President Obama’s recent speech outlining his plan to make higher education more affordable had as its centerpiece the intent to hold institutions receiving federal funding more accountable for how well they’re serving their students. To this end, federal aid would be connected to how hard schools are working to control/lower their operating costs, as well as to their performance (student success/graduation rates). A rating system would also be established tying student aid to value (these ratings would be made public before the 2015 academic year). And colleges and universities would be rewarded for embracing technology as a way to gain efficiencies and transparency.
Congressional approval is required to turn Obama’s proposal into actionable legislation. But if it does pass—and there’s a growing and pervasive public sentiment that higher education needs to make some radical changes in how it conducts business—colleges and universities will face greater scrutiny than ever before. Much of this attention will be directed at student financial aid departments, compelling these departments to become more efficient, accountable, and transparent in their operations.
This isn’t a new objective for colleges and universities. According to Bill Dillon, executive vice president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), a Washington, D.C.-based membership organization, “countless institutions” are looking for ways to become more efficient, employing a variety of strategies to accomplish this. Increasingly, says Dillon, they’re turning to technology for assistance.
Enterprise content management (ECM) is one tool higher education is adopting to boost efficiency across campus. For example, ECM technology is in place at the University of Southern California (USC) Office of the Provost, as well as its Contracts and Grants department. Oklahoma Christian University (OC) has launched ECM solutions in its Student Financial Services, Admissions, HR, and Advancement departments. Texas A&M AgriLife relies on an ECM solution for records management, as does the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Oklahoma (OU).
These are just a few examples of institutions that are getting a jump on meeting today’s new realities by using ECM. Still, compared to other industries such as healthcare or government, higher ed has lagged behind in its use of this technology; which is unfortunate, because ECM provides users with consistent and accurate data capture, among other capabilities, giving them a better understanding of their performance and where improvements are required—this is especially essential for financial aid departments.
Whether or not Obama’s proposal is passed, he has spotlighted the need for technological solutions, a focus that will surely push higher education forward.