Higher education has become increasingly competitive as colleges and universities compete for a dwindling pool of prospective students. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, fall 2020 undergraduate enrollment decreased by 4 percent from the prior year. Community colleges have fared the worst, with enrollment falling 9.4 percent.
A confluence of factors are to blame for declining college enrollments. One is that the population of American high school graduates has plateaued. Another is that years of economic prosperity has discouraged older students from returning to school. And then there is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic that has ushered in what many are calling the “new normal”.
While colleges and universities face more challenges to their core business models, student service expectations have not diminished. These pressures have led many schools to leverage cost-effective automation technology to lower costs and provide exceptional student experiences. Three areas where schools have focused their automation efforts are the student journey, creating smart campuses, and back office processes.
Student Journey Automation
For schools to succeed in this dynamic and competitive new landscape, they must provide superior experiences at every stage of the student journey.
Improving college enrollment is a critical and complex process that involves many different criteria, parties, and workflows. Business process management (BPM) software helps schools to automate the enrollment process. Customizable forms make it easy for students to register and for schools to streamline communication with students. Centralized student records allow student enrollment staff to access student data from anywhere and quickly notify students of application decisions to keep them from enrolling elsewhere.
Student services play a vital role in improving the student experience and increasing retention rates. In fact, according to studies the most important factors in education quality assurance are quality of learning and support for students. One of the main reasons why students grow disillusioned with student services is one of perception. Students view their school as a single entity, but in reality, most colleges and universities are highly disconnected with each department serving distinct functions.
With automation, schools can improve the student experience by integrating student services. One way to accomplish this is by creating centralized student hubs. Students can communicate with staff and access student services (i.e., setting appointments) easily through an online portal. This serves to both increase student access to services while increasing transparency into departmental functions.
Financial Aid Process
The financial aid process plays an integral role in both the college application and selection processes as well as student experience once enrolled. For many students, deciding which school to attend is as much about cost as it is about quality. Thus, it critical for schools to help students to understand their financial aid options by timely processing financial aid applications.
Yet without automation the financial aid process can be time-consuming and can result in students attending school elsewhere. Automation technologies like document capture and data extraction eliminate manual tasks, reduce costs, and greatly expedite financial aid decisions.
A smart campus combines the IoT and other advanced digital technologies to improve student learning, provide greater security, and lower school operating costs. Traditionally, colleges and universities have relied on manual processes and legacy single application workflows. In addition to being inefficient, these archaic processes and systems limit student learning opportunities and quality of life.
There is no one-size fits all smart campus automation solution. Rather, schools can pick and choose the automation technologies that work best for them. Students can use their mobile devices to attend video classes or access their homework assignments through online portals. Or they can use their devices to pay for meals or course materials. Or schools can solve infrastructure challenges like security through digital identification card readers or geofencing.
The flexibility that smart campus automation solutions provide will be crucial in helping schools to implement safe and engaging learning environments as we continue to adapt to the “new normal”.
Back office automation
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on U.S. colleges and universities. According to the American Council on Education (ACE), higher education institutions will lose more than $120 billion from the pandemic in the form of decreased revenue and increased costs (i.e., COVID-19 testing and treatment). While colleges and universities may receive a fresh round of stimulus funds to keep them afloat in the short-term, they need to reexamine their long-term business models to cope with the “new normal”.
One way for colleges to free up cash is by automating back office processes, allowing them to do more with less. Automating repetitive and time-consuming administrative tasks allows employees to focus on higher-value functions. For example, at many schools much of employees’ days are filled with answering phones and responding to emails. Implementing an automation solution like a chatbot not only reduces inbound messages, but can also help to streamline internal processes (i.e., managing calendars or hunting down documentation).
Colleges and universities are subject to strict regulations. Paper-based processes require compliance teams to review and cross-reference everything in excruciating detail. Automation technology, however, can scan through large amounts of data to flag questionable items. Moreover, with a document management system, important information is kept secure and easily accessible for future use.
Schools will continue to face unique challenges that will force higher education officials to reexamine their business models and student offerings. Automation technologies will play an increasingly important role in helping schools to transform their processes. Learn how ProcessMaker’s industry leading low-code business process management (BPM) software can help your school to master automation.