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Articles: Operational Efficiencies

As we launch the fourth year of our Models of Efficiency recognition program, we are seeing lots of familiar names. The University of Wisconsin-Stout, a 2011 honoree, picks up two more awards this round, for separate efforts within the Registration and Records Office. Miami Dade College’s two winning entries are also among the group of nine conversation-stimulating stories we share this month.

Freshman move-in day: It’s hot, you’re hauling boxes into your room, you hope you have a good roommate, you’re worried about your class schedule, you need to get to the bookstore to stock up on required reading, and on and on and on. About the last thing you want to do is stand in line to register your car with public safety.

Miami Dade College is the largest and most diverse higher ed institution in the U.S., serving a community as large as the state of Rhode Island. It has 175,000 students and offers more than 300 academic degree programs. Despite its large student body, MDC could serve even more students, so it spends thousands of dollars each year on marketing via the web, radio, and newspaper to attract new applicants.

Historically, all 26,000 annual applicants to Johnson County Community College (Kan.) received up to three printed communiqués regarding their admissions status. While more information is usually better, the problem with JCCC’s process was that pieces of communication were not sent in chronological order. This created confusion for students.

For newly minted alumni poised to land their first job or continue their studies in grad school, few items are more important than the transcript. Proof that the work was done, the grade earned, and the degree awarded, the transcript serves as the institution’s stamp of approval.

The piece of paper. That’s what students are shooting for—a diploma, the tangible proof that they’ve met all requirements, completed the courses they had to complete, and graduated.

Who wants to wait for that?

University of Wisconsin-Stout graduates didn’t have any choice.

Despite a freeze introduced three years ago on full-time hiring, which was necessitated by statewide funding cuts to higher education, Miami Dade College still regularly hires part-time workers to fill support roles.

Its eight campuses have 6,200 employees, and at any given time there are between 300 and 700 openings, shares Iliana Castillo-Frick, vice provost of human resources. Available jobs comprise noninstructional jobs—including clerical, facilities, public safety, administration, and supervisory roles—as well as adjunct professor jobs on the instructional side.

Until 2009, students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (N.C.) could wait as long as two hours to be seen by a counselor in student services, which includes the offices of admissions, advising, financial aid, and the registrar. After signing in on a sheet of paper in one of the four offices, students waited to be seen. Sometimes they were then referred to another office, where they got in the back of the line. The process was not only time-consuming, but  frustrating.

It costs much more to recruit new students than to keep the ones you have, which is why retention is so important to colleges and universities.

With a 67 percent one-year retention rate costing $6.5 million in lost revenue annually, Valdosta State University (Ga.) officials knew they had to act. The problem was data that could have helped identify remedies were sorely lacking, and what little information the institution possessed was difficult to access and analyze.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more paper-laden function than accounts payable. Receipts, invoices, check requests, purchase orders, contracts, and more keep A/P personnel knee-deep in forms and documentation.

Loyola University Chicago’s accounts payable staff processes about 50,000 transactions among its three campuses annually—and 80 percent of them involved hard-copy documents. In many cases, A/P was not the final stop on the trail for this paperwork, and lost items were common, leading to processing delays and dissatisfaction among stakeholders.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have captured the headlines in higher education in the past year. These new platforms were developed to enable both open access and large scale participation in online courses. Many top tier universities are joining the MOOCs bandwagon, afraid of missing an important piece of the Web-based phenomenon. It is our goal as educators to assess whether or not they can become a best practice in online learning.

Students imagine a number of outcomes when they enroll in a course of study, but the one that probably doesn’t occur to them is the possibility they’ll show up to class and find their college closed.

The idea of yet another administrative process doesn’t tend to sit well with college and university officials. Yet, when assessing data that is not included in financial audits—such as admissions criteria, crime reports, retention and graduation rates, and degrees conferred—a thorough review process is integral to the success of an institution and to upholding its reputation.

Penn Park at  the University of Pennsylvania

At The Ohio State University, the term “master plan” is obsolete. That’s because what traditional master plans often lack—input from an institution’s academic and finance folks—are an integral part of the One Ohio State Framework Plan, shares Amanda Hoffsis, senior director of physical planning.

Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium girl on computer

As distance learning programs are developed and then refined, there are many options for national, regional, and statewide distance education consortia that the institutions can, and often do, join. The consortia help in sharing resources and tips to help each other with distance learning efforts.

Organizations like the American Distance Education Consortium, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), and Sloan Consortium offer member schools access to networking, resources, conferences, and learning opportunities.

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