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Streamlining the awarding and processing of student loans—Federal Perkins as well as institutional loans—began at the Illinois Institute of Technology with a simple question and a frustrating answer. “It started because I asked, ‘What is the process?’” recalls Jackie Anderson, associate director of student accounting. “No one really knew.”

Instrumental in implementing the new online payments system were  (left to right) Allison Foltz, Mike Boolukos and Melody Baker from the  information technology office.

Cash flow is as important to nonprofits as it is to corporate entities. That’s something officials at Salisbury University in Maryland had in mind when they engaged outside help several years ago to provide students with online payment gateways, tuition payment plans and electronic bills.

The steps resulted in increased efficiencies and more timely payment. But with enrollment up a third over the last decade—and no increase in accounts receivable staffing—officials knew it was time to take the next step.

Picture the amount of paper associated with almost 42,000 travel reports and 300,000 procurement card transactions. That’s how many expense-related documents the University of Colorado’s four campuses generate in a single year. Besides the sheer challenge of filing and storing so many receipts, a few years ago there also were major hurdles for reconciling and auditing.

One of the most sought-after nonsalary compensation items offered by higher education is full or partial tuition benefits for employees and their families. Free and reduced-cost degrees go a long way toward easing the impact of nonprofit salaries.

American Public University System (W.Va.) offers varying levels of such tuition benefits based on employee status. But the institution’s formerly manual registration process was ill-equipped to distinguish between different registration types, creating problems when it came to reporting, scholarship applications, and payment.

Refunds at American Public U are now processed daily, compared to what used to take 10 to 20 days.

Ask any taxpayer who impatiently begins checking the mailbox within days of filing an income tax return: People may wait until the last minute to pay a bill, but when owed a refund, they want it as quickly as possible.

And so the manual refund process at American Public University System (W.Va.) was problematic. Financial aid refunds at the fully online school took up to 10 days to process; nonfinancial aid refunds could take up to twice that time. And that was with staff members who did nothing but process refunds full time.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more paper-laden function than accounts payable. Receipts, invoices, check requests, purchase orders, contracts, and more keep A/P personnel knee-deep in forms and documentation.

Loyola University Chicago’s accounts payable staff processes about 50,000 transactions among its three campuses annually—and 80 percent of them involved hard-copy documents. In many cases, A/P was not the final stop on the trail for this paperwork, and lost items were common, leading to processing delays and dissatisfaction among stakeholders.

 Going electronic recovers about $1.1 million a year.

Adjunct faculty members are an important resource on campuses, supplementing full-time faculty course offerings and making it possible for students to complete required courses on time. But until the fall of 2011, adjuncts and full-time faculty teaching additional courses were causing a tremendous drain on resources at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, located in Green Bay.

Blessed by rising enrollments and increased faculty hiring but burdened by flat IT staffing, Old Dominion University (Va.) officials took a hard look at both its ERP system and itself in hopes of addressing a simple but hugely significant issue. “We framed the basic question as, Is it Banner or is it us?” recalls Bob Fenning, vice president for administration and finance. “We were wondering whether or not we were utilizing Banner in the most efficient way, that we were maxing out all the functionality that existed there, or was the issue how we did business.”

Getting the job done: Mike Ulrich (middle) and his Accounting Services team can now process journal vouchers quickly and without paper to file.

The amount of money that gets routed around a campus without cash ever exchanging hands is enormous. Recording those exchanges is vital for accounting, but often cumbersome. “Universities do a fair amount of chargebacks for their operations,” observes Rich Van Den Hul, vice president for business and financial affairs at Western Washington University. “The copy center is a good example. Facilities work. IT work. So there’s a lot of transactions.”

Being able to buy books early often makes the shopping experience better.

The purchase of textbooks and other educational materials before the start of the semester has numerous benefits: Students are better prepared heading into classes; faculty can begin teaching from the books immediately; and the bookstore is less crowded during that first manic week. But for students on financial aid at Western Washington University, where funding is disbursed on the first day of class, being well prepared came at a price.