makers.” Bain noted SU could improve decision making by having “fewer layers of approval.”

According to the report, there is a “significant duplication of administrative functions” across schools and departments. In some cases, a lack of centralization has caused schools to create their own systems.

For example, Information Technology and Services has 142 employees with “IT” listed in their job description. But so do 70 employees in SU’s schools and colleges, according to the report. The report states shared services can increase effectiveness and lower costs.

SU could also save 7­-10 percent through consolidating orders and better management. The university should evaluateservices it can outsource, according to the report.Many other colleges outsource services such as their bookstores and IT.

SU’s budget model and finances

Bain also found there’s frustration with the university’s budget model. The system has “fallen short,” the report states, because it is difficult to understand and there is limited accountability. More than 80 percent of faculty members surveyed believe schools and colleges are not encouraged to collaborate in this system, according to the report.

The University Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Affairs presented similar findings on April 16. The senate committee found the system has strayed from its original mission of allowing deans and directors to make decisions about their budgets. The model was supposed to make them responsible for their decisions.  But deans and directors don’t have full control over their budgets because they are “charged” for items such as central administrative costs.

Compared to peer institutions, SU offers more majors in more schools, according to the report.  In nine of the 11 schools and colleges, costs grew faster thanthe amount of credit hours being taken.

Money has been spent on an as needed basis for resources unrelated to academics — such as community engagement programs. The report states there needs to be a “clear, transparent understanding” of the university’s investments.

SU’s total cost of attendance is the lowest among peer institutions such as Boston, American and Lehigh universities, according to the report. The university provides a greater percentage of need-based financial aid than its peers. But merit-based financial aid — as a percentage of total tuition and fees— is the lowest.

Resources and development

To make SU more effective as an organization, 32 percent of employees surveyed called for more transparency, communication and collaboration. The report states that would help “enhance” a culture of trust at SU. Employees who took the survey said there was a lack of professional development and training programs at the university.

Human resources at SU is also understaffed, the report found. Hiring is often time-consuming and difficult. The process for determining and reviewing compensation is not standardized, according to the report.

The total amount SU pays employees — excluding instructional faculty — has increased from $164.8 million in 2007 to $205.3 million in 2013. That’s because of raises and promotions, not because SU has hired more employees.

Bain noted that SU could create a better system to review compensation and to standardize performance evaluations. At the same time, SU should continue to examine how it compensates employees to ensure the university stays competitive in hiring, according to the report.

Fundraising at SU consistently lags behind peer institutions by about $20 million, according to the report. The SU Office of Development is understaffed compared to third-party standards.There should also be better coordination so people do not receive multiple requests for donations, according to the report

In a release accompanying the report, the university said Syverud will appoint a team to determine how to proceed with the information in the analysis.

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