Budget awareness nets savings at Delta State

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 11, 2008

Times are tough. State revenues are down. Businesses are suffering. Families are uncertain about savings, mortgages and even jobs. Many folks fear a perfect storm in the economy is looming just over the horizon.

I wish I could say the Delta State University budget is immune from worry, but there are reasons why cost containment is serious business for us. Not only must we cope with cutbacks in state appropriations, but we must also be certain the educational opportunities we offer are affordable for the students we serve. This is a brief report to the Mississippi taxpayers detailing a few steps we’ve taken to manage the university as efficiently as possible.

Let’s start with energy savings. We’ve done pretty well over the past couple of years with targeted strategies. Delta State uses 23 percent less natural gas and 10 percent less electricity today than two years ago. From 2007 to 2008 we reduced annual expenditures for energy by $325,000. We continue to reduce our usage this year, but the dollar savings are slightly less dramatic because of price increases.

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How have we done it? It started with our facilities management team. They installed new control systems and revised schedules for heating and cooling. They converted to energy efficient light fixtures and that means they haven’t purchased incandescent bulbs in over a year.

There are new windows here and there that help in our campaign to cut costs. The team closely monitors all electric motors so they run only when necessary. They also close whatever buildings they can during vacation periods.

We’re especially proud because the folks in facilities management won a much-deserved award for energy conservation from the Mississippi Development Authority.

We regularly encourage people to turn off lights and their in-office technology. Campuswide communication and participation engage people in cost containment efforts.

The next big project is the construction of a new central chiller plant that will allow us to take eight older, less efficient chillers out of service. And even the campus police are contributing by using bicycles and four-wheel ATVs rather than riding in cruisers.

Our office of information technology offers many opportunities to save. Partnering with Sungard Higher Education, people across the campus have taken several steps to engineer savings. Technology staff have consolidated servers — five have replaced 35 — and they automatically shut down labs at 11 p.m. to turn off more than 200 computers. That saves up to $30 per machine per year.

A broadly available, secure wireless network saves 75 percent over our traditional switching infrastructure. Our core network was upgraded and something called “traffic shaping software” provided an estimated $200,000 in cost avoidance.

Sungard’s expertise allowed us to install a custom-written Campus Alert Notification System at no added cost. Special filters remove SPAM. That represents 89 percent of the 46,000 e-mails arriving on the campus daily. It saves time for everyone.

Altogether the information technology cost containment strategies for fiscal year 2008 yielded an estimated $688,000. These are real savings that will allow us to forgo budget allocations in the future or to add technology services immediately that otherwise would have been scheduled in a year or two.

Recruiting students and then retaining them from first enrollment through graduation is important. This is true not only because our mission is education, but also because our budget requires enrollment stability. We have developed and implemented a new marketing plan designed to attract eligible students from a wider geographic area. Additionally, we are redesigning some courses using a nationally successful model, and we are remaking the freshman experience to engage first-time students sooner and more fully.

We’re also applying cost containment strategies in our business operations. Outsourcing credit card payments saves us $51,000 per year in fees to card companies. E-mailing students their billing statements versus using the postal service saves about $10,000 annually.

All-electronic procurement saves thousands of dollars in personnel time and supplies. Our foundation office uses barcoding technology to process mailings and pledges and thereby cuts staff time on most projects from hours to minutes.

Times may be tough, but we’re working hard to contain costs. The issues are significant and challenging: program quality, affordability, a better student experience, competitive position in the marketplace, the retention of key personnel, and on and on. We have a University Budget Committee systematically sifting through all operations seeking efficiency opportunities. Delta State’s faculty and staff have become quite aware that each dollar we save makes a difference.


Dr. John Hilpert is president of Delta State University in Cleveland.