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In spring 2008, when an anonymous donor funded a private outside study to explore ways the University could be run more efficiently, it was difficult to imagine the dividends – in the form of cost savings – that would come of it.

And no one predicted that in October, on the cusp of a presidential election, the national economy would teeter on the edge of a depression, or that the housing market would soon collapse and millions of U.S. jobs would disappear.

Nor could Holden Thorp have known, when he became chancellor in July 2008, that the University would face cuts in state appropriations each of the five years he was in office, including a $100.7 million cut in 2011–12 alone.

The effects of the Great Recession hit North Carolina – and this campus – hard.

But the impact might have been even more drastic if not for the study completed by Bain & Company, which grew into a campus-wide initiative called Carolina Counts. Mike Patil, the executive director of Carolina Counts, spearheaded and continues to lead the effort.

In its first full year of implementation (2009–10), Carolina Counts tracked cost savings of $21 million per year in the recurring state-funded budget. For the fiscal year just ended, Carolina Counts reached recurring savings of $58.1 million per year in state funding. During the past four fiscal years, the cumulative savings stand at $160.1 million in state funding.

Patil said there are two important points to remember behind these impressive figures.

First, the University did not undertake these efficiency measures in response to budget cuts. Carolina Counts was set in motion the summer before the economy collapsed.

Secondly, the credit for the significant savings does not belong to Patil or his office, but to the people across campus who changed the way they did business to create greater efficiencies.

“The work is done, not by this one-person office, but by a community of people who have done what they thought was the right thing to do and more,” Patil said. “We just helped to provide a structure and impetus.”

During the upcoming academic year, thanks to the campus’ continuing efforts, Carolina Counts is projected to surpass $66 million in annual savings.

Read about some movers and shakers behind the success of Carolina Counts.

Published August 8, 2013.