- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Iowa’s three public universities should stop forming some hiring search committees in order to save time and should standardize their admissions applications and scores to make the process easier for students, according to recommendations unveiled Tuesday.

The Iowa Board of Regents said the universities will move to implement those three plans recommended by a consulting firm as part of an ongoing review designed to save money and improve efficiency. The board is expected to vote to implement the proposals next week during a meeting at Iowa State University.

“These three business cases are about customer service,” Jeneane Beck, a board spokeswoman, told reporters on a conference call.

The plans were among 17 recommended following a review by Deloitte Consulting, which was hired earlier this year to scrutinize operations at the universities. Regents, who govern the state’s three universities, have said they expect to save tens of millions of dollars in the coming years, improve services for students and save employee time.

The first plan selected for implementation last month will require the universities to negotiate new, master contracts for goods and services to find better deals on everything from office supplies to maintenance materials. Unlike that plan, which the board will pay Deloitte to implement, Beck said the universities would adopt the proposals released Tuesday on their own. Many details have to be worked out in the coming months, she said.

Under the first new recommendation, the universities would no longer need to form search committees when hiring many professional and academic staff members. Hiring decisions would be made by department directors and their superiors under the plan. Higher-level jobs and faculty positions would still require committees, but they might be smaller than those currently in use.

Consultants estimated that employees spend more than 70,000 hours annually at the three universities participating in job searches and said that number could be cut in half by limiting their use. The time saved would be enough work for 18 full-time employees, the plan said. But consultants cautioned that steps will need to be taken to ensure the quicker hiring decisions still comply with affirmative action and diversity rules.

The other two plans aim to make it easier for students to apply to more than one university and to understand admissions criteria.

Currently, thousands of students who apply to more than one of the universities every year have to do so separately. The recommendation would create an online portal, at an estimated cost of $500,000, that would allow students to submit applications to any of the three universities at once. Students would still have to pay the $40 fee for each application.

Lastly, the regents will consider a plan to standardize how the schools calculate the Regents Admission Index, the basic threshold for admission at the three schools. Currently, each school has a different way of computing scores for the roughly 33 percent of applicants from high schools who do not offer class rankings. Those students often do not know if they will be admitted - or what the decision would be based on.

“This allows better transparency for the students and admissions counselors,” Beck said.

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