NMSU to look at boosting staff efficiency

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University’s administrative staff is “poorly organized” – bloated in some areas and underserved in others – according to a new study.

Faced with falling enrollment and increasing budget pressure, NMSU President Garrey Carruthers commissioned Deloitte Consulting earlier this year to take a close look at the university’s administrative staffing levels, excluding faculty. Deloitte was tasked with answering the question, “Is or is not NMSU overstaffed?”

The answer: The university is not overstaffed, per se, but it is poorly organized.

The firm’s recommendations could lead to substantial changes in management structure at NMSU. Carruthers told a packed auditorium of university employees on Tuesday that he believes the reorganization can be achieved through attrition and “reassignments” over the next two to three years.

“What we’re trying to do is develop a sustainable 21st-century university that recognizes the reality that you really have to manage a little bit better,” Carruthers told the Journal . “You have to take advantage of cost-saving opportunities which may occur, in procurement in particular.”

Deloitte found that key functions at NMSU such as procurement and information technology services, instead of being centralized for greater efficiency, are being performed broadly across the institution.

There are too many layers of management in some areas, Deloitte found – up to six levels, when a stronger organization has fewer than four. NMSU has higher levels of direct reports to managers at the top and fewer at the bottom. Instead of looking like a pyramid, much of NMSU’s organizational chart resembles an hourglass.

Inexplicably, some administrative assistants assist a single manager while others serve several dozen people, Carruthers said.

“We just haven’t looked at our staffing levels in a long, long time and determined whether we have the right organization,” Carruthers said.

Colleges across New Mexico are seeing falling enrollment, and NMSU has been hit hard. On the main campus in Las Cruces, enrollment dropped to 15,490 students this fall compared with a peak of 18,024 students in fall 2011 – a 14 percent decline. When enrollment contracts, revenue shrinks as well, but staffing levels have remained flat.

That downward enrollment trend led the NMSU Board of Regents in April to slash $9 million from the university system’s $690.5 million operating budget and approve a plan to reduce staffing levels through attrition. The regents also placed a moratorium on hiring and raised tuition 2.4 percent.

NMSU isn’t alone: University of New Mexico has seen enrollment slide 6 percent over the same period, to 27,354 students in fall 2015 from from 29,056 students in fall 2011. Statewide, enrollment slipped 2 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to the Department of Higher Education.

Deloitte estimates NMSU could save up to $53 million over seven years if the university implemented its five recommendations. According to the firm, NMSU needs to:

• Reduce and standardize layers of management across the organization.

• Increase the ratio of staff reporting to managers.

• Centralize the delivery of information technology services.

• Centralize the finance delivery model.

• Standardize procurement.

The end goal would be to redirect savings into compensation, scholarships, graduate assistant programs and other expenses, Carruthers said.

NMSU won’t make any immediate changes based on the study, Carruthers said. Rather, the university is establishing five specialized teams to review each of Deloitte’s recommendations.

“A lot of the pyramid structure he wants is definitely the opposite in some departments,” said Michael Lucero, a hazardous materials technician, after the presentation.

The Deloitte study evaluated the workload and functions of 2,343 Las Cruces staff, including the extension service.

Last week, Standard & Poor’s downgraded NMSU’s bond rating from AA to AA- due to the effect of enrollment declines on the university’s finances. S&P said NMSU’s outlook is stable going forward, as enrollment is expected to stabilize.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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