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Business Officer Magazine

Business Briefs

Short news articles based on research surveys and peers’ business experiences that can benefit institutions

Automated System Streamlines Student Transfer

FY10 State Support Sinks


The initial estimate (as of February 2010) of total state tax support for higher education (including general fund appropriations but not including federal economic stimulus funds) for universities, colleges, community colleges, and state higher education agencies in FY10.


The estimated change in state support for higher education from FY09 to FY10 (not including federal stimulus funds).


The estimated number of states that cut their funding for higher education from FY09 to FY10.


The average amount of per capita state funding for higher education in FY10.

Source: Grapevine: An Annual Compilation of Data on State Fiscal Support for Higher Education (Illinois State University, Tables 1 through 4). Retrieved on May 3, 2010, from Grapevine.

College students often face frustrating and time-consuming obstacles when they decide to change schools. Not so if they choose to transfer to University of Maryland University College, in Adelphi. To assist our students—not only with transfers but with confirmation that they have completed all courses required for their degrees—UMUC has moved aggressively to adopt technologies and processes that increase accuracy and speed in processing credit-transfer requests and conducting degree audits.

This has made a huge difference, considering that UMUC is one of the largest state universities in the United States. UMUC enrolls more than 90,000 students each year and serves many military students, who often enroll after first earning college credit from other institutions. We estimate that more than half of all UMUC students transfer to the university after first attending a community college.

Efforts to dramatically transform the degree-audit process were launched in the summer of 2006. A new system was designed to replace an entirely manual audit process, which included little automation and resulted in a degree audit that would take, on average, two to three months to complete. Other issues included inconsistent results, a high error rate because of misplaced or mistyped documents, lack of tracking ability, and an overall inability to serve students well.

Electronic document retention (the scanning, indexing, and archiving functionality of the new system) went live in October 2006; the workflow process followed, going live in February 2007. By 2008, UMUC's new, automated system—built around Hershey Systems' Singularity Suite document management system (DMS)—had proven so effective that it was showcased at the U.S. Department of Education's national summit in Chicago and praised as a benchmark for efficiency. A review that might in the past have taken eight months can now be completed in three days—and we continue to work on streamlining the process.

But the benefits may go beyond saving time. By implementing all planned changes, including the next phase of automation, we estimate the cost of conducting a degree audit might well be reduced by about two thirds. Prior to this investment, an audit cost about $65 to complete; now it costs about $25.50. Of course, each institution's experience will differ based on a number of variables, including volume of audits processed.

Scanners Digitize Data

We engineered this transformation by investing in optical scanners to digitize transcript data for storage in the DMS, which also helps control workflow by routing courses to the appropriate faculty member for evaluation. The system can also queue files that are ready to go through the degree-audit process, routing them to auditors who complete the official evaluation or showing how many credits will transfer into a student's declared degree plan.

In addition, we have taken steps to further streamline the transcript evaluation process by first analyzing enrollment data and identifying those colleges and universities that send the most transfer students to UMUC, then evaluating those schools' entire course catalogs. This process has yielded a transfer credit database that already includes more than 500,000 individual courses—and is still growing.

At UMUC, the degree-audit process is further complicated by the university's broad international footprint, with the university's stateside operations serving as the audit service center for approximately 40,000 students in Europe and Asia. To streamline efforts, we have invested in infrastructure and worked to build our transfer-credit database. We have reorganized audit teams as well, aligning them by geographical division and implementing business processes that ensure that audits are prioritized before they are processed.

Implementing the new systems required staff realignment, faculty training, and managerial and cultural changes. For the first time, productivity data for course evaluations and audits could be pulled from the integration systems. This capability has supported the transition to a metrics-based system of responsibility and commitment to service quality. Finally, implementing the system does not immediately eliminate all previously created paper files. To take full advantage of the efficiencies that the new system brings, the transition requires that paper files be scanned into the system as quickly as possible to ensure that staff performing degree audits are not split between automated systems and paper files. This scanning effort is an additional task that must be planned and executed either by the school itself or by an outside vendor.

Monthly Audits Triple

The improvements to this component of student service have been dramatic and lasting. Currently, we complete about 3,000 official audits each month—up from about 900 per month before the system was implemented—and perform on-the-spot, temporary audits as requested. This marked increase in efficiency provides academic advisers with the information they need to accurately assist students, while at the same time contributing to student success and bolstering student retention.

UMUC worked within the guidelines of existing budgets to invest in the license, fees, equipment, and staff needed to improve this student service. And, while investments such as this can have significant up-front costs, the expense returns dividends in terms of student recruitment, student satisfaction and retention (by avoiding the very real possibility that a student will interrupt his or her classes while awaiting the results of a transfer credit evaluation), and helping students make more predictable and timely progress toward completing a degree.

Additional benefits include the ability to share transcripts electronically and to scan and automatically analyze paper transcripts, using the captured data to populate a draft degree plan with the appropriate transfer credits. Any transfer course that is not already part of the database is sent electronically to a faculty member for evaluation.

SUBMITTED BY Susan C. Aldridge, president, University of Maryland University College, Adelphi

RESOURCE LINK For a complimentary DVD with more information about UMUC's automated transfer credit system, e-mail

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SPOTLIGHT: Research Universities
Restructuring Helps Spur Analytics Dashboard

At the Ohio State University, concerns about faculty retirements gave urgency to addressing the growing frustration that basic information about faculty was not easily accessible to colleges and departments. Not only was data not available; what did exist was managed by multiple offices. A faculty data workgroup was tasked with figuring out a way to aggregate data and create a simple, flexible tool to support college and departmental leadership in faculty talent management. The result was a Faculty Analytics Dashboard, which has been extremely useful for performing trend analysis, diversity planning, retirement projections, and other decision-making activities. (For the full story, read “Managing Faculty Talent,” in the May 2010 issue of Business Officer.)

Another driver in the creation of the dashboard was our organization's desire to become a more strategic partner with our university customers (students, parents, faculty, administrators, and so on) instead of a simple service provider. Our ultimate goal was to launch a comprehensive Ohio State Talent Strategy to transform the university into a high-performance culture and strengthen problem-solving capabilities.

To support this effort, the consulting functions within the human resources office reorganized into a new structure designed to offer each customer a dedicated team of experts for more strategic and proactive consulting. The new unit—organization and human resource consulting (OHRC)—has made our office more effective and efficient while more closely aligning us with the university's overall academic goals and its strategy to become an employer of choice.

Four-Focus Framework

The restructuring called for the formation of four teams populated with personnel from each of the expertise areas that service specific colleges and support units: talent management, learning and development, employee and labor relations, and organization development. The objectives for this included several practical actions:

  • Break out of established silos.
  • Maximize efficiencies and effectiveness in the work.
  • Eliminate duplication of efforts.
  • Use a single lens to approach problem-solving issues.

The OHRC has achieved some success as a result of the changes. Consultant teams with a representative from each area conduct ongoing strategy discussions around a customer's needs, building awareness of interrelated issues. If the team, for example, is working with a university department senior leader to implement a substantial change, the team's employee relations consultant might identify key barriers in the department related to management skills that could likely impact the success of the change effort. The learning and development consultant may report being asked to provide management training, while the talent management consultant has received inquiries from several managers on how to deal with staff retention problems. Sharing such interrelated issues with the entire team allows for concerted action and likely solutions. If each consultant had continued to work in an established silo, he or she could have easily duplicated and influenced others' work, affecting the customer's satisfaction and the effort's results.

Strategic Support

The newly formed OHRC recognized the need for a set of integrated information to use as an executive summary to present to a unit's leadership to help engage conversations about how OHRC could best help and support the unit and its strategic objectives. As we thought about what an effective executive summary would look like, we considered many options and landed on the dashboard concept. After working on our initial proof of concept, we ultimately chose the dashboard, which has proven to be a valuable tool not only for managing talent but for making other important decisions.

SUBMITTED BY Laura Gast, senior research consultant, and Ken Orr, resource planning analyst, the Ohio State University

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Those Least Likely to Go to College Reap Best Returns

According to a new study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review, students from low-income families and other demographic groups that are the least likely to obtain higher education get the highest economic return when they do. This result holds for both men and women, for every observed stage over the life course, and for two different cohorts.

The study, “Who Benefits Most From College? Evidence for Negative Selection in Heterogeneous Economic Returns to Higher Education,” conducted by Jennie E. Brand, assistant professor of sociology, University of California, Los Angeles, and Yu Xie, Otis Dudley Duncan Distinguished University Professor of Sociology and Statistics, University of Michigan, used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study of the 1957 cohort to explore how the economic return on a college education varied for different members of the U.S. population. In particular, the study looked at the economic impact of a college education by the probability of attending college.

The labor market for those without a college degree usually is a very tough one.

The authors used various statistical techniques to find 16 statistically significant predictors of college attendance. They then assessed everyone's probability of attending college by using these predictors and compared their economic return before and after obtaining a college degree.

Leveraging Learning

The study results suggest that individuals from disadvantaged social backgrounds who attend college may use education as a means for economic mobility, while those from advantaged social backgrounds—for which college generally is a cultural norm—may be less driven by an economic rationale. For example, college students from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely than their more privileged peers to pursue career-oriented majors such as business. Meanwhile, students from more privileged backgrounds were more likely than their counterparts to major in the liberal arts.

Explaining Economics

According to the authors, a principal reason for the relatively large economic returns enjoyed by college graduates who are less likely to attend college is that their social position is marked by substantial disadvantage. In the absence of a college degree, the authors argue, these men and women have limited human, cultural, and social capital, and hence, particularly limited labor market prospects. In other words, the labor market they face when they do not have a higher education degree usually is a very tough one. By contrast, in absence of a college degree, individuals from more advantaged social backgrounds can still rely on their superior economic resources.

SUBMITTED BY Santiago Merea, a research associate at NACUBO

RESOURCE LINK The full study is available here.

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