Rob Elliott

Can Colleges improve student management and save money?

FE providers have found themselves in quite a conundrum of late, with cuts and spending reductions on one side of the fence and the need to be competitive and thus up-to-date with new advances on the other.

As expected from a sector used to picking itself up, dusting itself off and getting on with it, response to these issues have not been passive. According to a recent survey, almost two out of three colleges are actively exploring new business models, such as shared services. After all, as Albert Einstein said: ‘In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’

At a time such as this, many colleges could still make significant efficiency savings by streamlining their internal processes and fully utilising their information systems. This can lead to improving the experience of the students as well as saving the college money.

Every college should be rigorously asking itself ’Are we getting value for money from every avenue?’ and ’Could this be improved by more effective use of our systems including student management, HR, finance and IT?’

Online

For the current and future generations of students, it’s almost unthinkable that they can’t do everything they want online – and this extends to applying to college. For example, at Bilborough College in Nottingham, 98% of their students now apply online. Rather than request a paper form, students can access a familiar online layout – similar to a shopping website – and put courses into a ‘shopping basket’. Prospective learners are then sent acknowledgement by email, letting them know their application has been safely received.

Colleges that move admission processes online often report increased recruitment success, especially if there are online payment facilities as well. For Bilborough, the main advantages include a vastly reduced amount of keying and paper consumption, quicker tracking and processing, and instant access to application numbers and statistics regarding demand for subjects.

When it comes to self-enrolment, as well as reducing queue lengths and waiting times for students, collected data can be entered only once but used many times. This improves speed, as well as accuracy, and will also give key college personnel better access to reports that will help improve decision-making.

Student Retention

Retention is another perennial problem for colleges. Apart from the severe detrimental consequences for the young person who leaves, drop-outs can seriously affect the financial health of a college. However, despite each loss representing between £5000 and £10,000 of lost funding, some drop-out rates remain as high as 20%. For a college with 10,000 students, the resulting financial loss could be as high as £1m.

A fallacy remains that the majority of students leave a course part way through as a result of external factors. While there will always be some cases outside a college’s control, research and experience have shown that good advice, discriminate programme choice, inspiring course content and teachers all make a crucial difference.

Getting the right student on the right course is a basic but essential first step. Ensuring students feel well-informed as to the requirements and parameters of the course helps manage expectations, and an online ‘self-service’ system ensures the ration of applicants to enrolments remains high.

Once a course has started, having all the information in a single, accessible system means attendance patterns and achievement can be monitored, and issues can be quickly dealt with.

Technology can also help colleges take this one step further by making a student’s records available for them to see as well. This can help motivate and engage learners by helping them track their own progression, and by extension help encourage them to fulfil their potential.

Ultimately, it’s a win-win situation. FE providers can use tools they may already have to simplify administration processes, improve student management and cut costs, rather than corners.

For more information on these areas, please download a copy of Capita’s white paper The Vice Principal’s Guide to Efficiency: How technology can help cut costs for FE colleges from www.capita-fhe.co.uk/whitepaper

Rob Elliot is Product Manager for Capita’s further and higher education business. Follow Rob on @capitafhe

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