Student Services Publications

Building Student-Centric Processes – A Guide to Business Process Analysis and Reengineering


Providing efficient and effective student-centric services is a major challenge for most institutions. “Student learning, persistence, success and satisfaction are influenced by student’s experiences with critical processes. . .” (Balzer, 2010). In spite of best intentions, policies and procedures are often not adequately documented, reflect the past more than the future, and fail to take full advantage of existing and emerging technologies. In addition, process knowledge often resides in service and academic silos (financial aid, admissions, advising, registration, academic departments, etc.) or with individuals, rather than holistically across staff members and departments.

Engaging in a comprehensive business process analysis provides insight into how to improve processes from a student-centric perspective. By doing so, institutions often find that they can improve service levels with the same or fewer resources. Business process analysis and reengineering does not necessarily result in technology changes, acquisitions or further automation. It simply focuses on increasing efficiency, effectiveness and establishing goal oriented processing. “At the heart of reengineering is the notion of discontinuous thinking – of recognizing and breaking away from outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie operations.” (Hammer, 1990)

Business process review and reengineering is ideally an on-going process. However, due to resource and time resource constraints, it is often something that is undertaken when change must occur to resolve a critical situation. Regardless of when the activity is undertaken, the focus should be on the following:

  • Aligning existing policies and procedures (formal and informal) with the process and in support of student success;
  • A holistic approach that involves all process stakeholders (including students) in constructive inquiry;
  • Gaining a complete understanding of the service area where the process resides;
  • Reviewing the technology that supports the process;
  • Identification of improvement opportunities, especially high-impact improvements yielding the greatest improvement in processes;
  • When improvement opportunities are identified; offering quick and tangible results; and making sure to communicate changes and results to all stakeholders.

The greatest challenges faced by an institution engaging in business process reengineering are a lack of sustained administrative commitment, the setting of an unrealistic scope and expectations, a culture that is resistant to change, inadequate resources dedicated to the process and an unpredictable external environment (Malhotra, 1998; Balzer, 2010). Included below are guidelines to help ensure the success of a business process reengineering initiative.

Getting Started

Business process analysis and reengineering begins with planning and activities that include the creation of a project team and project sponsorship. It is critical to have project participants from administration, operations, and information technology working as a team towards a common goal. While team composition can vary based on a best match for an institution’s culture and organizational structure, the team should include a person or people who fit the following roles (McDonald, 2010):

  • Process manager
  • Process owner
  • Process users
  • Skeptics
  • Facilitator
  • Technology expert

A starting point for all business process analyses is to ask why a specific process is being used. A key consideration is whether the process is tied to any state, federal or other regulation or internal policy that mandates the process to be performed in a particular way. Further analysis should map how that process moves through the institution. For example, with document retention practices, many institutions discover they have a difficult time parting with various forms, even though the data contained on the form has been processed in the student information system. Institutions often cite both external and internal requirements for retaining the documents. The reality is that few state regulations or professional association guidelines require institutions to keep many documents, and perhaps none at all, once they have been processed. Often internal practice is based on assumptions of requirements that are no longer are in effect.

Figure 1: Business Process Improvement Cycle

The following tenets should be the foundation for business process analysis and reengineering (adapted from Malhotra, 1998 and other sources):

  • Student Focus: Using the student lens to view an existing process for areas of improvement will lead to processes which support student success.
  • Aligning Process to Goals: An institution’s goals should be the foundation for any business process.
  • Technology: Measure if the technology employed to support the process is being used appropriately, effectively and from a competitive position (i.e., is the service level provided by current technology comparable to other institutions serving a similar student population or target market?).
  • Determine the Business Process Owner: The process owner must be in charge of the business process, be responsible for performance and manage changes.
  • Process Mapping: Document existing processes in order to completely understand the existing process and to identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Benchmarking: Compare the current process with best practice and where possible, institutional competitors.
  • Implement changes as soon as possible and measure the success of those changes: Once a solution has been identified, implement the change, establish measure of success and use those measures to further refine the process.


Finding both time and internal resources to support the initiatives described above for even one department can be challenging given ongoing operational needs. External consultants are regularly engaged to provide the needed manpower to support the process evaluation and to bring an external perspective of best practices at other institutions. This external perspective often turns out to be of great value to the institution because it is not just the experience of one consultant but rather access to the resources and experiences of a network of consultants. AACRAO Consulting is uniquely positioned to provide consultants with extensive experience with business process analysis and reengineering at different institutional types.


Balzer, W. K. (2010). Lean Higher Education: Increasing the Value and Performance of University Processes. New York: Productivity Press.
Hammer, M. (1990, July-August). Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate. Harvard Business Review , pp. 104-112.
Malhotra, Y. (Fall 1998). Business Process Redesign: An Overview. IEEE Engineering Management Review, Vol 26, No. 3 .
McDonald, M. (2010). Improving Business Processes: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Written by Wendy Kilgore, Director of Research and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download the paper here: Building Student-Centric Processes – A Guide to Business Process Analysis and Reengineering

Building Your Student Relationships with Three Cups of Tea

sem_logo-2007.gif Each summer in recent years, between July and August, I have visited South Asia with my student recruitment colleagues to attend predeparture sessions for new University of Windsor international students. At these sessions, like so many I have taken part in over the years for four different institutions, we welcome new students and their families to our educational family and begin the high school–to–university transition, which for many international students is a serious challenge.

This year, however, something happened that changed things for me.

A few months back, while stranded at a North American airport and browsing in one of the many book stores there, I bought the book “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Promote Peace … One School at a Time.” Because my plane departed shortly thereafter, I didn’t get the opportunity to begin reading the book until a month or so later while stranded at another airport. I read the introduction and first chapter, and, like before, my plane departed, and so I put the book back into my bag. Although I was intrigued with the story, my day-to-day tasks did not permit me to open the book again until, once again, I was in an airport—this time on my annual trip overseas to meet new international students.

And that is where the story gets interesting.

You see, “Three Cups of Tea” is a story about a people—the people of rural Afghanistan and Pakistan—and a former mountain climber and nurse who committed his life to building secular elementary schools for girls as a first step toward enhancing peace through the education of young girls in a conservative Muslim region of the world. And it is so much more. Its 349 pages take you into yourself. For me, it was inspiring. I encourage you to make time to read this book. It will change how you view social justice in our modern age and recharge your batteries for making a difference in the world. It may also affect the way you see our work.

One of the central passages in “Three Cups of Tea” presents a concept we all know to be true but to which we give little thought on a daily basis. Here is what the authors, Mortenson and Relin, write:

When the porcelain bowls of scalding butter tea steamed in their hands, Haji Ali said, blowing on his bowl. “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die,” he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortenson’s own. “Doctor Greg, you must take time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time.”

That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life, Mortenson wrote. We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We’re the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. Our leaders thought their ‘shock and awe’ campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.

So, while traveling through the Punjab region of India, I thought about what might be possible if I took to heart Haji Ali’s “Three Cups of Tea” philosophy. It all came together for me as I was with a family from Ludiyana who had come some distance to meet with me. They wanted the chance to tell their story, and so I sat with them and had tea. The father told me of his dream to have his daughter study in Canada, and his daughter spoke with pride of her achievements but also voiced fear about the prospects of going far from home to attend university. Bearing a beautiful bouquet of carnations (a local custom), they asked for my time and understanding. Because she still has one more year of high school, we promised to have a second cup of tea together next summer when I will next visit Ludiyana. As we parted, I thought to myself that we should plan to share a third cup of tea together at the university when she arrives for what will surely be the continuation of a true personal odyssey.

Many of us have gotten caught up with the new-fangled business concepts, such as institutional effectiveness, management information systems, continuous quality improvement and return on investment. We have looked at how we might do things faster, easier and with less funding. We manage multi-million dollar student information systems, Web portals and customer relationship management systems. And we have lost something along the way.

We may have lost the very reason that brought us into higher education. In our rush to do things the way our industry has encouraged, I believe we may have lost our way. Maybe, just maybe, we should adopt the “Three Cups of Tea” approach Haji Ali describes. And maybe we should slow down just a bit to get to know our students and their families, and to have that third cup of tea.

So instead of focusing on systems development, fancy new technologies and the newest words for efficiency, perhaps we should take time to take three cups of tea with the folks most critical to what we do in higher education—our students—and to build the relationships Haji Ali describes as essential to human life. I don’t know about you, but sign me up for lots of three cups of tea!

Mortenson, G., & D. O. Relin. (2006). Three cups of tea: One man’s mission to fight terrorism and promote peace … one school at a time. New York: Penguin Group.

Clayton Smith, Ed.D., is vice provost of students and registrar at the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario. Previously, Dr. Smith spent 20 years working in enrollment management at three postsecondary educational institutions in the United States, in Maine, Florida and New York. A senior consultant with AACRAO Consulting, he is a frequent conference presenter on SEM topics in both Canada and the United States.

This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of SEM Source.

Evaluating Staff Workload: The Need for a Standardized Tool for Institutional Planning


A current limitation of many institutions is the ability to determine what is the proper workload for staff. Because of the standardization of the credit hour, most institutions have a standard calculation for faculty workload. However, no such measure exists for evaluating staff load, which can be a significant hindrance to student service and staff morale.

One of the difficulties for administrators is that credit hours and full-time equivalency (FTE) calculations of student load used for financial projections are almost meaningless when it comes to assessing staff workload. One reason for this is that these units of measure (credit hours and FTE) do not directly correspond to the time required to serve students. For that, student headcount is a much more realistic measurement. Each student requires roughly the same amount of time and service regardless of the number of courses she takes or whether he is part-time or full-time. Each of these students must still be recruited and apply for a program, apply for and be awarded financial aid, be advised and register for classes, and be evaluated for progress toward program completion. All of these activities must occur whether a student in enrolled in one credit hour or 18 credits per term.

The disconnect happens since institutional planning and budgeting is most often based on credit hour enrollment rather than student headcount since few institutions bill students a flat rate per term (even those institutions with block tuition rates still are affected by service to students over multiple semesters depending on their time to completion). Also, planning and budgeting rarely consider student headcount in the assessment of staffing needs. Even those institutions that may take student enrollment into account do so more globally rather than segmenting programs and students based on unique service-level requirements. For example, transfer students require more time for evaluations and advising than do traditional students who follow an institution’s curriculum from start to finish.

Variables Involved in Staff Service Levels

So, what is the answer to this disconnect between student service and the planning needed to deliver that service? A solution must be developed that can account for the variables across institutions while, at the same time, providing a standard format that can be easily completed and understood for institutional planning and budgeting (and for integration with human resources).

sample staff workload 2

To develop such a standardized evaluation and planning tool, each institution must determine a baseline headcount for all programs against which each staff position will be evaluated, a program
complexity factor that compares the complexity of the program served to the baseline, and the actual student headcount for the program served.

Baseline Headcount: Each institution or department must establish a baseline against which to measure all other programs at the institution or within the department. The ideal is to select the most standard academic program at the institution (e.g., the traditional undergraduate program at a four year institution) and determine the number of students that a staff member can serve effectively. This should be determined through a variety of measures including turnaround time for communications and other student service tasks as well as broader student satisfaction regarding staff services. Once a baseline is established, that headcount can be used to assess service levels for each program at the institution or within the department.

Program Complexity Factor: Each academic program within the institution has unique service requirements that influence the tasks and staff time needed to serve students well. This factor should be determined in comparison with the program used to establish the baseline headcount for the institution or department. For example, an adult degree program that requires direct communication and advising, as well as routine re-evaluation of transfer credit, may require two to three times the amount of staff time as compared to another program at the institution. In contrast, a cohort-based program, with a standard program and little variation in advising may require less staff time than the baseline. In the actual tool, this factor will be multiplied by the actual headcount for the program to compare to the baseline.

Administrative Load: Many staff positions require responsibilities that are not focused on student service but on serving the operational needs of the institution or department. This might include management of other staff, committee representation, or technical support of institutional or department systems. Such administrative load should also be represented in a tool designed to assess staff workload and should be represented as a percentage of the overall position requirements.

% of Full-time Status: A comprehensive tool also needs to be scalable for all positions within the institution or department. For those positions that are less than full-time, a percentage should be entered into the tool to account for the staff FTE and the effective headcount served by the position should be modified appropriately by this factor as well.


All of the variables noted above must be combined to compare a staff member’s existing service level and workload to the benchmark. Once that comparison is completed, administrators can see at a
glance if each staff member has capacity to serve additional students or if he is over capacity and an additional staff member must be added to meet service expectations.

Long-Term Benefits

There are several benefits of a comprehensive tool for evaluating staff workload. One is that such a tool can be standardized to compare all positions within a department or for the entire institution if needed. The factors that comprise the tool can also be coded into an institution’s ERP system and built into standardized reports for regular evaluation by institutional decision makers. In addition, the tool can be customized for each institution to account for unique needs and variations (i.e., staff serving multiple programs). The benchmarks that are the basis of the tool can be evaluated regularly to insure that the base information is accurate (especially compared against service expectations and student satisfaction measures). Finally, the tool can be used to determine the capacity of each staff and can be charted against anticipated enrollment projections for budgetary planning purposes, thus demystifying the evaluation process of adding staff and promoting financial stability for the department and the institution.

Sample 2 Reid

This article was authored by AACRAO Senior Consultant Dr. Reid Kisling.

Download this paper here: Evaluating Staff Workload: The Need for a Standardized Tool for Institutional Planning

Managing For Outcomes Featured in AACRAO’s College & University Journal

outcomes_web_sm1.jpg Dr. Wayne Sigler’s publication Managing for Outcomes: Shifting from Process-Centric to Results-Oriented Operations is featured in the latest issue of AACRAO’s College & University journal. Managing for Outcomes transforms process-oriented managers into successful outcomes-oriented leaders. Author Wayne Sigler, Director of Admissions at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, builds on his years of experience in higher education management to present the Outcome-Oriented Operations (Tri-O) Management System and its seven powerful components. The guide will help you create effective mission statements, choose and assess staff, write a strategic plan and calendar, monitor a budget and measure success. Aimed mainly at higher education officers, it also provides inspiring case studies from various other fields — including medicine, law enforcement, charitable work, and corporate business.

To access the article, please visit

Are you interested in receiving AACRAO’s College & University journal? Please contact AACRAO’s membership department at for more information.

Managing for Outcomes: Shifting from Process-Centric to Results-Oriented Operations

managingforoutcomes.jpgManaging for Outcomes transforms process-oriented managers into successful outcomes-oriented leaders. Author Wayne Sigler, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, builds on his years of experience in higher education management to present the Outcome-Oriented Operations (Tri-O) Management System and its seven powerful components. The guide will help you create effective mission statements, choose and assess staff, write a strategic plan and calendar, monitor a budget and measure success. Aimed mainly at higher education officers, it also provides inspiring case studies from various other fields — including medicine, law enforcement, charitable work, and corporate business. To order this publication, please visit

Organizational Transformation to Meet and Exceed Service Expectations: The Role of One-Stop Centers in Higher Education


One of the greatest challenges for today’s enrollment manager is meeting and exceeding the expectations of students, parents, faculty and administrative units in the modern college and university environment. The utilization of new technologies to provide service to customers in retail and service segments of our economy has driven the expectations of students and other key constituencies to new levels and uncharted waters.

While many of us can find examples of outdated processes or policies on our campuses, the thought of transforming the way we serve students can be daunting. Where do we begin and how can we address the issues of personnel, technology and information? Adding a framework and approaching the process in step-wise fashion can provide a roadmap for enrollment managers who seek to reshape the way their institutions do business.*

A growing body of research on the relationships between service, marketing and customer retention in the business community can illuminate our view of service in the college or university environment (Boulding, Stein, Ehret and Johnston, 2005). In translating these into higher education and specifically enrollment management, we can view these as the relationships between recruitment, retention and student satisfaction with enrollment services. We must start by examining the changing landscape of service through the eyes of those we seek to serve.

A Framework for Examining Enrollment Services

One of the more recent terms heard in higher education when referring to enrollment management is Customer Relationship Management (CRM), especially in reference to our computer systems and communications. Bringing together technology, data, and organization forms, CRM seeks to leverage the knowledge we have of our students, parents, guidance personnel and others to create a more personal and efficient experience for them when interacting with the institution. It seeks to create greater value for both the consumer/student and the company/institution. When we successfully implement CRM as a tool for enrollment management, students are more pleased with their enrollment service experience; meanwhile, we gain in student numbers, qualities of entering students, and student persistence in meeting their educational goals at our institutions.

A Step-Wise Approach to Organizational Transformation

When we change internal processes and organizational form to respond to the changes in the external environment, we must do so carefully and deliberately. Using a process developed for organizational transformation as it applies to a service organization (Christopher, Payne and Ballantyne, 1991), an intentional process can be organized that will lead the institution in examining and redefining its service paradigm. The steps below have been translated here to apply specifically to higher education and the transformation of enrollment services.

Step One: Understand the Expectations and Needs of Your Key Constituencies

Organizations must seek to understand the expectations of the constituencies as a whole and among the various segments they serve. For higher education, these could be traditional freshmen coming directly from secondary education, their parents, guidance counselors, transfer students, returning adults, transfer counselors at community colleges, international students and graduate students, to name a few. Equally important is the understanding of how each segment routinely accesses or receives information in their lives through other sources (banking, music, hotel, airline or other services).

Step Two: Assess and Redesign Processes

From the perspective of the needs and expectations of the institution’s clientèle flow the processes and organizational structures that leverage technology and deploy personnel into more effective roles in the organization. In the community college setting, for example, the broad range of traditional and working adult populations, mostly geographically proximate to the institution, may demand that the service model provide students the choice of interaction formats (on-line, in person or over the phone) and convenient locations and times. Other institutions that serve a narrower, more traditional student market that spans a broader geographic range may focus on on-line services and extended service hours to accommodate multiple time zones.

Step Three: Develop an Infrastructure Aligned with Modern Practices and Technologies

As our routine transactions become automated and process redesign streamlines the processing of information within our institutions, the role of service providers also must be redesigned. Interactions between service providers and students will come to focus on the unusual or problematic situations in enrollment. Often, these situations span more than one office of the institution and are intertwined with admission, registration, financial aid and payment issues.

To solve problems more holistically and across office boundaries, a growing number of institutions are turning to a one-stop shop in enrollment services, where generalists with broad unit knowledge interact with students and other constituencies and specialists focus on the systems and information processing that support student enrollment. Specialists and their deep subject knowledge also assist in service by handling the complexities of student requests and problems that go beyond the broad knowledge of the generalists.

Step Four: Develop a Personnel Plan

Job descriptions, training and change management are all part of the personnel plan. New skill sets are required, especially in creating a generalist-specialist personnel plan that utilizes a one-stop shop, surrounded and supported by specialist teams, to deliver services. Transitioning existing staff to these new jobs and hiring new staff to fill vacancies will require focus on a number of customer service and technology skills that differ from those used previously. Initial and ongoing training programs must be developed to impart new and constantly updated information, processes, policies and systems.

This organizational structure makes new demands of staff and managers alike. The anxieties associated with massive organizational change must be considered and planned for when undertaking such a project. While the one-stop shop concept is attractive in its promise to improve service, it is far less comfortable for those faced with changes to the roles to which they have become accustomed and trained over the years. The enrollment manager is required to exhibit exceptional leadership in providing the unit and university a clear and consistent vision of the outcomes of this transformation. Providing communication vehicles that are both written (e-mail, web) and oral (unit-wide and small group staff meetings) can accelerate the adoption of the new service paradigm by those who must deliver it.

Step Five: Develop Monitoring and Reporting Mechanisms that Measure Effectiveness and Seek Ongoing Improvements

Data on customer service measures both the efficiency of the processes of the enrollment services unit and customers’ satisfaction with them. Call center software can display the number of calls in queue, the number of agents available to answer calls and the average wait time for callers. Customer comment vehicles, such as short, automated phone surveys at the end of phone transactions or comment cards with convenient drop-off boxes allow customers to provide quick feedback. Satisfaction surveys should start with baseline measurements and be repeated at regular intervals to measure changes; these can be part of large regular surveys, such as NSSE and CIRP, which accommodate local survey questions that can be developed for your institution.

Sharing these measurements of efficiency and of customer satisfaction within and outside the unit is essential to build an understanding among academic leadership of service levels and milestones. By demonstrating the increased levels of service available to students, you will make allies of faculty, who will refer students to the one-stop shop for assistance.


Behind each of these steps are specific areas to be addressed within the enrollment management organization. The alignment of institutional information available to prospective students and parents with their preferred methods of receiving information and tolerance for marketing, for example, is but one of many steps that will appear daunting to most institutions undertaking such a large-scale operational review. For this reason, it is important to seek peers who have successfully implemented institutional transformations or the counsel of a consultant with expertise in this area.

As the pace of technological change and innovation races around us, we struggle to choose the paths that can bring the greatest results without chasing fads or gimmicks that may be replaced by next year’s model. As Boulding and other researchers noted, the institutional transformations of CRM that link marketing, service and quality are not passing fads but “the outcome of the continuing evolution and integration of marketing ideas and newly available data, technologies, and organizational forms” (Boulding, p. 156).

While the initial transformation of a college or university’s enrollment services will be revolutionary on your campus, the future of its success will be predicated on its ability to be evolutionary. The ability of enrollment managers to connect with and respond to the needs of their customers, then adapt services to meet their emerging needs, will dictate the success of enrollment services, whether they exist in the one-stop shop or the yet-to-be-invented format of the future.


Boulding, W., Stelin, R., Ehret, M., & Johnston,W. A customer relationship management roadmap: What is known, potential pitfalls, and where to go.
Journal of Marketing, Volume 69, Issue 4,
October 2005, pages 155-166.

Christopher, M., Payne, A., & Ballantyne, D. Relationship Marketing. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1991.

*It is important as we begin this examination, however, to clearly distinguish differences between business and education. In drawing parallels between the experiences of customers and students, these are limited to those interactions and transactions that occur when a student or parent (acting within appropriate FERPA laws) attempts to transact enrollment services (admission, registration, financial aid, payment, etc.) with the institution. It does not include student learning activities, inside or outside the classroom, where the “product” is student learning that leads to personal growth and development. In those cases, the use of “customer” confuses the issue, given that customers usually drive the delivery and content of a product or service. Student learning is an activity directed by faculty or some administrative areas of student life that impart knowledge or values deemed important for development.

Written by Tom Green, Ph.D., Director of Technology and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download this paper here: Organizational Transformation to Meet and Exceed Service Expectations: The Role of One-Stop Centers in Higher Education

Shared Enrollment Services as a Potential SEM Strategy

cuj_logotype_solid_med1Among the goals of strategic enrollment management (SEM) is the desire to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. This paper explores the applicability of shared services delivery models for higher education enrollment and student services functions.

Any discussion of fundamental change in an institution’s concept of operations—such as change prompted by shared services delivery—must begin with a clear understanding of the environment within which that institution functions. Thus, our exploration of shared services in higher education, with particular focus on enrollment service functions, begins with a summary of relevant environmental factors.

Societal Factors
Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, a number of trends are evident that relate generally to organizational effectiveness and specifically to the applicability of shared services in an enterprise’s concept of operations. These factors include:

  • Globalization of organizations, processes, communications, and activities, which is having the effect of significantly widening the realm of potential customers, resource suppliers, and service providers for every enterprise. This has led increasingly to:
  • Outsourcing of functions and activities not deemed core to the enterprise, with those functions most related to the organization’s core mission remaining internal;
  • Customer-centricity as a primary organizational and operational principle, as reflected in the increased use of customer-focused performance measurement and reward systems and processes;
  • The Age of the Internet as a primary communications, transactional, networking, marketing, and service delivery vehicle;
  • Increased economic uncertainty as evidenced by fluctuating global financial markets, employment shifts, increased debt, uncertain currency valuations, deteriorating infrastructure, and dwindling energy resources;
  • Chronic deficit spending by the U.S. government, which, as fixed-cost obligations become an ever-larger portion of government outlays, increasingly prompts hard choices between spending priorities; and
  • State governments in a revenue/cost squeeze as a result of lower, recession-driven tax revenues while state services and their associated costs continue to increase.

Higher Education–Specific Factors

The above societal trends are having a significant impact on higher education, including:

  • Pressures for cost containment, given increases in the cost of higher education that consistently and significantly exceed the rate of inflation;
  • State higher education systems seeking to exert greater leverage on campus operations as a direct result of these cost pressures; in particular, such systems are seeking to take advantage of system-wide economies of scale in driving down costs.
  • A more student-centered, pre-K–20 view of the educational life cycle, seeking enhanced preparation, efficiency, coordination, and outcomes;
  • Rapid expansion of online education as higher education moves to leverage the capacity of the internet to deliver instructional content and to support a variety of student services functions;
  • Increased competition for students, driven by new, more aggressive global players, heightened academic standards, and changing student demographics;
  • Integrated, web-based enterprise IT systems to support the full range of higher education administrative, marketing, and student services functions;
  • New alliances between four-year and community colleges, colleges and secondary schools, among independent colleges, between institutions and suppliers, etc. — all seeking increased efficiency and effectiveness through collaboration.

All of these factors are at work in today’s higher education landscape, prompting increased consideration of shared services by colleges and universities.

“Shared service” holds different meanings for different people. for the purposes of this discussion, a shared service is defined as a function, process, or activity performed by a single “provider” organization in support of two or more “user” organizations. shared service initiatives typically involve the centralization to a single provider of one or more functions previously performed independently by multiple user organizations. such initiatives typically are undertaken to:

  • Gain economies of scale through centralized transaction processing;
  • Standardize practices, processes, and policies;
  • Standardize and improve services to students;
  • Leverage technology capabilities and investments;
  • Uncover and utilize best practices among institutions;
  • Foster increased interinstitutional collaboration;
  • Focus campus staff on high-value activities;
  • Reduce total unit cost in order to free up resources for reinvestment in institutional quality.

The case for a shared service typically anticipates benefits of the following types:

  • Reduction in unit transaction processing costs through:
    • Automation;
    • Economies of scale (i.e., increased transaction volume);
    • Process streamlining;
    • Sharing and standardizing best practices;
    • Balancing workload peaks and valleys;
    • Lower wage rates;
    • Reduced employee fringe benefits.
  • Cost avoidance, for example, of:
    • Additional capacity (facilities, hiring, training)
    • New information systems (sourcing, development).
  • Service quality improvement through:
    • Standardization of service;
    • Increased student focus by campus staff;
    • Improved cross-functional coordination;
    • Improved quality controls.
  • Increased mission effectiveness via:
    • Greater market impact;
    • Improved educational outcomes;
    • Increased stakeholder satisfaction.

While the above benefits may be significant, a shared service initiative may be perceived as potentially detrimental in that it may:

  • Detract from the institution’s differentiated mission or competitive position;
  • Risk disclosure of proprietary information;
  • Put campus staff morale and job security at risk;
  • Lessen institutional control over core activities and outcomes;
  • Not result in projected cost reductions.

These potential risks discourage many institutions from pursuing shared services and limit the scope of existing collaborations.


While shared services concepts can and do take a wide variety of forms in higher education, four distinctive models are particularly useful to examine:

Multi-Campus System Model
In this organizational model, several institutions are members of a state higher education system, which, as part of its system-wide function, coordinates the provision of various services to the individual campuses. In this model, shared services typically are provided either by a system-level organizational unit or by a lead campus which provides the service to all system campuses. Services typically provided in this model include IT, procurement, facilities planning, and, in some cases, enrollment services. State systems in New York, Maine, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and California all have versions of system-level shared services of these types.

Consortium of Independent Institutions
In this model, several independent (usually private) colleges create an alliance to share costs, services, and ideas. Many such consortia exist in the United states. Typically, they are organized by geography (state or regional) or commonality of mission (religious affiliation, high admissions selectivity, etc.). for example:

  • The Pennsylvania Shared Services Consortium includes six independent colleges and universities that have joined together to jointly acquire insurance, banking, telecommunications, employee benefits, physical plant maintenance, and bookstore services.
  • The South Metropolitan (Chicago) Education Consortium includes sixteen institutions (public and private colleges, universities, and community colleges) pursuing joint advertising, marketing, and community outreach programs.
  • The Colleges of Worcester Consortium includes thirteen public and private colleges in central Massachusetts that collaborate in enhancing the city of Worcester as a higher education center.
  • The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia includes 25 private colleges and universities that collaborate in joint market awareness and legislative affairs activities.

Many private colleges’ consortia focus on joint purchasing; other consortia—as, for example, the associated colleges of the south focus more on academic collaboration. Still other private college consortia focus on government relations, coordination of study abroad, cross-registration, employer relations, and career fairs.

Intra-Campus Service Provider
This is the traditional campus-level shared service model according to which individual academic departments, schools, and colleges within a university share common enrollment and student services and administrative support functions.

General Market Third-Party Provider

In this shared services model, a higher education marketwide organization provides common services to multiple client institutions. examples include services provided by higher education associations (AACRAO, CUPA, etc.), IT vendors (Oracle, Peoplesoft, Datatel, IBM), and a host of other suppliers to the higher education industry. (This model is relevant to this paper only to the extent that either of the first two shared services models described might incorporate the use of a third-party market provider.)

The utility of a shared services model for a given institution depends primarily on the organizational environment within which the institution exists. Large public multi-campus systems inherently have different opportunities for sharing services than do private, independent institutions. Nevertheless, certain commonalities do exist even between individual enrollment and student services functions. Following are three generic categories of work common to most campus admissions, financial aid, registrar, and business office functions:

  • The “front counter,” where students and parents gain access to and information about the office;
  • The “technical expert” function, which shares specific expertise with students, parents, and staff, makes decisions, oversees policy development and compliance, and coordinates activities with other campus offices; and
  • The “back room,” where mail processing, data entry, document imaging, and file maintenance occur.

Each of these work categories offers different types of opportunities for shared services. For example:

  • Many traditional “front counter” activities now are Web-enabled and are accessed through the internet by students and parents who self-serve. Campuses also may consolidate front counter activities across functional offices in a “one-stop” concept, reducing costs and improving service.
  • Function-specific technical expertise can be shared among schools within a university (e.g., a single campus admissions director) or among institutions in a system, facilitated by remote access to common information systems.
  • Back-room processing can be consolidated within a campus or among multiple institutions in an operations service center supporting one or more student services functions.

(Note that all such potential shared services applications depend on the use of common information systems, as discussed below.)


Higher education’s experience with shared services models varies widely. In state systems in New York and Texas, the shared services concept has been well developed in areas such as marketing and common admissions application processing. Other states, including Ohio, Maine, Oregon, and New Jersey, are beginning to more actively promote collaboration in enrollment services delivery in their efforts to leverage the power of interinstitutional system governance. For example, the recently created University System of Ohio has announced plans to create a single, integrated information technology infrastructure to support online admissions, financial aid, advising, registration, payment, course articulation, and credit transfer.

Some well-established state systems have made little or no provision for shared enrollment services, having limited shared services to areas such as IT, procurement, academic program coordination, budget formulation, and facilities planning. In such systems, concern for institutional autonomy seems to have trumped concern about duplication of effort or organizational redundancy. That said, there appears to be growing recognition of the need for — and the importance of — standardized information technology applications to maintain consistent levels of student, academic, and administrative support functions.

Collaborative enrollment management efforts among private colleges and universities appear minimal at present. (Those that do exist relate primarily to joint travel activities.) For example, the idea of a shared enrollment services center to provide back-room processing in support of admissions, financial aid, registration, and student billing for multiple institutions has not yet caught on. Institutions’ lack of interest appears to be the result of three primary drivers: concerns about enrollment information security, fear of compromising competitive advantage, and incompatible IT systems.

As institution-level IT systems are replaced by more standardized Web-enabled applications, it is likely that multi-institutional systems and independent colleges alike will envision greater opportunities for standardizing enrollment services functions and the processes they support. Not only could such systems eventually replace current paper-based processes, but the adoption of common systems by multiple institutions could prompt increased exploration of shared enrollment management services. In all such systems, the security of institutional enrollment information will remain vital.


Institutions that wish to explore the potential of shared student services according to either the “multi-campus system” or the “independent consortium” model will need to recognize and address several obstacles to effective implementation. These include:

  • Lack of integrated information systems. As noted above, moving to a more standardized, integrated IT infrastructure provides the common technology platform required to support any meaningful shared enrollment services strategy. Institutions without common systems will find it difficult to share services.
  • Lack of common policies and processes. Standardizing IT systems will be of limited value if the processes such systems support are not also standardized. This requires careful examination of the institutional policies embedded within such processes. typically, these are more diicult to standardize than IT systems.
  • A “we’re different” mentality. When an institution believes that its environment is unique, its student services processes—often highly customized—may prove to be not readily amenable to a shared services strategy.
  • Information security issues. Every institution has legitimate information security objectives that can be threatened by the specter of a shared services initiative that involves either the sharing of institution-specific information or reliance on an external agent for data security. In the case of shared enrollment services, concerns are acute as they relate to the security of applicant information, enrollment decisions, financial aid, yield rates, and other enrollment performance statistics.
  • Service reliability and access concerns. A common concern about any shared service is the extent of its reliability—particularly if the service is not under the direct control of the institution. Such concerns, typically addressed via explicit service agreements, governance processes, and continuity of operations plans, are heightened in a shared services environment. In enrollment services, concerns about reliability are intensified by the need to meet deadlines (e.g., application, acceptance, financial aid, enrollment, billing, etc.).
  • Concerns about loss of control and job security. Management and staff of traditional institution-based student services functions will be concerned about any initiative that threatens their control of performance outcomes and/or their job security. These reasonable concerns must be addressed explicitly.
  • Loss of competitive advantage. Even when there may be compelling reasons to do so, institutions in direct competition are unlikely to collaborate for fear of losing competitive advantage. For such institutions, shared admissions and financial aid processing is unlikely unless performed by an independent third party located at an independent site. [Nevertheless, the incidence of collaboration by former competitors seems to be increasing. For example, competing federal government contractors routinely collaborate on joint projects, and “competing" U.S. defense and intelligence agencies are being integrated in the effort to combat global terrorism.]

Given the mixed application of shared student services in higher education to date and the considerable obstacles to their effective use, what criteria can be used to evaluate the prospective benefits of shared services initiatives? Research shows that six primary criteria should be considered:

  • Is there a rigorous compelling business case for the proposed shared service that is based on quantified benefits, costs, and risks?
  • Does an organizational entity (e.g., system office, lead campus, consortium, etc.) exist to serve as the shared service provider?
  • Is a standardized, integrated IT systems infrastructure in place (or under development) to support the shared service?
  • Will meaningful service-level agreements and quality controls be put into place to effectively manage risk, reliability, access, and information security?
  • Can and will functional staff be restructured to provide job security and improved student satisfaction via functional consolidation?
  • Will the shared service enhance (or at least not jeopardize) the institutional mission?

If all of these criteria can be met, then the shared services initiative can be considered to have a high probability of success. Conversely, if any one of these criteria is not satisfied, then such an initiative can be considered to have a high risk of failure.

These criteria lead to the following key factors for the success of a shared student services initiative:

  • Rigorous planning and a quantitative business case for change;
  • A comprehensively designed concept of operations, including process, organization, staffing, systems, controls, and culture;
  • High and continuous user involvement and buy-in;
  • Development of control processes to ensure service quality;
  • Integrated, standardized, Web-enabled systems, processes, and policies;
  • Provision for any staff displaced by the initiative;
  • Ongoing communication among and training of service providers, users, and other stakeholders.

Prompted by intensified pressure for cost containment and expanded services, colleges and universities are demonstrating an increasing willingness to explore the benefits of shared services. Traditionally, shared services in higher education have focused on business functions such as IT services, insurance, and procurement; most colleges and universities consider enrollment and student services to be more institution-specific and more directly related to competitive position. Nevertheless, multi-campus state systems as well as some private college consortia have led efforts to expand the shared services concept into student services functions such as admissions, financial aid, registration, advising, articulation, and student accounts. As cost containment pressures continue to escalate (particularly on those institutions dependent on state funding), institutional interest in shared services can be expected to continue to increase.

In considering the net value of a shared service, a number of important prerequisites must be met. Primary among these is the presence of common, integrated, Web-based information technology systems. As institutions and multi-campus systems contemplate the significant costs associated with the next generation of IT systems development and maintenance, moving to standardized, integrated IT systems platforms will be an increasingly appealing strategy. This in turn will drive increased interest in — and feasibility of — shared enrollment and student services. Beyond the need for standardized, integrated IT systems is the need for a shift in institutional culture: Schools must consider moving away from freestanding, self-contained organizational models toward a more interdependent model in which they rely on alliances with other institutions. Interdependence will be new, challenging, and risk-laden for many institutions, but it may prove an inevitable result of increased pressure by external stakeholders to pursue opportunities for collaboration as a means of cost containment, resource redeployment, and improved student service and satisfaction. Our institutions will require strong, visionary leaders to manage the financial, organizational, technological, and cultural changes implicit in these alliances.

About the Author
Robert Glenn is a management consultant to higher education, government, commercial, and non-profit organizations. Formerly a partner at Booz Allen Hamilton and Unisys, he is currently focused on assisting higher education institutions to contain costs and improve service through IT-enabled business process reengineering. Glenn holds an M.B.A. in operations research from the University of Pittsburgh and a B.S. in mathematics from Purdue University.

This article originally appeared in College & University (Volume 84, No. 3 [2009]), and is being reproduced with the permission of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Talk to Me: Communicating effectively with your prospects, applicants, students and alumni

logo2As higher education practitioners, a large part of our working lives revolves around communicating with people who want to be our students, who are our students and who were our students. There is a dizzying array of communication modes and technical platforms, from face-to-face to text messaging and everything in between. Prospective and current students are bombarded with messages from different service departments and faculty on a regular basis and through many communication channels. We are constantly challenged to determine how best to communicate with our prospects, students and alumni. It is infrequent that we have the time to take a step back and ask, “Are we communicating effectively?”

At its most basic, effective communication occurs when the message intent corresponds closely to how it is “perceived and responded by the receiver (Moss, 2007).” However, measuring that effectiveness and then implementing effective communication is not a simple matter. It involves the alignment of policy, practice and technology across the entire institution.

Selecting the appropriate communication platform is just part of the puzzle. We are aware of the decline in the regular use of email among the traditional aged student and young adults. According to a New York Times article, young people find that email “involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours” (Richtel, 2010). While texting is almost ubiquitous among young adults (63%), only a lowly 6% of 12-17 year olds use email (Lenhart, 2012); (Smith, 2012).

Although email remains a staple in the higher education communication portfolio, institutions have begun to engage in the process of finding new platforms to communicate with our traditional aged students: social media, text messaging, etc. Often the chosen solution involves a single communication platform for each type of message thus effectively implementing, a “one size fits all” model of student communication. By focusing on the communication trends for one part of our student population, we are likely not providing effective communication for other student demographics. Technology has evolved to support multiple communication platforms per message yet this often leaves out the question of student preference. Emerging technology allows the student to select which communication platform he/she wants based on “groups” such as student clubs, courses, messages from financial aid etc.

Not only is effective communication about picking the most appropriate platform or platforms, it also includes selecting the content, determining the intent and setting the proper tone which, in combination, will most likely achieve the desired result (e.g., applying for admission, paying bills, completing assignments on time, etc.). While it is easiest to think about aligning audience, content, intent, platform and tone in a linear manner, these variables are more accurately reflected in a communication matrix.

Communication Matrix

In an ideal setting with the resources to support it, a student communication matrix would outline how messages are delivered (platform) varying by the position of the student in the student lifecycle, the demographics of the student and the intent of the message (Figure 1).

Figure 1:


There are many message platforms to consider outside of the regular email, student portal and hardcopy and include, face-to-face, text messaging, social media, LMSs, phone calls, web pages, instant messaging/chat among others. Again based on the communication matrix the message platform or platforms vary. For example, a message to an undergraduate prospect with the intent of getting him to sign up for a campus tour may be sent hard copy, receive a telephone call and/or an electronic message via email or a prospective student portal. On the other hand a student life announcement to current students about a tailgate party may simply be posted to resident students through a portal or on digital information boards around campus and not posted to distance students who would not have the ability to attend the event. In the case of an emergency, the message should be broadcast to as many platforms as are appropriate for the nature of the emergency to help ensure that those who need the message will receive it.

Policy, Plans, Guidelines and Coordination

Development of a communication is only one aspect of creating a formal communication policy that sets the stage for student, faculty and staff expectations regarding how and who will communicate with students. All too often the lack of a clear communication policy or simply the lack of an understanding of the policy leads to “official” communications being delivered to students through a variety of platforms. Students are then confused about which platform they are required to monitor for official communications from the institution. Of equal concern is when policy is not clear about what can be communicated in accordance with FERPA and other regulations and across which platforms. For instance, if a communication policy is not specific enough or not widely understood; faculty and others may inadvertently communicate FERPA protected information to email accounts which are not issued by the institution without first confirming that the email account belongs to the intended student.

An institution’s communication policy should be reviewed every two years and the review should include the following important elements:

  • Involvement in the review from representatives of faculty and administration, including information technology personnel.
  • Current students should be consulted about their perceptions of communication practice/policy and surveyed on their communication preferences. This should include both content students find most valuable and preferred communication modalities.
  • An assessment of the regular and ongoing training made available to faculty and staff.
  • An assessment of the way new and continuing students are regularly and overtly made aware of the policy to avoid misunderstanding and violations of the policy. For example, if the policy is that official communication is only sent to the college issued student email, including billing information, students must be made aware that they may incur a late fee if they do not read their college issued email on a regular basis.

Communication plans are an important component of a comprehensive institutional communication policy. For example, admissions funnel communication plans are commonplace and well-understood. Less so are master communication plans for the remainder of the student lifecycle even though this type of plan is equally important. A comprehensive communication plan includes calendars, message frequency, templates and guidelines for developing message intent, new messages and revising existing communications.

The model where an institution maintains a single point of coordination (unit or person) for all student communication is not new. However the increasingly complex nature of a comprehensive student communication effort reinforces the need for this model. More often operationally this model only has responsibility for the co-curricular portion of student communication (e.g., recruiting, admissions, financial aid, etc.). Allowing a single unit or person to have the authority and responsibility the oversight of all student communication requires the agreement and trust across academic and co-curricular services. To be effective, this model does not include monitoring and “policing” all communication between the institution and students but rather the unit or person serves as a consultant and trainer to the various institutional constituents with some reviewing and approval authority based on the message intent, audience and source. The added value to an institution for this comprehensive oversight model is one where the overall level of effectiveness of student communication is increased which can positively impact recruitment and retention and provide a more positive experience for students.

Importance of Setting the Proper Tone

Guidelines may also include assistance with developing the proper message tone. The examples below from Betts (2009) indicate how much the tone of a simple communication can be impacted by the choice of words, word order and structure.

  • Do not include a cover page on your next paper :(
  • Do not include a cover page on your next paper.
  • Remember, do not include a cover page on your next paper :) (Betts, 2009)”

It is not an uncommon practice for student communications to use bold and capitalized lettering as an attempt to highlight important parts of the message. As these examples demonstrate, careful consideration must be given when constructing messages to ensure that the tone is as intended.

“Communication – simple, yet complex, easy to do and easy to blunder” (Cyr, Effective Communication , 2004)


Given the complex and time consuming nature of developing, implementing and maintaining all of the components of effective student communication there is often value to inviting an external expert to assist in that process. The best consultants are able to assist with everything from policy development/review to communication plan development and the optimization of supporting technology. AACRAO Consulting is uniquely positioned to provide consultants with extensive functional and technical experience to help your institution provide effective student communication is support of enrollment goals.

Works Cited

Betts, K. (2009, Summer). Lost in Translation: Importance of Effective Communication in Online Education. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration:

Cyr, L. F. (2004). Effective Communication . Retrieved September 25, 2012, from The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Group Works Bulletin #6103:

Lenhart, A. (2012, March 19). Teens, Smartphones & Texting. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project:

Moss, S. T. (2007). Human Communication: Principles and contexts. New York: McGraw Hill.

Richtel, M. (2010, December 20). E-mail Gets and Instance Makeover. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from The New York Times:

Smith, K. Z. (2012, April 13). Digital Differences. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project:

Written by Wendy Kilgore, Director of Research and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

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