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Four ways universities are making tuition more affordable

by Ben Ruch
The mandate to control tuition costs is more pressing than ever, and colleges and universities are seeking to reduce the source of costs in how information is captured, managed and transformed.

Information and related technologies play a huge role in virtually every aspect of our lives today. The group for which that is most evident is among “Generation Z,” also called “Digital Natives,” today’s college students. According to Citrix1, 58% of digital native students own three or more mobile devices, and 35% of U.S. adults believe electronic assignments also drive down costs. Additionally, 46% believe using electronic textbooks helps keep costs down for students. That goal – driving down costs for students – is incredibly important to today’s university administrators.

Information and related technologies play a huge role in virtually every aspect of our lives today.

These statistics indicate that it's necessary to make information accessible where, when and how students want it; not just for convenience’s sake, but also to manage the costs students are experiencing, and, in some cases, causing them to reconsider the cost-benefit analysis of attending college altogether. As many as 40% of low-income students2 accepted to college are not showing up in the fall. Here are four of the ways colleges and universities can embrace students’ expectations to be able to capture, access and manage information efficiently and cost-effectively:

1. Digital course packs and textbooks bring crucial educational materials … everywhere. As discussed above, almost half of Americans believe electronic textbooks could help keep costs down for students. Textbooks are a huge expense for students in higher education. For example, a standard print Calculus textbook retails for more than $300. But the same book, in digital form, can cost a student as little as $50 (both at Amazon.com). Electronic textbooks and course packs also provide the added bonus of making packing for class – and studying on the go – much easier, as all one needs to access course texts is their smartphone. Learning management environments have come to serve as the nerve center of this digital content, and students need to be able to get information into and out of them. Enabling them to capture information they create and integrate it into a learning management system (LMS) isn’t just efficient – it’s an effective use of resources.

2. Breaking down information silos drives down administration costs. Paper-based processes are simply slower and less efficient than their digital counterparts. As my colleague BJ McFarland discussed, improved processes can significantly reduce costs associated with producing invoices, and even help avoid overpaying for goods and services. Silos rooted in manual processes between the different departments that touch invoices often add up to wasted hours, days, and dollars. Automating the manual steps of invoice processing to quickly scan incoming documents, capture metadata and electronically submit invoices to relevant departments for review, approval, and automatic Accounts Payable check generation can address this gridlock. Getting more work done more quickly drives down labor costs, of course, but cutting out the “middle man” of paper also drives down material costs, as well enabling colleges and universities to pass those savings on to students.

3. Let students print to and from just about anywhere, and improve chargeback while you do it. Today’s students have grown used to environments that allow them to transform information on the go. On top of that, according to a Harris Poll survey3 conducted on behalf of Ricoh, 86% of U.S. adults have come to expect colleges and universities to use the latest technologies for teaching innovations and auxiliary services – which means the parents are expecting their students to be able to print on the go, too. While a new distributed print initiative may sound like an added cost, which could in turn mean a higher price for students to pay, such systems actually encourage more accurate tracking and chargeback. Accurate tracking helps the IT department set more informed policies to drive efficiencies, and improved chargeback allows student print costs to move out of a fee bucket everyone pays, so those students who print less aren’t forced to pay more. At FIU, a fleet of modern multifunction printers (MFPs) and accompanying walk-up print kiosks were implemented to enable students to easily access and print documents on the go from a USB, mobile device or cloud storage account – then pay seamlessly via credit, campus or cash card.

Trend report

Streamlining information flow to improve admissions processes.
4. Control mailcenter costs through modernization. These days, space is at a premium on college campuses. Often, when schools look to improve services, they also look to add facilities, which can add cost, too. However, some colleges and universities are finding that by modernizing their mail processes, they’re able to reduce the real estate footprint associated with mail processing and reduce costs. Self-service kiosks and automatic email notifications of package status, combined with automated mail sorting and reconfigured mailroom layouts to accommodate the trend of high density packages have enabled Lehigh University4 to reduce the space-wasting overflow of packages.
Ben Ruch
Ben Ruch, Senior Region Manager, Higher Education for Ricoh USA, Inc., works with colleges and universities to provide Professional Services, Managed Services and Business Process Outsourcing Solutions that simplify processes, automate paper-based workflow and improve speed of information. Ruch has over 23 years of experience in the industry and expertise in production printing systems solutions and professional services solutions.
1 Citrix. "Student Mobile Workspaces: Transform the Challenges of the Mobile Campus into New Opportunities for Learning."
2 Kolodner, Meredith. The Hechinger Report. 14 August 2015
3 This survey was conducted online within the United States between August 31-September 2, 2015 among 2,053 adults (aged 18 and over) by Harris Poll on behalf of Ricoh via its Quick Query omnibus product. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
4 Linder, Matt. Internet Retailer. 11 November 2015