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Business Officer Magazine

Taking Service to the Cutting Edge

The message at NACUBO’s Student Financial Services Conference: Tap technology to create student-centric processes but disconnect from your own gadgets now and then.

By Donna Klinger

Focus on Students

When Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, set out to integrate student financial services functions into a one-stop shop, the university also created “no-stop” electronic portal services, explained Hung V. Le. “The two [elements] must work hand in hand,” said Le, Pepperdine’s associate vice president and university registrar. Pepperdine sought to become more “Amazon-like” by making its processes easier and more intuitive. “We have to keep the student at the center of what we do,” reminded Le.

In integrating a wide variety of functions—registrar, student accounts, cashier, financial assistance, academic advisors, one card, and so on—Pepperdine solved a number of problems, said Le. Key among them were cumbersome, institution-centered processes; a lack of ownership of the whole system; and misunderstood, redundant, bureaucratic procedures.

Le credited the frontline staff with the effectiveness of the one-stop shop. He stressed the importance of knowledgeable, courteous, efficient, professional, and thick-skinned staff, who are willing and able to help. According to Le, other factors in Pepperdine’s achievement of more streamlined student services include:

  • Involving champions of the cause in the community of practice.
  • Communicating the vision clearly and making vision-centered decisions.
  • Questioning everything and then rethinking and re-engineering to move beyond cosmetic changes.
  • Focusing on action rather than on information collection.

Adding to Le’s comments, Marcia Murphy, associate controller and director of student financial services at Florida State University, Tallahassee, explained that over the past decade, FSU has embraced technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the student financial services area. The URL for Florida State’s information central area says it all: Murphy challenged those in the audience to consider whether they are keeping up in this area: “Are you meeting student needs? Are you keeping up with technology?”

Apparently many conference attendees are not keeping up; they were somewhat surprised to learn from Murphy and other presenters that “e-mail is for old people” and that one billion instant messages are sent each day. In response to student expectations and demands, says Murphy, Florida State now is implementing secure, online chat for customer service and secured guest access to student records. Murphy also said that she sees a possible future role in the university’s information central area for the following technology techniques and tools: digital photography, tablet PCs, Blackberrys, MP3 players, Blu-ray Discs, instant messaging, and virtual laser keyboards.

Murphy suggested that her colleagues stay on top of technology developments by attending conferences, listening to student suggestions and complaints, visiting other institutions and adapting their best practices, becoming early adopters of technology, and reading up on technology trends.

Take Time to Recharge

Underscoring the importance of keeping up with trends, Ruth Johnston, senior associate treasurer for student fiscal services at the University of Washington, Seattle, reminded her colleagues: “We‘re here for the students. We’re trying to do the best that we can, always looking at ways we can add value. I don’t ever turn off.”

Patt Schwab, principal of FUNdamentally Speaking, Inc., and a former university administrator, countered that opinion, urging Johnston and conference attendees to “turn off” a few times a week and to “pause” intentionally. “We’re swept up in a whitewater environment. Dramatic, rapid change creates a lot of stress and is here to stay,” Schwab said. “Give yourself the gift of a little assimilation time….The pauses between the notes are where the art resides. If not for pauses, there would be no music. If you don’t pause, nothing worthwhile will catch up with you.”

While Schwab encouraged business officers to think about and to savor their accomplishments, she acknowledged current realities: “Everyone always says that things will settle down and get back to normal. Normal is a myth. It’s a setting on a washing machine. That’s the only place you’re going to find normal today.”

Schwab pointed out that humor plays an important role in building competence. “Humor lifts a problem so you can think about it more analytically,” she said.

Live Your Values

Morris W. Beverage, Jr., president of Lakeland Community College, Kirkland, Ohio, examined a topic that people often only think about during the pauses that Schwab suggested: ethics. Beverage walked attendees through several exercises that illustrated how some decisions involve choosing between two options that may be equally correct. “We are forced to make right versus right choices. We are choosing between our top values,” Beverage said. “If we aren’t diligent in understanding our values, one day we may wake up and find that we are living someone else’s values.”

Shifting to the topic of institutional values and performance, John Walda, president and chief executive officer of NACUBO, analyzed the good and the bad of the final report of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, known informally as the Spellings Commission Report. Walda informed attendees that NACUBO is taking a two-pronged approach to the report’s findings: 1) educating members about the report and the reaction on Capitol Hill, and 2) participating in any way possible in the federal government’s process of enacting the report’s findings.

“A lot of what is critical about higher education in the report is accurate,” Walda said. “We want to be the ones to remedy the problems.”

Responding to the Younger Generation

Jean M. Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University and author of the book Generation Me, gave attendees tools to solve problems with Generation X and Y students. She shared her research about those born between 1970 and 1988—all of whom were raised to believe that everyone should have high self-esteem.

According to Twenge, some outcomes of this “all about me” focus include poor relationship skills, risk-taking and sensation-seeking behavior, materialism, a sense of entitlement, aggression and anger, inflated goals and high expectations, attention seeking, and anxiety and depression.

Twenge also observed that “Generation Me” students show a lack of respect for authority, are not willing to accept blame, do not take criticism well, and ask professors and student financial services professionals to make exceptions for them. “They say, ‘Where’s my A? I asked for an A. I ordered it with my cashmere sweater,’” Twenge said, only half in jest.

Twenge advised attendees to empathize but not to give in. She also pointed out some trends for the future: students expect technology in classroom facilities; students want more collaborative learning experiences; parents are more involved; and college is being viewed as a purchase or commodity.

DONNA KLINGER is director of publications at NACUBO.