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Collaboration Brings Students, Schools Closer Together

Lansing Community College

As with Cal Poly, looking ahead at the big picture drove the move to new collaborative software at Lansing State Community College.

Lansing, just an hour outside Detroit, wanted to save money by consolidating and simplifying its systems. A quick move and immediate savings characterized the school’s move to Oracle Collaboration Suite. Lansing immediately cut direct IT costs by $600,000 a year by consolidating its infrastructure.

CIO Glenn Cerny says the school also wanted to enhance the quality of its data, and allow different aspects of the school to work together. Whatever software choices the school made needed to drive its strategic plan as well. That meant all decisions needed to feed into “using data more wisely, having it more accessible, and having quality data in general,” Cerny says.
The data needs were important—the school registers 20,000 students a semester, and as a community college, sees lots of turnover.

Lansing’s multiple databases in the previous system meant that collaboration between systems was impossible. “We had multiple systems, and obviously with multiple systems you’re getting multiple answers to the same question,” Cerny says. For example, Lansing had over 4,000 Access databases querying the same information but getting different results.

Now, Lansing couldn’t be more please with its solution. The integrated system means data is accessible by different people at Lansing with different needs—meaning that collaboration between various workgroups who need to share data can happen. E-mail, calendars, and files are all stored in the same database. That also makes maintenance much easier. “Integration was our key,” Cerny says. “We wanted things to be simple and integrated for the user and also simple for our staff to be able to maintain.”

As an example of how the collaboration possible with file-sharing is saving Lansing time and money, Cerny cites monthly board meetings. Documents can now be distributed electronically by pointing all attendees to a central shared document, where they can review and comment on them well before the meeting. That saves someone having to pass out paper copies by hand at the last minute, and allows comment and discussion beforehand. That kind of collaboration “has been a tremendous win for our campus,” Cerny says.

USD: Reaching Students Early and Often

At the University of San Diego, a 4,800-student private Catholic university in San Diego, the desire to make a dramatic change in how the school reaches out to prospective students was a key factor in moving to new, collaborative software. The school was looking for nothing less than “the ability to change how higher education d'es business,” says Director of Admissions Steve Pultz. After extensive research, the school selected Oracle Collaboration Suite, and is gradually implementing more and more modules.

Before moving to the Oracle system, USD was running a number of individual homemade systems on a mainframe. “We had [separate] systems for admissions, financial age, records—all sil'ed,” Pultz says. Although some of the systems were best-of-breed vendor products and did their individual jobs well, USD lacked the ability to integrate completely, to grow effectively and efficiently, and to provide an all-important Web interface.

It was what Pultz calls “just an information collection system”—very limiting in terms of growth, and not Web-compatible. Education has become “a very competitive business environment,” Pultz says, and the school wanted a system that let them apply standard business practices to areas like recruiting and student services. Prospective students and their parents are bringing a certain consumer mentality to the college selection process, Pultz says. “They’re shopping… Schools need to be out front about their message.”

USD has done that in a number of ways. First of all, Pultz says, Oracle’s software has allowed more automation of many tasks in the admissions office. Because the system is now integrated with the Internet, students can apply to USD online. Close to 70 percent of applicants took advantage of that last year, thus reducing the school’s data entry requirements by 75 to 80 percent. That efficiency is important because applications to USD have been rising steadily, and “the volume of applications was increasing faster than our ability to process them,” Pultz said.

One portion of the system, for example, Oracle’s CRM module, has allowed USD to personalize its messages to students. The school can now develop different messages based on an individual student’s needs. Someone interested in engineering, for example, can receive targeted messages focusing on USD’s engineering programs, while someone inquiring about financial aide can be reached with a specific message. “We can talk about that much earlier than we could before,” Pultz says. “We’re using a business model to target the market.”

“We’ve been able to send probably 30 percent more communication to students than before—electronically.” With the previous system, the school didn’t even have a way to capture and store students’ e-mail addresses.

In many ways, USD is ahead of the curve in its creative uses of software for truly collaborating with students. “Other schools are using CRM products for recruiting…” Pultz says. “We’re one of the few schools to implement a CRM system as a principle means of communicating with students.”

Collaboration Pushes Ahead

Despite their variety, true collaboration tools are similar in that they make it seem to users that they’re working together. Sharing thoughts, notes, and documents becomes much easier, including outside the classroom, as Lansing Community College has discovered. Good collaboration products make it possible for schools to manage complex data far more effectively and to share communication with incoming students, as the University of San Diego is doing. And at Cal Poly, the software system will soon allow students to access e-mail and share documents using wireless devices virtually anywhere.

For colleges and universities, those sorts of tools are becoming more efficient, effective and relevant in today’s high-tech world. Changes in how universities are managed, and in the ways that students select a school, are pushing changes in information management. As these examples show, schools that are embrace collaboration technologies will find themselves better able to let students connect inside and outside the classroom. That can help make information sharing seem almost natural—the way it should be.

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