Finance at American Public University System

Taming Tuition
University Business, August 2013
American Public University System
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One of the most sought-after nonsalary compensation items offered by higher education is full or partial tuition benefits for employees and their families. Free and reduced-cost degrees go a long way toward easing the impact of nonprofit salaries.

American Public University System (W.Va.) offers varying levels of such tuition benefits based on employee status. But the institution’s formerly manual registration process was ill-equipped to distinguish between different registration types, creating problems when it came to reporting, scholarship applications, and payment.

“We have this great benefit, but we weren’t able to give them this benefit automatically,” says Melissa Frey, vice president for finance operations. “As we grow, along with our headcount, the number of employees actually using this benefit grows, and the manner in which we had to have employees and their spouses and dependents, and part-time employees previously register wasn’t allowing for an easy enrollment process.”

University officials began by examining how each type of employee and dependent registered for classes to identify gaps in the process. Consulting with information technology colleagues on priorities and requirements lent the project some specifics. To smooth out registration, the team created greater segmentation of beneficiary types, which led to automation of several key processes. For example, the correct scholarship is created and applied to the student’s registration at the time the registration is posted. If the student withdraws, the scholarship is automatically reversed.

“We wanted to be able to provide a more efficient manner for these individuals to register and for us to collect payments and report,” Frey says. “Now the payment and the scholarship go into our system at the same time instead of any manual interaction with our staff.”

Automation and clearer delineation of payment types have had numerous benefits. APUS reports a savings of approximately 240 hours a month in staff time, improved customer service thanks to streamlined registration, and greater accuracy in monthly and year-end reporting.

More than that, says Frey, the process has inspired her and her co-workers to think creatively in developing solutions that benefit the university’s most important constituents. “I’m really excited about the opportunities we have as a team to continue to build resources for our students and our staff to make good things happen.”

She says it’s important to aim to be relevant to as wide a variety of stakeholders as possible. “Whatever you’re going to spend your time and attention on, it should be worthwhile to everyone involved.”

Applications are being accepted for the 2013 Models of Efficiency Winter Program. Apply now!