Outsourcing, Insourcing... and Everything in Between

Outsourcing, Insourcing... and Everything in Between

So, it's another Thursday night for multi-tasking students shuffling into the campus cyber cafe. This new generation of aspiring students are plugging into Facebook, Twitter, and, importantly, student activities portals?pumping out concert tickets, premium movie seats, and gourmet pizzas?critical nourishment for burning the midnight oil for spring semester cram sessions.

As we gaze over the cyber cafe, we observe a score of students sipping non-fat lattes, reading Kindles, processing online cues for homework helpers and self-paced tutorials, and watching eight-minute video blogs and virtual cliff notes from their mobile phones.

Looking at next fall's entering freshmen enrollment pool, chances are their online inquiry has triggered a personalized text message within five minutes, and a personal follow-up telephone call within 24 hours—letting them know that their college of choice is willing and able to facilitate a smooth admissions path. Indeed, today's virtual admissions office offers a range of services beyond recruitment, including career counseling, individualized learning assessment, class placement and academic advising and, significantly, financial aid and course registration.

Anyone who has recently navigated the student admission process knows that behind the voice is a well-oiled enrollment marketing enterprise that invites a one-stop admissions process, supported by 24/7 call centers and direct mail fulfillment. What is really amazing is that behind the scenes, this complex mix of student services delivered to an East Coast campus is being orchestrated by a 20-something outsourced admission pro on the west coast who can relate to next generation students.

There was a time when the only outsourcing colleges were comfortable with centered on bookstores, cafeterias, security, maintenance, and a few auxiliary services. Clearly, times have changed. Anyone who has recently navigated the student admission process knows that behind the voice is a well-oiled enrollment marketing enterprise that invites a one-stop admissions process, supported by 24/7 call centers and direct mail fulfillment.

Today, nine out of 10 colleges are outsourcing a broad variety of non-academic functions including recruitment, admissions, financial aid, and, impressively, creating virtual communities of distance learners connected through laptops, PDAs, and, increasingly, mobile communication devices. These same students have increasingly accessed distributed student services for three simple reasons—convenience, timeliness, and interactive communication—read as engagement.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive for our generation, these millennial students find satisfaction in instantaneous recognition, feedback, and advisement. Unlike their older brothers and sisters, these students are seemingly intolerant of commuting, parking, and waiting in line for class registration. Instead, they want a virtual, convenient one-stop admissions, enrollment, and student support experience, delivered through the wonders of digital connections with the campus of their choice.

Beyond convenience and timeliness, today's students want a customized, real-time interface with other students, faculty, and staff. With increasing applications and decreasing resources, higher education institutions have new technology choices. Unlike previous outsourcing, these services can now be distributed anywhere in the world and appear transparent to the student via mobile phone, text message, or real-time chat rooms.

John Hall, CEO of Greenwood & Hall, a California-based relationship management solutions provider, says, "The right outsourcing relationship may generate cost savings but more importantly it will create positive returns. Examples of those returns might be significant increases in student recruitment, more automation, financial aid efficiencies, better retention rates, higher levels of student satisfaction, lower default rates, or greater alumni involvement."

James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.


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