Five years ago, UB began recognizing campus departments for their initiatives to save time, money and resources, while simultaneously improving the quality of service and communication provided to constituents.
For many honorees, their award is only the beginning of a process of continuous improvement and efficiency gains. Projects can serve as a springboard for further improvements, as was the case at the following three institutions. To be considered for a future Models of Efficiency award, visit www.universitybusiness.com/moe.
What’s next in application processing
North Carolina State University
Originally honored: Spring 2011
The online admissions process the graduate school debuted in 2009 was the first step in NC State’s efforts to reduce the time and manpower required to process nearly 15,000 applications each year. Converting the paper-based system to scanned documents cut costs, turnaround time and storage needs.
That first step led to an entirely new application system, dubbed NextGen Admissions, which kicked off in 2012. Consisting of four phases to be rolled out over the next couple of years, the system aims to give NC State an edge in evaluating applicants, identifying top candidates, and matching them with campus research and teaching opportunities. The system also helps the university stay ahead of its consistent 10 percent annual growth rate in applications.
NextGen Phase One was entirely designed, built and implemented internally at NC State in the space of a year, says Lindsay Gentile, director of admissions. Rolled out in October 2013, Phase One provides faculty with an electronic evaluation system for review of admissions applications.
Prior to NextGen, graduate programs had no secure or efficient way to provide faculty with online applications for their evaluation. It was a major disadvantage, since graduate admissions decisions happen primarily within individual academic departments. Many departments would create an application folder for each student that had to be physically shuttled from office-to-office. NextGen Phase One allows several faculty members to review a single file simultaneously.
The primary reason for the shift to digital was speed, says Gentile, adding that the old process resulted in the loss of top applicants to other schools.
Adding customization capabilities
Once NextGen’s second phase is complete, reviewers will be able to post admissions decisions in real time within the system. Phase three will give departments the ability to customize the admissions application for a particular program, by adding questions or including additional requirements, for example. And phase four will help match graduate students with open assistantships and fellowships, as well as better automate the human resource process associated with this work.
“The beauty of this system is that it provides departments maximum flexibility by allowing for customization at the program level,” Gentile says.
Face time fuels retention
Center for Academic Support and Advising Services
Originally honored: April 2011
Officials at Liberty University in Virginia completely revamped the advising process in 2010, after learning from exit surveys that students dropping out didn’t feel connected. Microsoft CRM was implemented to help forge technological connections between students and advisors. The university has since taken other steps to ensure students are getting more personal interaction with their advisors, without overburdening staff.
More intentional advising practices and an all-around campus effort are paying off in reaching freshman and sophomores. The university’s undergraduate retention rate rose from 78.9 percent in 2011-12 to 81.3 percent in 2012-13, says Dwayne Melton, executive director for administration. Freshman and sophomores can schedule individual appointments with one of the 19 professional advisors. “Over the last year we’ve been looking at everything under a microscope, closely examining assessment data from students and specific benchmark institutions in an effort to stay in-tune with best practices and make necessary tweaks to our own unique systems,” says Melton. “We’ve been making improvements based on how our departments compare internally and externally.”
Adding one-on-one time
One change involved launching a sophomore assessment to gauge whether second-years had the aptitude to test out of a mandatory progress meeting with their advisor. But only 700 of the 1,600 sophomores took the assessment. It turns out students wanted that in-person meeting. So Liberty is eliminating the assessment altogether, replacing it with a survey. Another improvement was aimed at juniors and seniors, who now meet with faculty mentors in their program/major. In a survey, half of juniors had reported they valued the individualized graduation checklist used to alert them to still-needed classes and requirements.
Shifting responsibilities Three new lead advisors work with specialty populations, such as undecided majors. Their regular internal reviews have helped officials determine if adjustments in the advising process are needed. By emphasizing face time with newer students, the university is creating connections that are directly impacting retention.
Originally honored: July 2011
Oakland University in Michigan transitioned from a time-consuming, paper-based grade-change progress to an online form in 2011, immediately cutting costs by $30,000 per year. Today that form is the most popular one at Oakland, reflecting the ease with which faculty have adjusted to completing grade-change requests electronically.
Since its creation, an estimated 3,000 grade changes have been processed without the need for paper. “It provides convenience and the ease of completion,” says Registrar Steve Shablin. Both the professor and the student receive an email confirming a grade change has been processed, so the student no longer has to follow up on it. “An estimated 90 percent of follow-up calls have been eliminated,” he says.
Copying the new model, continuing the migration
Oakland has proceeded to roll out several additional online forms to replace former paper documents. One is the student major change form, which students fill out as many as three or four times during their career, says Shablin. And the transfer course review form gets completed when students want to take a course at another university and receive credit from Oakland. In total, five additional forms have been designed and added to the system in the last three years. While the conversion of one form reduced the university’s expenses by $30,000 annually, Shablin estimates Oakland is now approaching a total of $100,000 in savings.
Part of the reason for the big savings is the minimal cost of creating online forms. Oakland can continue to transition many, or even most, of its paper forms to the web. “The use of forms has supported what our premise was—conversion and access with notification,” says Shablin. “It’s a great additional tool that provides a service to our faculty, staff and students.”