Retired Action Project 11

Identifying Financial Efficiencies

Project Goal:

This project will attempt to identify and eliminate financial inefficiencies in college operations. We envision this project having many phases; however, this Phase I project will focus only on the college's tuition payment system. A corollary goal for this phase is to create a system for identifying benchmark indicators of progress in any AQIP Project that can be used campus-wide.

Reasons For Project:

It has been proven that efficient business operations translate into better experiences for students and administrators. Redundancy of data entry into multiple systems and screens combined with manual processes make many of our business processes tremendously inefficient. Further these cumbersome processes are inhibiting our ability to offer complete online services for our students who are online only. The tuition payment system is a good candidate for this project because it will undergo significant changes as the college changes to the semester system, as well as toward fully online degree offerings. It has been identified as one of the most immediate priorities for the Business Office at this time. As the system is being redesigned, methods for determining useful indicators of measurable outcomes will have to be devised. This proposed AQIP project will capture those methods so that the indicators can be used for continuous improvement in the tuition system and the methods for determining the indicators can be documented and made portable, for use across the college.

Organizational Areas Affected:

This project will directly affect the Business Office at WSCC and its services to the college community. Since the Business Office serves all departments of the college, the project could potentially affect every department. We anticipate the greatest impact to be to the Financial Aid Office, Records Office, Outreach Services and related grant funded programs, Bookstore, Human Resources Department and Child Development Center.

Key Organizational Process(es):

 The tuition payment system will be the focus of this project; however, the scope is broadly conceived to transfer to any other college process. The tuition payment system was chosen because it is an immediate need.

This project is limited in scope to lead to phase 1 of the Deming Cycle, "Plan."

Phase 1a. To map the tuition payment process currently in place.

Phase 1b. To identify benchmarks that can be used to assess the efficiency of the current tuition payment process.

Phase 1b1. To document the process used to identify benchmarks.

Phase 1c. To design changes to the process that can be expected to increase efficiency, as measured by the identified benchmarks.

Phase 1c1. To formalize the documentation created in Phase 1b1 so that other AQIP Projects can use it as a resource for identifying their own measurable benchmarks.

SUBSEQUENT PHASES

The next phase in the Deming Cycle, "Do", will include the implementation of changes designed in Phase 1. After the changes are implemented, they will be monitored using the benchmarks identified in Phase 1 (Deming Cycle, "Act"). The final phase will be to determine if the changes have actually impacted the tuition payment process, and if so, how (Deming Cycle, "Check").

When all four parts of the Deming Cycle are in place, the process can be repeated on a regular basis to continually improve efficiency.

Project Time Frame Rationale:

The project will kick off during fall quarter 2011. Changes in the tuition payment process must be in place no later than the end of May 2012. Members of this AQIP team will continually monitor that project, searching for the best measurable indicators of change. The team will complete a final written design of their methodology for use by the entire college, and present it to the Continuous Improvement Team no later than mid-July 2012.

Project Success Monitoring:

Progress reports will be published via frequent updates to the project site on Sharepoint as well as direct email to stakeholders. More specific goals and strategies will be published as they are developed, and stakeholder feedback will be invited throughout the project.

Project Outcome Measures:

ACTION PLAN, PHASE 1

  • The Chief Financial Officer will assemble a team to monitor the tuition payment system changeover
  • a member of the team will keep detailed records of all team activities and conclusions
  • at least one member of the team will be someone who was trained in process mapping during the Process Mapping Action Project
  • the team will produce a process map of the tuition payment system
  • the team will find places in the process where significant measurable indicators are produced
  • the team will gather test data from those indicators to find out if they are in fact the best indicators of change in the system under study
  • the team will alter their selection as necessary, guided by their findings
    • the definition of “best” indicators and how to select them will be at issue
    • the team will document each attempt to determine those indicators, and the results
    • the team will identify the most efficient methods for selecting the most useful indicators of change in any project
    • the team will design changes to the tuition payment process that can be expected to improve efficiency and prepare the system for the semester changeover and online degree offerings
    • the team will prepare a summary of their activities
      • these will include guidelines and instructions that can be used by other Continuous Improvement projects for selecting best indicators
      • this Phase of the project will conclude when the summary and guidelines presented to the AQIP Continuous Improvement Team

This team will then disband, and other will be formed to move to Phase 2.

Annual Update - Project Accomplishments and Status

The project was stalled due to changes in a significant number of personnel in the business office and the conversion from quarters to semesters. We now have a new controller who will be instrumental in moving the action project forward and have a revised goal of completion of 7/31/13.

Institution Involvement

The team will be reassembled to include Financial Aid, Records office, outreach and grant-funded programs, bookstore, HR, and the Child Development Center.

Next Steps

We will reassemble the Action Team and re-launch the project.

Resulting Effective Practices

We intend to identify and pilot what we believe will be effective practices later this fall. At this time, we have not identified specific effective practices.

Project Challenges

The main challenge to beginning this action project has been the turnover in the business office having lost the accounts receivable, accounts payable, and accountant, which has required the Controller and CFO to be involved in the hands on, day-to-day operations of the business office. Additionally, the College converted from Quarters to Semesters, which required an immense amount of time in changing the systems and processes necessary to continue serving students. We were unable to dedicate the requisite amount of time to push this Action Project forward.

Reason for completion

We believe it is time to close this Action Project as we have put into place a process to address our tuition payment plan. The activities at the College will be ongoing as we continue to monitor and improve this process. I have included a summary of this Action Project and our results to date.

The current tuition payment process is mapped and described herein in narrative form.

Once students register for classes, either online or in person at the Records Office, the tuition and fee charges are read from several tables within our Datatel ERP system and applied as a total to their account in real time. Students receive their registration statement detailing their classes with an account summary. All registration transactions are accumulated into a systematic queue for batch processing and posting to the general ledger the following morning.

Students can arrive at the Business Office to make a payment on their account, set up a payment plan, or inquire how much of the balance their financial aid, scholarships and/or agency payments will cover. Financial aid and any scholarship awards post to the students' accounts after the end of the third week of the term. Following verification of attendance, agencies paying tuition and fees on behalf of students are billed and any types of financial aid assistance are posted to their accounts by the end of the fourth week of the term. Any student with a balance due to the College after financial aid, scholarships, and agency payments are applied is sent a bill of the balance due and a "hold" is placed on that account and statement is mailed. This "hold" prevents the student from further activity (registration, transcripts, etc.) until it is removed.

Payment plans are set up on any balance due after the application of financial aid, scholarships, and/or agency billings. The plans consist of four equal payments (three for the summer term), not to exceed a 90 day period, plus an additional $25 set up fee assessed at the inception of the plan.

If students wish to pay their entire balance in full or make a payment against a payment plan, they can do so at the Business Office or online through their WebAdvisor account. If students are late making a payment on a plan a $25 late fee is assessed and posted to their account. Any student with a balance 30 days past the end of a semester are submitted to the State of Ohio Attorney General's office for collection. At this point, a specific "hold" is placed on the student's account and the College can no longer accept any payment on it as the student is required to make arrangements and payments to the Attorney General. Additionally, the student's WebAdvisor is deactivated to prevent online payments directly to the College. As students make payments to the Attorney General, they are remitted to the College and applied against the delinquent balance on their account. Once the balance is paid in full and received from the Attorney General, the "hold" is removed and students are then considered to be in a "current" status.

Success Factors

The process changes have facilitated our regularly monitoring student accounts, especially aged receivables, reducing our time to submit records to the Attorney General. Communication has increased between our Business, Records, and Financial Aid offices, resulting in increased interdepartmental efficiencies such as reduced time to respond to students.

Unsuccessful Factors

Currently, students must be physically present to set up payment plans online. This creates significant inconveniences for students and has a negative impact on Business Office operations.

The next steps are as follows:

  • Identify significant areas of improvement to establish online payment plans for students with limited mobility or who enroll in online courses only. This process will involve members of the MIS department.
  • Develop benchmarks to include a trending analysis of student accounts receivable to enrollment numbers and analysis of delinquent accounts receivable submitted to the Attorney General to determine collectability ratios.
  • Formalize documentation and implementation efficiency yielding outcomes and design appropriate monitoring activities to ensure that the institution is receiving payments in the most timely and efficient manner possible while maintaining student support focused service.

The major challenge in achieving the desired outcomes of this project is mainly related to Datatel ERP programming issues.

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