In the wake of a continued combination of reduced state subsidies and student complaints about tuition increases, American colleges and universities are trimming administrative staffing bloat and reducing back-office waste.

The State University of New York system shaved $48 million in the past two years by cutting unused software licenses and consolidating senior administrators.

The University of California, Berkeley, cut $70 million since 2011 by centralizing purchasing and laying off a layer of middle managers, among other things.

And the University of Kansas revamped its back-office operations to save about $5 million in 2013. One example of the fresh efficiency: A new way of deploying maintenance workers shaved an hour of drive time from their shifts each day.

Jeffrey Vitter, the provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas, said for years schools put off the hard choices on reining in costs. “There clearly is a sense of urgency now and that frankly is a big part that allows us to move forward,” he said. Since reordering its back offices last year, the school, which educates 30,000 students, uses 11 million fewer pieces of paper a year.

Federal higher-education data, while delivered on a two-year lag, show back-office expenses have been growing rapidly. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations rose 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

At the schools where new efficiencies are being touted, costs have shot up over that same time frame. In inflation-adjusted dollars back-office expenses between 2001 to 2011, as measured by the combined categories of academic and institutional support as reported to the Department of Education, increased 68% at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; 91% at the University of Texas at Austin; 59% at the University of California Berkeley; and 99% at the University of Kansas.

It’s still unclear just how broad or deep the reordering runs, but early examples highlight the inefficiencies that have long lurked in university operations. In-state tuition at public four year schools rose at their slowest rate in nearly 40 years. Published tuition and fees rose 2.9% for in-state students at four-year public schools, the smallest one-year increase since 1975-76. At private schools, tuition and fees rose 3.8%, a bit slower than in recent years, according to the College Board, a nonprofit group that tracks university costs.