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Professional Opinion

Time and again, institutions struggle with properly deploying a new assessment platform. Often that fault lies with the vendor who lacks the knowledge or institutional expertise to provide sound counsel on how it should be accomplished. Take a different approach and it will be a success:

Joseph Trentacoste is assistant vice president of Student Services at Mercy College in New York.

With national student debt at a stunning $1.2 trillion and financial pressure playing a key factor in retention, colleges must take the initiative to help students maximize opportunities for financial aid. Yet many colleges have downsized their financial aid offices and automated various functions.

Higher education institutions can venerate or perpetuate hallowed traditions. Institutions have had a reputation for infrastructure conservatism. William Rees’ 2003 article “Impeding Sustainability? The Ecological Footprint of Higher Education” states “the real challenge for higher education is to help articulate an alternative life-sustaining worldview.” Today, campuses lead the transformation to sustainability, demonstrating its value nationwide.

When Duke University class of 2008 arrived on campus to start their freshman year, they had no idea they would become pioneers. Why? Because each of the incoming freshmen received a free iPod as part of a program aimed at fostering innovative uses of technology in the classroom. I led the Apple team that helped Duke experiment with creative academic uses for the devices and I was on campus when the students received their free iPods; it was memorable as the students cheered with excitement as each one was given their new mobile device.

In the past few years, many universities have begun to explore a concept frequently and successfully implemented in the corporate world, but previously rare in higher education: shared services. The term “shared services” refers to a streamlining process where administrative tasks or technology management services that regularly occurred across several departments in the organization are placed under the authority of one unit.

"There is no magic wand that can resolve our problems. The solution rests with our work and discipline."
—Jose Eduardo Dos Santos

The need for proctoring derives from the perceived need to prevent “academic dishonesty”, aka cheating. The issues with proctoring include 1) the assumption of guilty until proven innocent (all students are potential cheaters), 2) the cost borne by the student directly or indirectly, 3) the Orwellian loss of privacy, and 4) that the vast majority of students are made to suffer because of a few perceived bad actors.

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 soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

Shirley Mullen is president of Houghton College (N.Y.).

Higher education is in the dock in 2014. The questions are flying:

Why does it cost so much? Why does it cost more each year?

Why do so many students not finish? Why can’t they get good jobs? Why is it not equally accessible to all?

Why is it not doing a better job training teachers for K12?

What do we have to show for the trillion dollars in student loan debt? Who will repay it?

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