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Emerging Technology

Enterprise Content Management at Work

Oklahoma Christian University simplifies its processes with ECM.

In 2012, President Obama put colleges and universities on notice: “If you can’t stop tuition from going up,” he said, “the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.”

This August, the president proposed that federal aid be connected to two key factors: graduation rates and institutional efficiency.

Congressional approval is required to turn President Obama’s proposal into legislation. But if it does pass, colleges and universities will face greater scrutiny. Much of this attention will be directed at student financial aid departments, compelling them to become more efficient, accountable and transparent.

In this regard, the financial aid department at Oklahoma Christian University (OC) in Edmond can serve as a model for other colleges and universities.

Technology at OC

The university has been a national leader in campus mobile computing since 2001, when it issued laptops to all students and became the first completely wireless campus in the state. In 2008, it added smartphones to its mobile computing program and deployed a polling application that allows faculty members to receive instant feedback on how well students are grasping information.

Despite the school’s leadership in harnessing technology for educational purposes, its administrative departments were “behind the curve,” says John Hermes, vice president of Information Technology at OC.

“The irony is,” he adds, “that we were a very digital campus, yet very analog in our administrative processes.”

The financial aid process was a prime example of this outdated, “analog” approach. Students were forced to submit financial aid forms to Student Financial Services via paper mail, and then wait for those forms to be manually processed before they were mailed back. Misplaced paper files slowed responses to students and undercut the university’s competitive edge.

“Customer service issues were very apparent when we evaluated the existing system,” says Hermes.

Realizing that the department needed to move into the 21st century by giving students the ability to submit and receive forms via the web, OC’s director of Student Financial Services, Clint LaRue, collaborated with Hermes to use technology to improve the department’s efficiency and responsiveness.

A Solution for Financial Services

Together, LaRue and Hermes decided to roll out enterprise content management (ECM) software, which enables organizations to capture, manage and securely store everything from scanned paper documents to Web forms, audio-visual files, emails and more. It also automates the document-driven tasks that keep colleges and universities running.

With ECM in place, students can log into the school’s online portal and electronically complete, sign and submit financial aid documents. The ECM system automatically classifies the documents, routing them to the appropriate financial aid officer for review.

Once the documents have been reviewed, financial aid status is updated in real time. Staff can also upload documents and forms to the online portal, making it faster and easier to communicate with students.

“Today, financial aid counselors can respond immediately to students who inquire about their financial aid status by pulling up their entire file right from their desktops. Students may easily submit information electronically, reducing incoming mail from all over the world and saving OC $31,000 in paper, mailing and storage costs a year,” observes Hermes.

Controlling costs in this fashion will help OC keep tuition rates in check. Equally important, however, is the increased visibility that ECM has given department leaders into the way this is completed — increasing efficiency, transparency and accountability.

A Wider Implementation

For OC, implementing ECM in Student Financial Services was just the beginning. Hermes and his team started with a small pilot project to prove the value of the technology before implementing it in the admissions and accounting departments. Ultimately, Hermes envisions a campus-wide rollout.

By providing a centrally supported ECM system for the entire university, OC will be able to optimize resources, control costs and boost efficiency by:

  • Leveraging economies of scale rather than purchasing hardware and software at the department level,
  • eliminating redundant systems and
  • making it easier to share documents and workflows between schools and departments.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Linda Ding is an education program strategist for Laserfiche (www.laserfiche.com).

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