A funny thing happened to the College of William & Mary (Va.) on its way to a more efficient way to determine each of its undergraduate students' home address.
Dreading the implementation of the solution agreed upon, college officials instead found efficiencies in the process of working together to solve the problem.
Financial aid, tuition, and billing functions, as well as getting a proper mix of in-state and out-of-state admits, all rely on knowing where students live. Yet William & Mary's registrar's office is required to review the domicile separately from the admissions office, which had sometimes delayed residency decisions until after an admissions decision had been sent out. The forms themselves—the domicile application and the admissions application—were separate, furthering the potential for delay.
The college's solution was to add a series of carefully crafted questions to supplement the Common Application and work out a decision paradigm allowing automated assigning of residency in the 60 percent of cases where a clear-cut decision could be made. This process populates a temporary SunGard Higher Education Banner table and uploads the domicile code into the system when the admissions application is uploaded, without staff intervention or paper review.
William & Mary was able to reduce staff review of applications for in-state tuition privileges from 5,000 to 2,000, cutting nearly half of a full-time employee's hours. That employee now works on more front-line customer service tasks in the registrar's office. Network resources are used to review the 2,000 apps that require staff check-in, greatly reducing the need for an in-depth look. Staff time has been saved, and only about 80 out of 5,000 applications now must be printed, slashing paper usage.
Equally significant, if not more so, was the way the solution came about.
"This is one of the projects that's been on our list of projects for some time—in fact, years," says Bernadette Kenney, deputy chief information officer. "We avoided it because it was going to be a huge development process."
Instead, a three-person team—staffers from undergraduate admissions, information technology, and the registrar's office—realized at some point in the planning process that all of the tools they needed were already in use at the college. Banner was in place, and Axiom, a product from Software Services of Delaware, was being used to move information from admissions applications into Banner. The simple adding of domicile questions to the Common App meant that residency information could be automatically uploaded in thousands of cases without having to endure the laborious process of developing and installing new software.
"Everyone was saying, 'God, this process is terrible; how can we make it better? It takes up so much of our time,'" Kenney says. "I think the three of them were in a room and saying, 'Wait a minute—this isn't any different than doing an application; this is an application process.' And it went from there."
The solution was so effective that William & Mary is considering applying it to graduate applications. The process of cross-team collaboration was so beneficial that the college may end up encouraging its use throughout campus.
"It's a really good example of the cooperation of departments," says Kenney. "We can certainly use this as an example as we move forward—look at what we've done together to create efficiencies for everyone."