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Articles: Operational Efficiencies

Our Models of Efficiency award-winners have already proven they can make better use of resources while simultaneously enhancing service. For most honorees, these innovations are the start of a process of continuous improvement that impacts the entire campus community.

To confront today’s financial challenges, every college and university needs to create more operational efficiency. Some of these efficiencies start in the business office.

For instance, key aspects of higher education financial management are paper-intensive and outdated —a stark contrast to the first-class technology used in campus classrooms. A primary target for business officers should be eliminating paper checks, which simply are not efficient -- in terms of money or time -- for vendor payments, student tuition refunds, or employee payroll.

The remodel of a dining hall at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro was going to displace more than 5,000 student mailboxes. While thousands of those mailboxes were used infrequently—having been abandoned in the age of email and social media—they couldn’t be discarded entirely because there were still care packages from mom and dad and the occasional Amazon order to deliver.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida

For years, new student orientation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida required the creation of information packets that were labeled with stickers and contained as many as 10 sheets of paper. The packets, which were prepared by Records and Registration staff with help from other departments, directed students to where they needed to go during orientation.

No one disputes that the management of the seven units housed under the Drexel Business Services (DBS) department worked hard. The units generate $68 million in revenue, $38 million in expenses and $5 million in expense recovery annually for the Philadelphia-based institutions. The units’ respective managers were responsible for their own budgets, purchasing, accounts payable, reconciliation, cash handling, forecasting, HR and quarterly reporting.

Until the summer of 2013, the primary sources of technology support services at Fairfield University in Connecticut were the reference librarians and circulation staff at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library—not the technology help desk. Questions about software, using campus printers or accessing the university’s wireless network were most commonly answered by the library professionals who were within earshot.

The number of posted transfer credits for incoming students at Madison College in Wisconsin has risen steadily, from 2,814 in 2010 to 4,119 in 2013—nearly a 50 percent increase in just three years. The college receives approximately 18,000 applications for admission each year. The 24,076 degree-credit students enrolled earned a total of 66,000 transfer credits in 2013. Staff in the admissions and registrar’s offices tried to keep up with posting of transfer credit, but they were at a severe disadvantage.

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.”

Admissions/Enrollment Management

Historically, Western Michigan University’s 12 on-staff recruiters could visit as many as 40 or 50 high schools in a week and collect up to 1,000 paper cards filled with prospective students’ contact information. Due to poor handwriting or other errors, not all the information was entered accurately. Then, five weeks could pass before students received any kind of follow-up communication from the university.

As long as there are assignments for college students to research and write, it’s likely there will be copiers and printers to help. Good news for paper and copier companies, for sure, but bad news for institutions such as expansive Houston Community College, at least until recently. HCC’s six colleges and 27 sites allow it to educate more than 70,000 students a semester, but without centralized print and copy management solutions, efficiency lagged severely.

Many of Pepperdine University’s administrative offices are located on a campus that sits on a steep, picturesque hilltop in the Southern California beach town of Malibu. Perhaps because of the hike required to reach the offices, intracampus mail delivery is a challenge. And because the offices rely heavily on intracampus couriers for circulation of university paperwork needing signatures—coupled with the possibility of these documents sitting untouched in an inbox—it is no surprise that gathering signatures could take weeks.

Four major university systems will share online courses, analytics and learning-management software through a cloud-based digital education platform called Unizin, portions of which launched in July.

Developed by Indiana University, Colorado State University, the University of Florida and the University of Michigan, Unizin will house everything from homework videos to flipped classroom content to distance learning courses—plus all the data that’s generated.

Richard E. Wylie is the president of Endicott College (Mass.).

There have been continuous outcries in recent years for colleges and universities to lower their costs, yet in almost every area those costs continue to rise.

We all know that health care premiums, utility bills and food are among costs that are beyond a college’s control. Institutions also must spend to deliver new or enhanced degree programs, and these costs are often overlooked by the public.

Technology continues to change the way learning and assessment are conducted in higher education. As the methods of learning are digitized, assessment must follow—but, not surprisingly, faculty using new testing methods are experiencing obstacles that don’t exist in the physical classroom.

Thanks to student information systems like Banner and Blackboard, universities collect an ever increasing volume of data about campus life and student performance. But knowing what data to collect and leveraging it for better outcomes is not always easy.

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