Article

Enhancing student experience and support through shared services

Colleges and universities face increased pressure from public and government leaders to “prove” the value of higher education and provide student centric, cost effective operations and delivery models. More frequently, colleges and universities are turning to a shared services approach in response to fiscal pressures, increased demands for compelling academic programs and the higher levels of support services required to meet increasing student academic and mental health needs. Shared services models can enhance more than quality service to students; it can allow institutions to potentially redirect resources to student-facing activities.

What are shared services?

Shared services present the centralized delivery of core activities (i.e., typically institutional support services) used by multiple departments within the same institution or between institutions.

Institutions that implement effective shared service approaches have reaped the benefits of enhanced program and service quality, as well as the ability to ensure consistent approaches and levels of expertise. Additionally, shared services allow institutions to improve operational productivity and prioritize resources for mission-oriented or strategic activities. Specifically, as a result of successful shared services implementations, many institutions realize the benefit of being able to reinvest and allocate resources to enhance student support, improve the student experience and ultimately, increase academic success.

To be successful, shared services adoption should follow key principles that align with an institution’s mission and directly impact student success.

Models of shared service delivery

Consolidated
Services are housed within a service delivery organization and governed by a common leader.

Center of excellence
Each shared services activity is housed at a single institution or department that has been defined as a center of excellence.

Centralized oversight and direction
An umbrella organization provides policy direction and a common governance structure.

Transaction processing
Transaction processing occurs at functionally-based transaction processing centers.

Providing students with impactful and responsive services

Rigorous self-appraisal of service delivery approaches is vital to staying competitive in all industries – and now more than ever in higher education as it relates to student responsiveness. Delivering a positive customer experience has been a long-standing priority for corporate service functions as service quality and immediate response are necessary for customer loyalty and satisfaction. The new norm involves 24/7 support access and the use of technological advances (e.g., online chatbots and artificial intelligence) to respond to inquiries. So what does this mean for college and university settings?

As support needs become increasingly complex, current student support approaches may no longer be sufficient to meet student expectations and respond to spoken or unspoken needs relating to academic success and campus experience. Students are accustomed to the response times and the overall service quality they receive from corporate providers. As a result, students approach institutional support functions with similar expectations and can become frustrated by what they perceive to be inefficient systems and processes lacking modern service quality.

Predictive analytics, enhanced advising and health-related compliance are just a few of the student supports requiring expertise and resource investments that may not be possible at a department or individual institution level. Shared services for more sophisticated student support offer institutions one way to stay ahead of ever-changing needs and requirements.

Specifically, the adoption of student support-related shared services can help institutions ensure equal access to expertise and allow flexibility in accommodating increased workload. This can be important in addressing recurring noncompliance or high customer service complaint situations.

In short, shared services can offer enhanced responsiveness and expertise, which can equate to improved student experience and success.

 

 

Shared services can positively impact operations in areas such as:
  • Accounts payable
  • Cybersecurity
  • Financial reporting
  • Gifts processing
  • Institutional research
  • IT contracts and licenses
  • IT helpdesk
  • Online programs support
  • Payroll processing
  • Student accounts
  • Study abroad support

It is often believed that shared services brings with it cost savings, which may or may not be the desired outcome. The single most important benefit from shared services is the ability of an institution to assertively consider opportunities for collaboration across all forms of institutional support with the goal of strategically aligning resources to top priorities. These priorities might be articulated within an institution, between institutions or with third-party collaborators. What matters most is that all involved are crystal clear of the desired outcomes and benefits to be achieved. 

Once the key principles and specific outcomes have been agreed to, rules of engagement in the form of Service Level Agreements are a critical mechanism to ensure that the customers of the shared services receive what they deem to be responsive service. Having a way to evaluate if the service is meeting expectations is important to establish upfront, so that all involved parties receive positive benefits from this new model of service delivery. It is important to note that, especially in the area of student support shared services, service metrics and targets will vary considerably across service areas (i.e., core infrastructure areas might focus primarily on short term metrics such as cycle time, whereas, advising services may be looking for longer term performance indicators.)  

The shared services delivery model can serve as a catalyst for higher education institutions to refocus resources and better serve their students and support faculty and staff. However, setting up shared services operations is complex and requires a collaborative environment with intentional decisions and agreement from senior leaders across the institution(s). Colleges and universities that effectively develop a road map to govern and manage shared services implementation and operations are able to realize the true value of shared services. However, absent an intentional plan for the design, execution and evaluation of shared services, institutions may not realize the full benefits that come with the ability to reinvest efforts and resources in support of mission-critical initiatives, including those tied to student success.

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