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Board hears highlights - Torgersen presents restructuring plan

By Larry Hincker

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 2 - September 1, 1994

University President Paul Torgersen presented highlights of Virginia Tech's restructuring plan at the quarterly Board of Visitors meeting Monday.

While announcing a goal of further efficiencies, Torgersen indicated that Virginia Tech, which essentially began its restructuring effort four years ago, has made significant productivity improvements. "The cost to educate a student at the university in 1988-89 was $7,655, while the cost to educate a student in 1992-93 was $7,893. This is only a 3.1-percent increase over four years. Factoring inflation, we educate a student for significantly less today than we did four years ago," said Torgersen.

Torgersen compared the cost escalation at Virginia Tech to the Higher Education Price Index, which during the same period, rose 18.7 percent and the Consumer Price Index which rose 17.7 percent. During the past four years, the university had a $28-million net reduction in funding and internally reallocated another $15 million to high-priority areas, including unfunded regulatory mandates such as asbestos abatement or hazardous-waste removal, as well as financial aid and escalating health-care costs.

New initiatives, such as integrating instructional technology or the makeover of the university administrative systems, also were funded from internal reallocation. Virginia Tech was the first university in the state to require all organization units to revert up to 1.5 percent of the previous year's budget to the central administration for reallocation to more urgent priorities.

The university set a goal of 2-percent annual productivity gains. "By effecting fundamental change in academic and administrative process through the integration of technology across the university, we will both increase quality and hold down costs," Torgersen said.

Indicating that Virginia Tech has been undergoing restructuring over the last four years, Torgersen unveiled four major goals for the university. In order of priority they are: 1) improving the quality of undergraduate instruction, 2) controlling costs, 3) accepting additional Virginia students, and 4) contributing to the state's economic health. By the year 2000, the university will have reallocated about $40 million toward the restructuring goals.

While vowing to make the administration and faculty even more productive, Torgersen feels that many of the accomplishments of universities like Tech are overlooked. He said, "At our university, professors already teach 93 percent of all courses. This level of commitment to teaching is something in which we take great pride." The university also will pursue other quality improvements such as increasing retention and graduation rates.

A fundamental element of Virginia Tech's future involves the use of computing and communications technology. Acknowledging Tech's historical emphasis on professions Torgersen said, "We want all students, not just those from technical disciplines, fully proficient in the use and applications of personal computers and modern communication technology. We traditionally have helped students prepare for careers. Computer literacy is a must for any person looking for work in the information age." Virginia Tech wired all its offices and dormitories eight years ago with fiber-optic cable supporting high-speed video, data, and voice transmissions.

A key element in controlling costs will be elimination of duplicative or low-enrollment courses, merger of departments, and more efficient use of space. To date, six departments have been merged into three. Each department elimination can save as much as $150,000 annually. Torgersen highlighted the university's creative "Integrated Space Plan" as one way to solve vexing and seemingly perpetual space shortages. Over the next decade, old dormitories in need of refurbishment will be converted to academic use for about two thirds the cost of building new academic facilities. New, more suitable dormitories, will be built to replace each dorm converted.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) has projected that 72,000 new students will seek admission to the state's institutions of higher education. To cope with the expected increase in college-bound Virginians, the university will decrease out-of-state enrollment by about 250 students, hold graduate enrollments steady, and accept additional in-state students. By the year 2000, the university will be enrolling 2,100 more in-state students than in 1990.

Acknowledging that Virginia Tech always has been close to the professions and employers, Torgersen says the university will "keep an ear to the marketplace and listen to the taxpayers of Virginia." For example, the university plans to closely link the needs of businesses with campus expertise through such innovations as the Hotel Roanoke's Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement.

Torgersen enumerated his "guiding principles" for the university during his tenure. He promised to maintain a sharp focus on career preparation of students for the workforce and to prepare them for responsible citizenship; maintain a high sense of accountability to "stakeholders" such as students, parents, legislators, and taxpayers; look for creative funding mechanisms such as private fundraising; develop leadership opportunities for students and university staff members; and maintain an active two-way flow of communications between the university and its publics. On the latter point, Torgersen said, "We have heard loud and clear the exhortations of our government leaders and taxpayers. We will provide an education of value to our students, while we maintain a valued position among educational institutions."