Needing to cut costs is a blessing
Nobody economizes except under pressure. Why would you? It is easier to spend, usually true and always tempting to believe that spending more will improve results. We economize because we have to make choices among things we think our good. Our first priority must be to have priorities. After many fat years, universities are starting to economize. It is interesting to think about this
A good manager can always make cuts and/or modify systems to save money and time. Universities have not had to make real cuts until recently. They had the "that's what stuff costs" excuse. And they enjoyed a type of monopoly as the provider of credentials that everyone needed or thought they needed for success. In fact, some universities enjoyed a type of reverse cost curve. When they charged more, people wanted it more, assuming that the higher costs were signs of a better investment and higher payoffs later. Students and their parents were aided and abetted in this decision by government subsidies and financial aid that increased to meet the costs. Why eat cheap hamburger when if you will get extra money to help you pay if order filet mignon?
This equation started to change a few years ago. Probably the biggest factor was what we hope is a temporary hiatus in the value of education, as even graduates of good universities found themselves jobless or working at McDonald's. A longer term factor was a developing change in the way education is delivered. MOOCs were only the tip of this iceberg.
Alternatives to universities are coming online - sometimes literally. And savvy are starting to see the advantages to various versions of community colleges. IMO, a great combination is for kids to go to community college for the first two years and then finish college for the last two. Of course, a great deal of professional training can be done w/o going to college at all.
Anyway, if you read the linked article, you see some of the logical things universities are doing to cut costs. I think it is important to remember the purpose of university is to educate and expand the boundaries of knowledge. There are lots of extras that kind of make sense but are not essential and/or are better done by somebody else.
I have had to do some cutting. My colleagues sometimes complain that I am cutting good programs and they are right. We are cutting good programs in order to do better ones. And some of the things we are cutting are great things to do, but we are not the most appropriate ones to do it. For example, what could be more important than feeding poor children? But maybe we are not the most appropriate ones to do that.
Universities have gotten into things best done by others. It is clear how this happened. They have come to take too much responsibility for their students' well-being in general. They provide lots of services and luxuries, such as state of the art health and fitness facilities. It is true that content students will probably be better students, but making young people content is beyond a university's mandate and maybe beyond human capacity. Now imagine telling this to prospective students and their parents. You can see why these things can be cut only under pressure.
It is a blessing to have pressure to live within your means. I am glad that we are reining in expenses in universities, government and business. It is better to focus on priorities rather than call too many things important.