Operational Efficiency in Higher Education
Leaders across the higher education space are under more pressure than ever before to do more with less. After all, student expectations and needs are growing, as are external expectations for the performance of higher education institutions. However, the operating budgets for institutions across the country are dwindling.
Improving operational efficiency and streamlining outdated processes are emerging as silver bullets for the long-term viability of colleges and universities, but what does it take to make efficiency effective?
Over the course of this Special Feature, we aimed to find out!
Understanding Efficiency in the Higher Ed Context
Operational efficiency in higher education can prove to be beneficial on both the back-end, operational side and on the front-end, academic side of the institution.
Without adequate access to data on existing programs notionally designed to be pipelines to the academy, institutions don’t have the tools they need to efficiently reach out to students who would be well suited to their programs.
For-profit institutions learned the lessons of continuing education units and applied those customer-centered, highly-efficient practices to the entire postsecondary industry.
Operational Efficiency and Partnerships
Understanding the differences between CE and the rest of the institution and bringing in new efficiency-creating tools is critical for CE units to reduce their operating costs and improve their service.
Partnering on periphery services, in addition to keeping costs down and improving efficiency, allows institutions to focus on delivering their core mission.
What Universities Can Learn About Efficiency From CE
Data responsiveness means continuing education units focus on what the market is looking for, leading to greater demand and improved returns.
Campus leaders who want to balance operational efficiency and access scalability with educational effectiveness should look to their distance education units for best practices
The affiliated faculty model, popular among continuing education units, could help institutions reduce their instructional costs while maintaining high levels of quality.
Exploring Challenges to Efficiency in Higher Education
Though efficiency is central to a strong student experience, it can be challenging to implement strategies that may be seen to impact faculty innovation.
Re-inventing the educational model to allow students to earn degrees more quickly, without a drop-off in quality, will be critical for institutions that want to grow in the coming years.
It’s critical that higher education leaders recognize the shifting dynamics of today’s postsecondary marketplace and begin to focus on reducing operating costs without impacting quality.
How Greater Efficiency Supports Scaling and Growth
By creating internal efficiencies and freeing up staff time, institutions can become more nimble and able to respond to market changes.
As PLU looks to build its CE unit from the ground up, the first step they’re taking is to find a management system that will allow them to scale and grow efficiently.
Committing to the introduction of critical technology tools can help institutions scale their operations and serve more students without a loss of quality.
Does Efficiency Mean Downsizing?
Major process changes and improved student experience are more likely outcomes to efficiency-related changes than downsizing, which ultimately accomplishes very little.
While efficiency-related changes can sometimes lead to layoffs, the most successful institutions create efficiency through expansion.
Efficiency-related changes often don’t translate to downsizing, but simply a different way of doing a job. However, poorly communicating this difference could have a negative impact on executives and staff alike.
The Impact of Greater Efficiency on the Rest of Campus
As institutions grow rapidly, it’s easy for inefficiency processes to become ingrained, despite their inability to serve the needs of an increasingly larger organization.
Efficiency-related changes, caused by the commoditization of the postsecondary space, may offer some returns for the wider institution, but have a negative impact on the faculty.
By making data available in real-time and accessible in such a way that meets the unique needs of varied stakeholders, City Colleges of Chicago have improved efficiency system-wide through data-driven decision making.
Efficiency and Cross-Institutional Buy-In
IT leaders can get institution-wide buy-in for major efficiency-creating projects by tying those projects to institutional goals.
Higher education institutions are increasingly looking at shared services as a mechanism to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, but without sufficient buy-in from staff and faculty, the project could struggle to succeed.
Resistance to change around major efficiency-creating projects is to be expected, but leaders need to be patient and understanding if they hope to gain buy-in from staff.
In order to ensure critical efficiency-related changes are implemented institution-wide, college and university leaders must focus on effectively communicating with staff and faculty.
Lessons From Other Industries: Operational Efficiency
Moving toward a shared services model can reap major rewards for higher education institutions nationwide, spelling significant benefits for a wide range of stakeholders and the wider citizenry and economy.
By taking advantage of economies of scale and putting effort into learning more about their customers, higher education institutions could improve their efficiency and minimize costs.
Avoiding Roadblocks to Efficiency in Higher Education
Though critics of efficiency will point to upfront costs and task reduction, these changes are necessary to allow institutions and their staff to innovate and grow.
Although there is an expectation that the changes being demanded by policymakers and the public can be achieved through operational savings alone, greater investment is required for institutions to be truly successful.
How Operational Efficiency Impacts Campus Operations
By introducing tools that allow staff to focus on high-touch tasks, institutions can improve their customer service while simultaneously reducing operating costs.
By automating some aspects of the heavy lifting faced by academic advisors, their time is freed up to provide customized support to students.
By focusing on staff competency and training, UNC Charlotte was able to become more effective and evolve as an organization.
Efficiency and Institutional Transformation
Institutional IT units must play a central role in the development and transformation of colleges and universities.
Though highly efficient business management practices are not a market differentiator, they are mission critical for a successful institution and they impact the student experience.
If institutions commit to improving processes and reducing silos, they will be able to offer more options, attract a wider group of students and grow.
Colleen Carmean | Assistant Chancellor for Instructional Technologies and Director of Institutional Research, University of Washington Tacoma and Darcy Janzen | E-Learning Support Manager, University of Washington Tacoma
Tools designed to automate personalized retention-developing tactics are critical to student persistence and success, helping institutions boost their performance metrics.
Operational Efficiency as a Market Differentiator
Back-end efficiency is critical for institutions that want to give their students a modern customer experience.
By working with vendors to implement systems that create back-end efficiencies, staff and executives can spend their time focusing on serving the needs of students and providing a top-end customer experience.
Operational efficiency is central to providing a strong student experience for today’s postsecondary institutions, especially when it comes to serving non-traditional learners.
Institutions should focus on creating multiple levels of relationship with a corporation to ensure their partnership is long term, successful and mutually beneficial.
Operational Efficiency and the Student Experience
By adopting a range of technology tools, institutions can provide a much higher level of customer service become operationally excellent.
By creating a solid and smooth-running back end, colleges and universities can improve the customer experience for their students and set themselves on the path for long-term success.
Focusing on creating efficiencies through external partnerships and better use of technology creates visible differentiators for students.
Efficiency is a critical need in the mind of today’s students, and by serving this need institutions can actually improve their positioning and market share.
The student experience is vastly improved when institutions turn the spotlight on improving back-end and bureaucratic efficiency.
The Time is Right for Investment in Efficiency
Given the current postsecondary climate, higher education institutions need to improve their operational efficiency or face major transformations.
If institutions don’t take seriously the need to modify their business practices, they will face significant consequences in the coming years.
Making Operational Efficiency a Reality
Effective collection and analysis of data is the first step institutions need to take to improve their operational efficiency.
By implementing technologies that create a supportive and personalized environment for students, the institution and its staff also benefit.
The bureaucratic processes designed to protect traditional-age students can easily create a series of roadblocks for adult learners that hampers their persistence.
Improving processes around procurement and IT can be greatly beneficial for institutions navigating cost challenges.
How To Improve Operational Efficiency at Your Institution
It’s critical for postsecondary leaders to assess how staff time and effort is spent to ensure they are working in the most effective way possible.
While data has great potential for stakeholders institution-wide, very few users actually know how to access that data to put it to effective use.
Finding systems to automate the organization of critical tasks can allow staff and faculty to focus on high-value communications that make a difference to students.
Software-as-a-Service systems can revolutionize higher education functions across a wide variety of verticals, reducing costs and improving usability for all stakeholders.
Technology is making great strides in helping institutions become more efficient and effective organizations, from teaching and learning to management.
Managing Efficiency-Related Change at the Institution
Institutional leaders should focus on clear and supportive communication to ensure their staff are comfortable with any major changes taking place.
Major implementations require buy-in from stakeholders at all levels; following these steps will help to make the transition smooth.
Collaboration with stakeholders through product development is key for institutional leaders, especially when creating new campus-wide tools internally.
Measuring Postsecondary Operational Efficiency
By measuring success and adjusting for weaknesses, an institutional IT unit can adapt more quickly to changing needs and improve the efficiency of the campus-wide technology services.
The relevance of particular data points is ultimately dependent on the way the data is meant to be used.
Although institutions traditionally measured their efficiency through static input metrics, more focus is now being paid to resource allocation and costs for students.