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Articles: Operational Efficiencies

Robert A. Walton is CEO of the National Association of College Stores

In the pursuit of streamlined processes and reduced risk, a significant question is often overlooked: Do you want a store that reflects the personality and values of your campus or do you want a cookie-cutter corporate showroom, focused on selling products and making a profit?

Barbara Ross-Lee is VP for Health Sciences and Medical Affairs at New York Institute of Technology and  founding dean of NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.

The U.S. may be short nearly 95,000 doctors within the next 10 years. That shortage is projected to be most acute in Southern states. In response, private medical schools—even institutions hundreds of miles away—are looking to open satellite locations on the campuses of public universities.

Higher education facility managers are under pressure to reduce operating expenses. This is part of a national trend for all non-academic departments to reduce overhead expenses in order to keep spending down and tuition stable and we’re seeing this trend among both private and public campuses.

As a facilities manager, you are probably asking yourself: “I’ve already reduced staff and contracts, and cut expenses to the bone.  How can I do more?”

As highly visible institutions with perceived “deep pockets,” colleges and universities are targets for lawsuits arising from injuries and property damage only tenuously tied to the schools’ actions. The negligence of contractors, vendors, and professional service providers can and do land universities in court where they pay millions of dollars to defend and settle claims — from simple slip-and-falls to sexual assaults to privacy claims arising from massive data breaches.

Administrators, faculty members and campus staff have been ordering all sorts of supplies from for years, but it was only recently that the e-tailing colossus jumped formally into the higher ed and business-to-business procurement market. And some in the procurement world see benefits ahead.

Say cheese: Most University of Alabama students avoid waiting in line at the Action Card office for an ID by submitting their application online. For anyone unable to access that system or who needs a replacement card, the office is ready to assist.

Regardless of the size of the staff or office, efficient campus card programs share several best practices: A focus on customer service, cutting-edge technology and collaboration with the campus community and beyond.

Effective card offices focus on bottom-line growth. “Two of the benefits we bring to our campus are cost reduction and revenue growth,” says John Beckwith, director of campus business services at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

For instance, before its single-card program launched in 1997, the campus had seven different cards for students to use, with separate ones for ID, library, transportation, event tickets, food services, laundry and room entry.

What aspects of customer service do campus card offices seem to do best with—and in what areas do they struggle the most? 

Health insurance, along with everything from faculty recruitment to information technology, is one of the emerging areas of shared services that regional consortia are now tackling. Their success in saving money and improving efficiencies has fueled a wave of new collaborations.

Colleges or universities looking to join a higher education consortium have two major options: alliances that are regionally based or those focused on a common goal.

Schools that choose to participate in a regional consortium have the advantage of being able to easily meet with other members to discuss common issues.

Here are some reasons to switch to a passive optical network. (Click to enlarge graphic)

Unlike wine or cheese, networks don’t tend to improve with age. That’s why some higher ed institutions are looking toward passive optical LAN—unlike copper cabling that’s been in place for decades, a fiber-based passive optical network offers faster, cheaper and more secure networks.

At Juniata College in Pennsylvania, students took Arabic for the first time last fall by enrolling in a course at Gettysburg College via video conference.

Amherst College students, meanwhile, can major in architectural studies by taking classes at four neighboring colleges. And at Cabrini College near Philadelphia, students from five institutions researched viruses last summer in a new undergraduate science program.

Creating new academic initiatives with other institutions relies on three key ingredients: interest in the program from faculty and students; commitment from each campus administration; and a reasonable opportunity for success.

This advice comes from Neal Abraham, a physics professor and executive director of the Five Colleges, Incorporated in Massachusetts. It’s the second largest consortia in the country behind the Claremont University Consortium in California.

Here are some other tips from consortia leaders:

At Touro University Worldwide, we are always looking to improve our online learning programs, including leveraging third-party providers that complement our competitive advantages by supporting us in growing our online degree programs and providing unique auxiliary student services that are learner focused.

A more centralized approach to course scheduling at Somerset Community College has increased the rates of filled classroom seats and helped students fit in the courses they need to graduate on time. Between 2008 and 2014, the average seat-fill rate has increased by 24 percent and the average student credit load has increased by 48 percent.

Students don’t quite run the show when it comes to course scheduling. But colleges and universities are striving to make it easier for them—with their ongoing juggle of work, family and school commitments.