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Top 5 ways small colleges can save money with tech


Identifying and evaluating technology and software innovations that will be crucial to colleges' ongoing success.

Budgetary restrictions and cutbacks are making life harder at small colleges across the nation. In fact, “about a third of small private colleges rated by Moody’s generated operating deficits in the 2016 fiscal year, an increase from 20 percent in 2013,” noted Inside Higher Ed. “In contrast, just 13 percent of large comprehensive universities posted operating deficits in 2016, down from 20 percent three years before.”

Shortfalls that cannot be made up because of restrictions on raising tuition fees or a decline in alumni donations will force smaller colleges to make some changes in how they do business. Identifying and evaluating technology and software innovations will be crucial to your ongoing success.

If your institution is struggling to make ends meet, it’s time to explore options to reduce expenses and increase available capital before resorting to drastic cutbacks in service. Here are five top ways that small colleges can save money now.

1. Get Rid of Paper

The amount of money and time required to format, print and do quality assurance on printed materials at your college can be seen as a huge waste, given the fact that all of these documents were created using computers and can be supplied to users in electronic format now. A recent article from the New York Times pointed out that “many colleges are reducing their use of paper by putting admissions brochures, course catalogs, and phone directories online instead of on paper.”

A report from University Business shows that “the average school of 1,000 spends about $3,000 to $4,000 a month on paper, ink, and toner alone. What makes costs grow exponentially, however, is the number of wasteful or nonacademic print jobs-from photos of pop stars and friends to entire books-that should never be printed or could be copied more economically.”

The solution used at Winthrop University (S.C.) involved using Print Manager Plus software to track and report printer usage. The university gave students a $10 printing allowance each month, after which they had to pay out of pocket, saving 50 percent on the school’s print budget.

2. Use Google Apps

Many of your students and faculty will likely already have Google accounts and use various Google services to do work, but you can formalize this arrangement to save costs. “Arizona State University has partnered with Google to deliver Google Apps for Education to its 65,000 students,” according to University Business. “Google Apps include Gmail to manage ASU student email accounts, as well as Google Calendar and Google Talk. The system will save the school an estimated $500,000 a year.”

Google offers calendar services, tagging and indexing for email search and gives each student 2GB for document storage for free, which would lower operating costs for any higher ed IT department.

(Next page: 3 more ways to save money with tech)

3. Consider VOIP Over Traditional Phone Services

If your campus is still hampered by relying on an old-fashioned landline system, you can bridge your budgetary gap the same way businesses large and small save money, by deploying a state-of-the-art voice over IP or VoIP setup. “While it’s not a cheap and easy replacement for plain old telephone service, its return on investment can make it pay off,” noted University Business.

Seeing that Clayton State University in Georgia replaced its old phone system with a setup from Avaya that dropped costs from $250,000 to $125,000 a year should have you reconsidering your own phone system and the money it’s draining from your budget.

4. Hire Students Whenever Possible

When the college’s financial situation keeps you from hiring to meet minimum staffing levels, the best approach might be to start hiring from within.

You may have a gold mine in terms of available talent at your college, so why not take advantage of it and save some money to boot? According to the New York Times, “Rhodes College in Memphis economizes—and gives students work experience—by hiring students in 25 professional staff positions, saving $725,000 a year.”

5. Implement More Online Self-service Processes

Small colleges can save money by decreasing the number of students and faculty inundating their IT staff with help desk tickets by making information more readily available online so they can help themselves.

“Publish FAQs or knowledge bases on the university website with answers to users’ most basic questions,” recommended EdTech Magazine, “and drive users to them as a first option before contacting a live technician.”

You can further reduce costs by encouraging students to download free security software and malware scanners from IT.

It’s clear that some out-of-the-box thinking is required to help small colleges improve their financial standing. The more you take advantage of hardware and software innovations, the better prepared you will be to address future budgetary shortfalls.

Sorting out the possibilities and determining which would be best to implement in your college can be difficult when you have limited time and attention for research. Shoring up the gaps in your knowledge is easier when you consult with peers who have gone through their own campus budgetary issues.

If you have any questions or would like more insight into saving money at your college, send Optimal Partners a request today.

[Editor’s note: This piece was originally posted on Optimal Partners’ Blog here.]