The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is getting more systematic.

The schools are partnering on purchasing and teaming up to find the most efficient way to process payroll. The goal is to redesign fragmented, inconsistent, labor-intensive processes into ones that are shared, streamlined and automatic.

Leaders expect to save more than $100 million over the next five years.

Chancellor Steven Rosenstone said the effort -- called the Campus Service Cooperative -- "represents the next generation in the path of efficiency and effectiveness that the governor and Legislature launched with the merger of our colleges and universities" in 1995. "It's a game-changer," he told the Board of Trustees on Wednesday.

Planning "the co-op" began years back and picked up steam in 2011.

"Keep in mind our heritage," said Robert Musgrove, president of Pine Technical College. "We came into being as a large number of discrete, autonomous, independent kingdoms across the state -- each with its own business office, each with its own ways of doing things.

"It's been a long haul ... to get to the point where this is doable."

To start, the cooperative will rely on a one-time $4.5 million loan from the system office. Campuses will keep dollars saved, using them to bolster academic programs and services and hold down tuition.

The focus: purchasing and shared services, such as payroll and financial aid.

Purchasing: The system spends more then $550 million a year on goods, services and construction. But by combining their purchasing power, officials hope to save more than $30 million annually.

Shared services: The top 25 percent of campuses spend $76 per student to process scholarships, grants and loans. But the bottom 25 percent spend $35. MnSCU has studied the most efficient schools to replicate those processes at others.

"Savings are already being realized," Rosenstone said.

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168