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Resource Center

The Essential Guide to Cost Containment Strategies for Higher Education

Resources to address administrative costs in five key areas

January 18, 2024

Table of Contents

This resource center will be free to access for the month of May to highlight EAB’s cost containment research. Check out Strategic Advisory Services to learn more about how we work with higher ed strategy leaders to solve their toughest challenges.

As institutions face tightening budgets and uncertainty about future revenues, campus leaders are seeking opportunities to mitigate unnecessary costs and increase financial efficiency across every part of the enterprise: talent, administrative workflows and organizational structure, academic affairs, technology, and facilities.

In this resource center, we’ve catalogued near-term and long-term tactics for cost containment across five functional areas of colleges and universities:

Labor Cost Containment

Labor comprises 60-70% of most institutions’ operating budgets, so it’s a likely target for cost containment initiatives. That said, to sustain long-term labor savings, leaders must slow labor cost growth over time—or “bend the labor cost curve.” Our resources help leaders strategically plan for labor savings across both the short- and long-term.

Labor Resources

Workflow and Org Design Cost Containment

Every institution has opportunities to redesign processes and organizational models to improve efficiencies and service quality. Our resources help leaders and staff identify the greatest opportunities for improvement on their campus, prioritize them, and execute—to the tune of significant cost savings. They also help leaders get buy-in for change with even the most resistant staff.

Process Improvement Resources

Shared Services Resources

Interinstitutional Partnerships and M&A

Organizational Design Resources

  • Efficiency and Effectiveness Initiatives: Review key lessons from post-Great Recession efficiency audits to identify successes to emulate and mistakes to avoid, and get guidance on where the majority of potential savings lie.

Increase Effectiveness with EAB’s Organizational Review Services

In the face of rising costs, challenging talent landscapes, and increasing competition, higher education leaders strive to increase efficiency and effectiveness across their institutions. As a part of this, many have turned to organizational review to collect information, analyze reporting relationships, and gain insight into structures and processes across units.


EAB offers a variety of services where our experts review your institution's organizational chart, conducting thorough comparisons that benchmark against your peers. We then offer tailored suggestions aimed at enhancing organizational effectiveness and streamlining operations within your institution. Across a variety of functional areas, EAB conducted more than 70 such reviews in 2023 alone and learned three overarching lessons:

  1. 1. The complex nature of organizational structure in higher education makes it more important to define roles within and between units.
  2. 2. Institutional leaders need to articulate a clear strategic direction for the faculty and staff in their unit to ensure success.
  3. 3. Units that have clear information and objectives are more likely to increase organizational effectiveness.
    1. Explore four of EAB's organizational review services to boost efficiency across your college or university.
Advancement Organizational Design Review

In today’s competitive advancement market, advancement leaders must evaluate whether their organization is best positioned to recruit and retain top talent, meet donors’ changing expectations, and grow fundraising dollars.

EAB’s Advancement Organizational Design Review assesses your current roles, responsibilities, and reporting structures to increase your shop’s return on investment. The evaluation focuses on three functional areas of fundraising shops:

  • Engagement with constituents
  • Donor development
  • Advancement services

Request the Review

For further in-depth analysis of your advancement shop’s organizational data, check out our Advancement Investment and Performance Initiative.

Facilities Organization Chart Assessment and Evaluation

EAB’s recent survey of Facilities and Estates leaders found that talent remains a pressing concern among operations leaders with nearly three-quarters indicating this is among their top priorities. Institutions continue to struggle with recruitment and retention for skilled tradespersons and janitorial/cleaning positions with average vacancy rates of 13% and some experiencing vacancy rates as high as 40%.

Given these challenges, many senior Facilities officers are considering changes to their organizational charts but lack visibility into what makes different org models effective. EAB offers guidance based on global trends and direct comparisons with peer institutions.

Request the Assessment

HR Organizational Chart Audit for Large and Selective Colleges and Universities

Few HR units have modernized their structures, roles, or functional capabilities to meet the changing expectations and needs of talent development. Additionally, higher ed HR budgets are typically much lower than other industries, limiting their resources and capacity to meet this increased pressure on HR teams to deliver efficient, quality service.

EAB’s review of your HR organizational chart includes evaluation of the following elements:

  • Ratio of central HR staff to employees
  • Composition of HR roles (e.g., business partner)
  • Number of direct reports to the chief human resource officer
  • Core, common, and emerging HR functions
  • Structure and composition of talent acquisition team (e.g., number of recruiters compared to peers)

Request the Org Chart Audit

Organizational and Strategic Benchmarks for Professional, Continuing, and Online Education Leaders

Professional, continuing, and online education leaders face increasingly ambitious goals with little room for error, requiring reliable, comprehensive inputs for their decision-making. More than a decade of partner feedback has informed the development of our measurement framework, providing comparative data across four dimensions and various attributes (e.g., funnel metrics, marketing spend, student support):

  • Annual outcomes
  • Programs and student services
  • Operations
  • Marketing

Learn More

Academic Affairs Cost Containment

Faculty and staff often correlate a reduction in academic costs with a reduction in quality. In reality, institutions can realize savings and promote excellence by reallocating existing resources to high-impact, mission-aligned activities. The resources below highlight both immediate savings opportunities from increased instructional efficiency and longer-term opportunities to increase instructional productivity and rightsize the academic portfolio.

Academic Affairs Resources

Technology and IT Services Cost Containment

Our resources help IT leaders prioritize new projects, optimize purchases, both centrally and locally, and creatively use student labor to respond to workload surges.

IT Resources

Facilities and Auxiliaries Cost Containment

Move the needle on evergreen challenges like reducing deferred maintenance backlogs, decreasing energy consumption, optimizing space utilization, and maximizing the value (and savings potential) of outsourcing and public-private partnerships.

Space Utilization Resources

Capital Projects and Deferred Maintenance Resources

Partnerships Resources

Talent Resources

Sustainability Resources