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26 More Smart Business Ideas

The December 2007 issue of University Business features 30 smart business ideas. Here are 26 additional smart ways for college and university administrators to conduct business.
University Business, Dec 2007

1. Build a prototype and they will learn. Through partnering with Stanford University and both a software and an office furniture company, Ohlone College (Calif.) developed a prototype classroom with the guiding principle that physical environments directly affect learning and help students achieve. Features include multimedia learning technologies, web-enhanced learning systems, and ergonomic furnishings. Students assigned to the classroom reported that they felt much closer to faculty. Ohlone leaders used the same principles when designing the Ohlone College Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology.

The Takeaway: It's not just about the teaching but about the classroom environment too.

2. Get centered on a common goal. Having been forced in the past to compete against each other to raise enrollment and increase funding, eight institutions in southern West Virginia recently joined together to form a higher education center. The participants are Bluefield State College, West Virginia University Institute of Technology, Concord University, Marshall University, the WVU Extension Service, New River Community and Technical College, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, and WVU Tech.

The Takeaway: Sharing facilities, instructors, and students can drive down costs and increase students' access to higher education.

3. Consider alternate construction delivery methods. In some cases time and money can be saved by foregoing the traditional design-bid-build model. With the design-build method, for example, a price is set at the beginning and construction moves along quicker.

The Takeaway: Reducing the amount of time on campus construction, and making beds or facilities available sooner, could be worth the jump into unfamiliar territory.

4. Ease vehicle overpopulation on campus by creating mass transportation options. The University of New Hampshire, which operates the state's largest public transit system, has three regional and seven campus transit routes. Faculty, staff, students, and Durham residents ride free. At West Virginia University, Personal Rapid Transit is a computer-operated system that provides transportation for the campus and community over an 8.2-mile track. Students, whose undergraduate tuition fees finance the system, simply swipe their IDs to get on board. And then there is the Mocs Express at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which makes 24 stops along a circular route around the campus perimeter. Nearly 87,000 students rode the Mocs Express in 2006.

The Takeaway: Promoting alternative methods of transportation not only helps combat pollution but also makes campuses safer and creates a more collegial atmosphere as pedestrian traffic increases.

5. Dish it out. Campus dining can be used as an avenue to spread goodwill, promote campus values, and help students learn. Student attendance at the Ohio Wesleyan University cafeteria tripled when the focus was put on fresh food and healthy options. IHEs ranging from Kenyon College (Ohio) to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, are raising awareness of the local area and responding to concerns about the environment through "eat local" efforts. Indiana University of Pennsylvania implemented a program that awards students points for all on-campus dining purchases, which they can then use to buy goods or donate to charity.

The Takeaway: With students choosing to eat on campus, investments in food service operations will be worth their while.

6. Buy in bulk. Leaders at Princeton University negotiate vendor contracts through a central purchasing system, allowing for reduced costs even if large amounts of an item are not purchased. Also, vendors deliver the products directly to the departments so the university does not need to maintain a delivery infrastructure

The Takeaway: Plan ahead on purchases to save money.

7. Use technology to help cut hiring time for new faculty and staff. The College of Medicine at Drexel University (Pa.) partnered with a consulting firm to develop a new tracking system that has transformed a paper-intense, manual recruitment process into a secured, paperless, electronic workflow. It uses Microsoft's Windows Workflow Foundation, which combines a workflow engine, programming model, and developers' tools. Operational since September 2006, the college's system aims to reduce the hiring process from six months or greater to a mere 60 days. It particularly has helped speed the process of examining the background and experience of key medical personnel.

The Takeaway: More efficient hiring translates to better hires and happier new employees.

8. Beef up benefits. In order to attract and retain employees, IHEs are offering a variety of benefits, such as an on-site nurse practitioner or pharmacist, domestic partner benefits (both same and opposite sex), tuition assistance for family members, child care assistance ranging from paying part of the cost to on-site or emergency coverage for sick children, and financial education programs.

The Takeaway: Better benefits can improve morale as well as lead to cost savings when employees are absent less.

9. Include constituents on the board of trustees. Hampshire College (Mass.), which has long had an elected student trustee and an elected faculty trustee, expanded the idea of having constituents serve on the board when a staff advisory committee selected a staff member to join the board this summer. Cornell may be the only other IHE with a governance board that includes fully voting employee members.

The Takeaway: Including constituent representatives on the board increases trust.

10. Build a strong partnership among admissions, athletics, and financial aid. At Gettysburg College (Pa.), athletics and enrollment staff report to the same vice president, and coaches and admissions counselors receive training on key marketing messages. All staff members understand the scholar athlete profile desired by the college, and at athletic open houses admissions personnel work hand in hand with athletic staff. The Athletics Operations Center handles all recruitment correspondence, which is customized by sport and is a separate track in the communication sequence that prospective students receive. This helps coaches build one-on-one relationships with prospective students and their families.

The Takeaway: Student recruitment is a team effort.

11. Improve relations between financial aid and the business office. Efficiencies can be realized by bringing the departments together both physically and in the chain of command.

The Takeaway: Cross-training staff members allows them to resolve issues quicker, leading to fewer unpaid bills and happier parents and students.

12. Dramatically increase the financial aid budget. This action worked well for one institution, which raised its financial aid budget by 300 percent in an attempt to fill empty seats and prevent bankruptcy. Now enrollment is up, new residence halls have been built, other campus project investments have been made, and the endowment has quadrupled. The institution's discount rate had initially spiked, but after financial stability was achieved, it was systematically brought down.

The Takeaway: Drastic times may call for seemingly drastic measures, but the payoff can be a stronger institution moving forward.

13. Develop a brand marketing strategy. Campus marketing experts say the best brand marketing strategies are built on a clear need, use research to create a baseline of awareness, have the support of the president, have built up considerable internal support before a public launch, use both traditional and nontraditional media, and demonstrate effectiveness by repeating key research often. As Centre College (Ky.) officials can attest, brand awareness can be built through high-profile on-campus events as much as on traditional advertising. Summits, debates, forums, and similar activities have helped that institution earn a reputation as a place where important conversations take place.

The Takeaway: A focus on brand will help get the right students, faculty, and staff.

14. Be prepared to deal with crises publicly. This means being ready for the spotlight before it shines on your institution. A crisis communications plan should include having a crisis team and knowing when and how to mobilize it. Get bad news out fast, as The College of New Jersey did when one of its students disappeared in 2006 and his blood was found in a dumpster beneath his dorm. Officials held a major press conference the next morning and reached out to constituents by mass e-mail twice daily, even when there was little or no information available.

The Takeaway: It's nearly always better to communicate than to have "no comment," no matter what news is breaking.

15. Plan for a flu pandemic, just in case. At the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, a special planning committee has run simulations of a flu outbreak on campus and built a comprehensive website, as well as thought through 10 main areas of concern, from vaccine distribution to communications to student housing needs. Regularly sharing ideas with other, similar institutions can help ensure all options have been considered.

The Takeaway: Being prepared isn't just about what an institution would do to protect students, faculty, and staff during an outbreak; it's also about considering the long-term challenges on continuing educational and business operations.

16. Take back the streets. Clark University and the University of Pennsylvania found success with more aggressive town-gown relations, which included renovating housing in the surrounding area and establishing charter schools for the K-12 set. The multipronged, long-term projects helped reduce crime and reverse local neighborhoods' slide into destitution.

The Takeaway: What happens outside the campus gates affects what's inside.

17. Make a lifestyle commitment. According to three separate surveys asking active adults 55 or older if they'd consider living on or near the campuses of Juniata College (Pa.), the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth College, and the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, up to 72 percent said they would. The surveys were conducted by Campus Continuum, a firm that focuses on developing, marketing, and operating a network of university-branded Active Adult Communities that are tightly integrated with their academic hosts.

The Takeaway: Residents of such communities can bring considerable diversity to the academic community in terms of their education, income, and wealth.

18. Get in touch with your theatrical side. Middlebury College (Vt.) has formed a partnership with Town Hall Theater Inc., a grassroots organization, in which the college is allowed regular use of the organization's historic building. In turn, the college is to provide the theater with $1 million over the next 20 years.

The Takeaway: The money will support an addition to the theater for mechanical rooms and wing space, Middlebury students will get experience working with community members on theater productions, and college performances will become more accessible to the general public.

19. Tap local celebrities for benefit events. Ohio Valley University drew baseball fans to a reception, proceeds of which went toward a fund to build a baseball field on campus, by asking two professional ball players to host it. Father and son Steve and Nick Swisher (formerly of the Chicago White Sox and currently of the Oakland Athletics, respectively) participated as a way to give back to their hometown. Following a VIP meet-and-greet, a general reception included presentations from the hosts.

The Takeaway: A special guest-or two-can really help draw a crowd and get guests in the giving mood.

20. Learn about IT, even if you're not in that department. With non-IT departments being dependent on using technology to carry out day-to-day tasks, IHEs should not leave the issue of staying ahead of technological developments on the shoulders of the chief information officer. Instead, get those in positions of executive leadership involved in developing a comprehensive IT plan.

The Takeaway: Technology is used by everybody, so really it's everyone's concern.

21. Apply a patch. Regularly reviewing and updating software security can help prevent data breaches. Check to make sure encrypted data actually is encrypted, and purge stored data at prescribed intervals.

The Takeaway: Prevention of security breaches isn't foolproof, but making these efforts are undoubtedly easier than cleaning up after a breach.

22. Keep online admission information up-to-date and user-friendly. Out of the 3,087 postsecondary institutions that were ranked by grade in a study conducted by The National Research Center for College & University Admissions, less than 30 percent earned As or Bs. Thirty-four different criteria were divided into five main categories: prominence of an admissions office link on the institution's home page, admissions web page design and ease of navigation, online access to admissions materials, additional admissions information, and ability to contact the admissions office. This year Lawrence University (Wis.) ranked number one on the list.

The Takeaway: Potential students expect to find a large amount of quality admissions information online, so why not have it ready for them to find?

23. Encourage older generations to learn something new. Surveys conducted by organizations such as the AARP find that many baby boomers intend to keep working after they reach the traditional age for retirement. So why not assist them in their pursuit of a second career? Portland Community College (Ore.) will use grant money to create a peer mentoring program that's based upon the college's current student group, Wisdom Keepers, which provides support and tutoring to students of nontraditional ages. This ranges from guiding them through the admissions process to helping them adjust to online learning.

The Takeaway: Don't underestimate the aspirations of students older than your typical population.

24. Educate students about the dangers of downloading. The University of Michigan began a service that automatically informs students living in residence halls if they're uploading files via peer-to-peer technology. BAYU (Be Aware You're Uploading) is an educational tool that keeps students aware of their online activity. Relying on "traffic shaping" technology that internet service providers routinely employ to regulate the volume of data on their networks, the student-centered system flags any upload activity that uses peer-to-peer protocols-whether legal or not-and traces the packets to the associated user account.

The Takeaway: Recognize that students can unknowingly make themselves vulnerable to recording industry lawsuits, and help protect them.

25. Be willing to share newly available data with constituents. The results of surveys that measure institutions against one another can be helpful in enhancing campus decision making, building a case for institutional effectiveness, and illuminating the circumstances and achievements of higher education, according to Richard Ekman, president of The Council of Independent Colleges.

The Takeaway: Don't be afraid to reveal the numbers.

26. Consider outsourcing all or some IT functions. Vendors have luxury of scale, allowing them to provide more training and advancement opportunities, which can help with staff retention. In some cases the ability to leverage contractual obligations can lead to higher levels of responsiveness and customer service.

The Takeaway: Not only might outsourcing save money, but it might also help improve the customer experience.

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