Hey Big Spenders: Spend a Little Less on Phone Lines and Package Delivery?

By Seth Tenenbaum

College and university leaders are fighting the battle of their lives to maximize their institutions’ financial wellbeing.

With COVID-19 further weakening institutions’ financial positions, are there any hidden sources of savings still to be had?

The answer, often, is yes—even for the many institutions who have already made substantial cuts.

It is possible that 15% to 20% of expenses, such as telecommunications, credit card processing, small package delivery, waste management and electronic signatures can be further reduced.

Following are some potential cost-saving strategies for higher ed teams to consider. These are mainly to lower administrative and operational expenses (e.g., waste disposal) without affecting educational processes and tuition and fees.

Some strategies (such as moving to a cloud-based wireless phone system) are earmarked for a future year, when there could be more staff on campus to oversee the changes.


For immediate consideration

Does your wireless plan make the grade? Many college and university cellphone bills are riddled with data overages because of the number of staff who are telecommuting. This is a good time to find a cost-effective plan that is stripped of unnecessary features while accommodating increasing needs as more research and education are conducted online.

Do your bills match your current requirements? If some dorms are closed, for example, you may be able to put a temporary halt on associated internet charges.

Do a line-by-line analysis. Do you have more incoming phone lines than you need? Does it make sense to whittle them down temporarily—or for the longer term?

Eliminate fax machines; opt for a virtual service. As a result, you will no longer need to pay for extra phone lines.

Double-check on nonprofit discounts. Many telecommunications providers offer such discounts, and nonprofit colleges and universities should ensure that their invoices reflect this benefit.

For the longer term

Give your VoIP system an exam. Many campuses have already converted to voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems to save money—meaning that instead of making and receiving calls over traditional copper lines installed on the premises, it’s all done through the internet. However, if the institution is still managing these systems and all the equipment is onsite, it could realize further savings, and increase security, by moving everything to “the cloud” (e.g., having their provider host the data and manage the equipment offsite).

Credit Card Processing

For immediate consideration

Go for “extra credit.” With credit card payments so pervasive in areas such as admissions, registration, food services, fundraising and alumni relations, this is a good time to review your current arrangements with your credit card partner. You may find there is more give than you think.

For the longer term

Consolidate. Research ways to migrate separate processing systems for food service, book stores, fundraising, tuition and so on into one unified system. Many universities will be working with multiple credit card companies when it would be simpler and more cost-efficient to move to one for all departments.

Go virtual. Replace physical terminals (in the registrar’s office, for example) with virtual ones to lower equipment expenses. These systems also allow more customer data to be entered, such as addresses and zip codes, which brings down costs, too.

Waste Disposal

For immediate consideration

“Waste not, want not.” Are there opportunities to lower the frequency of recycling and dumpster services—say from daily to every other day or even weekly? With fewer students and staff on campus, there may be room for new arrangements.

Review the fine print. The global recycling industry is changing, with much less demand for waste by some big overseas recyclers, and that may result in more competitive pricing for direct clients.

Small Package Delivery

For immediate consideration

Scrutinize delivery prices. Your bills should be accounting for lower fuel charges during this pandemic. Couriers should be passing along their savings.

Prioritize. Does everything need to be delivered “next day”? Check, department by department, that paying large costs for less urgent deliveries has not become habitual.

Ensure consistent service. If a partner is consistently late delivering packages, you may be entitled to refunds.


For immediate consideration

Put your service to the test. For universities that are using electronic signature services in multiple departments (e.g., financial aid, admissions, campus health and athletics), a fixed rate fee structure will likely be more cost-efficient. Universities relying on them in one or two areas may end up with better pricing on a variable rate structure based on usage.

COVID-19 is exerting new financial pressures on every institution, and there are no easy answers. That said, there is ingenuity to be had in every aspect of cost management—potentially leading to a healthier bottom line at this critical time.

Seth Tenenbaum is a Boston-based strategic partner with Schooley Mitchell, a cost reduction consulting company with offices across North America.

Photo by Anna Auza on Unsplash.

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