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Articles: Operational Efficiencies

Expanded use of technology is at the core of most winning Models of Efficiency initiatives.

Implementation of new technology is at the core of most winning initiatives in UB's Models of Efficiency program. At many colleges and universities, there is a domino effect across campus, heightening interest in expanding those programs. Here are three institutions that are expanding and integrating their award-winning initiatives.

There exist an endless number of articles, books, blogs, and interviews on the state of higher education (HE) in America. The themes are consistent – fewer resources, fewer students, bloated administrative staff, less affordability, unsustainable student debt, poor graduation rates, unimpressive employability skills and what the heck is a MOOC and why should I care.

Once again this July, recent Models of Efficiency honorees were recognized during the NACUBO conference at an awards dinner hosted by Higher One, the program’s sponsor. This year, award recipients were honored at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Seattle.

Casey McGuane, chief operations officer at Higher One, and Daniel Kinnaman, publisher of University Business, introduced the award recipients and summarized the projects for which they were recognized.

Despite technology’s critical role in higher ed, there remains a gap between central IT and the rest of campus that can lead to unnecessary spending.

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For instance, key aspects of higher education financial management are paper-intensive and outdated —a stark contrast to the first-class technology used in campus classrooms.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.

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.

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.

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