Colleges and universities are steeped in tradition, both in culture and business practices. But when traditional processes inhibit growth, schools need to change without disturbing their traditions of brand awareness and academic excellence.
That was the challenge facing Penn State World Campus in 2007, when surging growth in enrollment intersected with rapidly decreasing public funding and rising expectations from its internet-savvy online students. Penn State World Campus was founded in 1998 to offer accredited online college degrees and certificate programs. But less than a decade later, its growth and success were hampered by outdated and inadequate information systems, says Wayne Smutz, associate vice president for academic outreach and executive director for the campus. “When I took over my role in 2007, I knew there were problems with our information technology,” Smutz recalls. “Our staff was spending too much time finding solutions or workarounds to the limitations of our system.”
Too much staff time was being spent on processes that could, or should, be automated, thus limiting the time for personalized attention to students. “We operate in a highly competitive environment,” Smutz says. “That means we need to have our staff work on those things that differentiate us in the marketplace rather than those must-have, non-differentiating tasks that everyone delivers.” Smutz assembled a team of technologists, and after a year of study, it became obvious that the school’s aging information systems couldn’t be fixed; they had to be replaced.
“In 2007, we had 5,000 students and 17,000 course enrollments,” Smutz says. “Today, we have over 12,000 students and 55,000 course enrollments. There was no way our legacy system could scale for that growth.” Smutz and his team turned to Destiny Solutions, a Toronto-based company that specializes in technology to meet the needs of non-traditional higher education.
The company’s flagship product, Destiny One, offers integrated constituent, enrollment and administrative management on a single software platform. Penn State’s work with Destiny Solutions began in 2009 with a feasibility study followed by a business assessment and then a phased implementation of Destiny One that will be completed this year. “It was a very smooth process,” Smutz recalls. “It was the first time in my career that we had a technology change where people weren’t hammering at my door complaining that everything was being disrupted.”
Implementing Destiny One has helped Penn State World Campus meet its goal of automating non-differentiating tasks, including the process of assigning students proctors for online exams, for example. With the legacy system, fulfilling students’ proctor requests was largely a manual effort, with staffers sorting through schedules and rules to meet each request. Now, with Destiny One, the entire process has been automated, freeing up one full-time employee to handle more important student issues. Destiny One has also made it easier and faster to perform other routine tasks by integrating disparate systems, Smutz says, adding that information that had to be retrieved from six or eight different systems can now be found in one place.
“When information is more readily available to staff, more time can be spent talking to students and meeting their needs,” he explains. At Penn State World Campus, the ability to offer personalized attention to students is the key benefit of the recent technology overhaul. “We want to be the best provider in the country of post-secondary online learning,” says Smutz. “To do that, we need to spend time on the phone and online with students, interacting and solving problems. If you’re spending time solving tech issues, it takes away from your ability to make a difference with your students.”
For more information on Destiny One, please visit www.destinysolutions.com.