It’s no secret that cost control is a hot topic for colleges and universities across the country. Following the 2008 recession, most states have struggled with limited budgets and have had to make difficult decisions that, at times, have included reducing funding for education. In fact, 46 states spent less per student in 2016 than they did before the recession.
Who really suffers as a result of these funding cuts? Students. It’s simple math: As funding decreases, tuition often climbs. Specifically, since 2008, tuition has risen 33 percent for colleges and universities across the United States. Arizona’s tuition rates have increased the most, jumping 72 percent between 2008 and 2014.
But let’s face it: Institutions can only raise tuition fees so high before it begins to affect enrollment, which drops as fewer students are able to foot the bill. And because developing students is the basic premise of higher education, the situation seems pretty clear—colleges need a better way to manage costs.
Growing by Reducing
In an ongoing attempt to balance budgets, colleges and universities have cut courses and reduced or eliminated certain student programs. Some universities have pushed individual departments to find ways to generate funds in order to stay afloat, while some may be surviving through endowments or grants. Others have had to increase their fee-based services, such as research or consulting.
Labor is, of course, one of the biggest costs for any university. To reduce these expenses, colleges have gone so far as to eliminate positions, suspend salary increases, implement furloughs, and enact hiring freezes.
While many of these initiatives have been effective, the world of higher education continues to seek ways to maintain (or even increase) the services they provide without raising tuition and other costs. Many in the industry have found that the answer to this quandary lies in technology.
3 Ways Technology Can Control Costs
When it comes to today’s technology, campus leaders and department heads are quickly learning that its benefits go far beyond the classroom. Here are three time-saving, cost-cutting tech hacks colleges can implement to drastically affect their bottom line:
1. Online Scheduling: Streamlining Once-Tedious Communications
Today’s web-based software as a service (SaaS) applications don’t require you to purchase additional hardware; you just need an internet connection. They also tend to have low monthly fees, allowing departments to make software buying and funding decisions without having to seek approval outside of their departments.
Chief among SaaS applications that reduce labor costs is online appointment scheduling software.
Academic advising, financial aid, testing centers, student housing, and other departments all schedule student appointments frequently. Most colleges and universities still handle this task the traditional way: Students either call or email the department to book an appointment, which starts the back-and-forth process of trying to find a date and time that works for both parties. It’s inefficient and labor-intensive.
Taking your department’s scheduling to the internet solves this problem by allowing students to book appointments themselves—no calling or emailing necessary. The result? Labor cost savings for your team and time saved for everyone involved.
(Next page: 2 more ways technology can cut costs)
2. Microwebinars: Standardized Info in Bite-Sized Videos
The microwebinar is another potential money-saving tech hack for colleges and universities, leveraging the fact that much of the information that must be conveyed to an individual student is standardized.
Instead of tailoring information for every new student who walks through the office door, you can create short webinars to communicate the basics. This saves time for both students and administrators, which, especially when coupled with automatic appointment scheduling, allows departments to operate with fewer staff.
Consider a financial aid department with five counselors. Nearly every new student orientation with this department includes certain pre-determined information. Rather than a counselor spending 10 minutes to 15 minutes explaining the basics of financial aid to each student, a microwebinar allows students watch a short presentation covering that information. It accomplishes the same job in less time: This webinar could reduce a typical financial aid meeting by 15 minutes, a difference that might allow the department to operate just as effectively with four counselors as it does with five.
3. Telemeetings: Meetings Here, There, or Anywhere
Another increasingly popular technology hack is telemeetings. By using apps like WebEx and join.me, staff can host a telemeeting anywhere at any time. Users can easily pass documents back and forth and screenshare when they need to, making the platform as productive as in-person meetings (and much more convenient).
This makes it possible for employees to work remotely, saving funds that might get spent for on-site workspaces. Imagine you oversee an academic advising department with five advisors. With the ability to meet with students and team members remotely, your department could have three teams working on-site and two working off-site at all times, regularly rotating who’s working where.
The costs associated with two workspaces have been eliminated, staff work-life balance has increased, and you’ve initiated a more modern communications platform for all involved. What’s more, college-age students are already used to communicating through formats such as FaceTime and Skype, so working with advisors on these platforms is an easy sell.
It’s a Win-Win
For many public institutions, funding challenges are here to stay, and that means tough budget decisions aren’t going away any time soon. Leaders and department heads need to scrutinize which offerings, programs, and positions are bringing the most value and decide what corners they can cut.
But remember, technology is on your side. Today’s digital tools not only cut costs for colleges and universities, but also improve processes (and the student experience). Bringing appointment scheduling online, sharing information in a convenient-to-watch microwebinar, and taking advantage of meeting remotely are just a few of the ways you can cut costs without compromising students.
And that’s the win-win all institutions are seeking.