A September article in New York Times Magazine discussed the challenges that colleges and universities are experiencing in both trying to bring in enough revenue to pay the bills as well as bring in a more representative student body with high achievement.
Many students who have high achievement know they have plenty of options to get funding, grants and scholarships to attend at a lesser cost. The article also goes on to explain that the influence of outside rankings has a huge effect on the school: If your ranking goes up, you’ll likely receive more and better applications, but if it goes down, you could struggle to attract new students.
I believe that colleges and universities will continue to struggle with this challenge as there are fewer births (thus reducing supply) and more people questioning the value of a college education. Many schools are increasing their admissions and increasing their diversity of attendees. Others are going to need to improve their efficiency with where they spend their dollars to be perceived as a “good value.” But it can be hard to cut costs.
Look at athletics: This is a department where many alumni tie their donations and a large amount of revenue is derived. According to Moody’s Investors Service via The Washington Post, about a quarter of private American colleges are now operating at a deficit and spending more than they are taking in.
Process automation is one of these efficiency goals that I’ve observed some universities are using to reduce costs and improve the student and alumni experience. Some universities are turning to their own knowledge within research and development and internal consultancy to drive innovation within their own processes. Even the rise of predictive analytics in admissions and financial aid can be fed from automated processes within the admissions process.
As the cofounder of a process automation consulting firm, I see the challenges across many institutions that are trying to drive more efficiency and effectiveness while not increasing the cost. Process automation moves administrative tasks away from users and automates those steps, thus moving people away from the daily data entry and data manipulation activities that can take up a large portion of their jobs.
There are examples where software can now automate processes, such as invoicing, internal audits, requests for transcripts, etc. I see many of these areas already being automated. Not only does automation improve the efficiency and cost of the process, but it can also improve the effectiveness and user experience of the process.
• The key to ensuring success in process automation is understanding the definition of success. If you’re a leader in education, ask yourself, “What are the desired outcomes for doing process automation?”
• Next, prioritize the opportunities based on the value they bring to the organization. If something will bring high value to your college or university, focus on that first.
• Last, ensure you have created the correct governance to ensure sustainability and growth as it begins to expand throughout the institution.
The biggest challenge with using automation is not understanding the process. In my experience, it can be very easy to implement with a low learning curve and a small upfront investment. Just be sure to do your research about what type of solution would actually be needed.
Many universities are already starting to look into process automation and other methods for efficient and cost-effective processing. I believe leaders will be challenged with simultaneously trying to drive a more efficient process as well as a more engaged process for alumni, students and faculty.
From my perspective, it will be interesting to see which universities continue to grow and which ones are challenged with growth within the next decade. Do they embrace the change and look to the future on how to be competitive, or do they hope for the best and continue down the same path as today?