Three Main Benefits to Centralizing Non-Credit Program ManagementKristy Davis | Associate Director for Academic Support Resources - IT, University of Minnesota
At the University of Minnesota, we began a process back in 2015 to centralize and consolidate the administration of non-credit programming being developed and delivered across the university into a single back-end system—Destiny One.
At the time, we had a number of homegrown and purchased systems from a variety of vendors all operating on our campus and doing effectively the same things for different units and divisions. It created a number of redundancies and the impact was felt in the complexity of our environment, the inconsistency of the student experience and the challenges faced by staff in managing their offerings.
Initially launching to support five divisions, the system has grown to support the management of over 900 courses, 2273 sections and 604 conferences across 26 program offices and 161 costing units.
Over the course of this migration and consolidation, we’ve realized three significant and central benefits that impact the day-to-day experience of institutional staff, faculty, learners and administrators alike and contribute to a level of operational excellence we can all be proud of.
Benefit 1: Simplified Accounting
These benefits aren’t listed in any particular order, but it’s worth highlighting the impact Destiny One has had on our accounting processes because before we brought it in, this work was extremely challenging and complex.
First, given the numerous—and often overlapping—vendors we were working with, we had to maintain numerous merchant accounts. By shifting to a single back-end system, we have eliminated a huge number of these accounts, significantly simplifying our accounting practices while also reducing costs from division to division. One unit estimates that they’re saving at least $33,000 annually from administration activities and merchant account costs, while another unit eliminated two merchant accounts—with their associated monthly fees and time investments—and estimate savings in the range of $15,000 per year.
Secondly, staff are feeling the benefits of this simplification. I’m going to dive into some of the other elements of the improved staff experience lower down, but as it relates to accounting we’ve realized significant benefits of having the Destiny One system, which is integrated into our main campus enterprise financial system (EFS).
Since we had numerous division-level systems to manage non-credit activities in the past, unit accountants needed to do weekly journal entries where they were manually distributing revenue into the appropriate chart strings. Now, the system has a streamlined invoicing process going directly to the controller’s office so unit accountants can focus time on other value-adding activities rather than manual reconciliation activities.
Individual unit staff also used to have to manually conduct credit card reconciliation, debt collection and other accounts receivable reporting. They would also be involved in managing all the processes around documenting, preparing for and participating in annual audits conducted by the university’s Office of the General Counsel and Office of Information Technology—which is incredibly important but also time consuming. This is now all managed centrally by the Academic Support Resources team.
Benefit 2: Improved Staff Efficiency
Simplified accounting is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits non-credit staff are realizing from the switch to Destiny One. Before the consolidation, non-credit units and programs across the University of Minnesota used numerous registration systems, and consolidating into one system has increased efficiencies around registrations and the overall administration of non-credit courses and conferences being offered by divisions across the university.
For example, before we implemented Destiny One, a number of units used Google Forms or other applications to collect information and enrollment for their events. Those processes were time consuming and, as a result, a number of units stopped offering events altogether. Now that we have a centrally supported registration system, those units are starting to offer their events again and charge for content where that may not have been an option before (at least without significant legwork from staff to make it happen).
The implementation has also removed a number of the barriers we used to face around expanding outreach and revenue opportunities for non-credit offerings. The Destiny One system collects (and secures!) huge amounts of student information and data—ranging from their communication preferences to their employer to their personal goals and more—which allows us to understand our non-credit course and conference registrants on an extremely intimate level. Within one college, they are consolidating constituent engagement data across the school to better track and understand who their constituents are, their behaviors, and how they engage with the school so they can cater their marketing efforts to serve their audience’s needs and expectations.
It’s also easier to ensure the offerings line up with what learners want—because simply having and analyzing the data is only half the battle. The other half is responding to it. Within the Destiny One environment, staff can launch and manage courses and conferences once they’ve been fully trained, getting them to market quickly and easily. There are automations and workflows in place around approvals, ensuring the right people are notified when their input is required and minimizing bottlenecks. This means we can be more responsive in launching the kinds of offerings our learners and constituents want to enroll in.
Benefit 3: Consistent Student Experience
Finally, by shifting to a single back-end system we’re able to deliver the kind of student—and customer—experience our constituents expect.
In our earlier environment, we had different units using a variety of third-party vendors to receive revenues from registration. While each division’s choice of system may have made it easier for the specific unit staff and coordinators to learn the front-end, we lacked consistency in our university and college branding, which impacted the registrants’ perception of the University of Minnesota and could well have prevented them from registering for courses and events.
With the single back end, supported by Academic Support Resources, we’re able to achieve consistency across our non-credit offerings that today’s learners—who are experienced customers—respond well to. Staff can easily build pages that highlight the school colors, logos and other branding elements quickly and easily, and when they update information in one place, say the course page, that information is automatically updated everywhere else it appears. This ensures the information and visual products we’re making available to prospective and existing learners are accurate, compelling and consistent.
Additionally, with the consolidation, we’ve created an environment where the majority of non-credit offerings—being developed and delivered by the range of divisions and units across the University of Minnesota—are easier for learners to find. Since the university now has a single website, learners have visibility to a much broader array of offerings that they may not have been previously aware of, without navigating to multiple different divisional URLs.
What’s more, Destiny One and its student portal means registrants have the kinds of self-service tools at their fingertips that they’ve come to expect from online leaders like Amazon. Learners can view their full registration history, access their transcripts, pay and register for offerings, request refunds, apply discounts and so much more without ever having to call in or visit.
Additionally, because of all that rich information, staff can provide a high level of personalized service to any student who connects with them quickly and easily. Where once learners would be hoping to speak with a particular staff member who knew their story, Destiny One keeps all that information available so that staff members can immediately know a student’s background and serve them accordingly, without forcing them to tell their tale from the start over and over again. That means divisions aren’t losing constituent data that may otherwise have been lost to staff turnover.
Consolidation Simplifies, Improves and Saves
Ultimately, by consolidating our non-credit administration under a single system, the University of Minnesota has realized some immense benefits. Beyond the improved data security that comes from Destiny One, we’ve also massively improved our accounting processes, staff efficiency and customer experience—all while saving money and reducing redundancies.
While many universities distrust this kind of consolidation because of the fear of divisions losing elements that make them unique, that’s ultimately beside the point. There are unique elements to different non-credit providers under a single university’s umbrella, but when it comes to financial management, program development and customer service, their needs are effectively the same.
Colleges and departments across our university have recognized savings in FTEs and general savings in business processes in their respective areas. From a collegiate level, several have been able to reduce the number of merchant accounts and have benefited from having a single administrative support unit catered to non-credit activities.
Overall the university has increased service levels while decreasing university maintenance, service and production costs.
In the words of Martha Stewart, “That’s a good thing.”
To learn more about how the University of Minnesota is leveraging the Destiny One Customer Lifecycle Management software platform to consolidate non-credit administration, please click here and download the case study.
Author Perspective: Administrator