An Oracle blog about Education and Research

Innovating in Higher Education When the Budget Drops Out

Joyce Kim
Product Manager

As higher education institutions enter the fall semester, they are encumbered by a series of financial constraints, exacerbated by the loss of spring and summer revenue, budget cuts, declining enrollments, and heavy expenditures on COVID-related campus safety measures.  Yet despite – or rather, because of – all these issues, funding long-term projects to support institutional sustainability and future growth is more critical than ever. How do schools build the bridge?

To explore these issues, Oracle hosted the second virtual panel discussion, “Innovating in Higher Education When the Budget Drops Out,” in our Building Resiliency series in September 2020. Diane Goddard, CFO of the University of Kansas, Randall Melton, CIO of Spring Arbor University, and Dwane Sterling, CTO of Skidmore College, spoke with Oracle’s VP of Product Management, Nicole Engelbert, about how their schools are managing current financial uncertainties and using technology to support future innovation.

While the schools they represent – a public Research I institution, a private faith-based school with both a traditional and an online campus, and a liberal arts college – are very different in size and mission, all three leaders stressed that technology will play a fundamental role in their institutional sustainability and innovation.

“When it comes to reimagining or strengthening a university, technology is always key to that,” Diane Goddard, CFO, University of Kansas

Sterling recommends having a flexible, solution-oriented attitude when it comes to working across departments to build credibility and support for IT initiatives, based off of three tenets of leadership, guidance, and support. “It’s easy for us on the technology side to get wrapped up in [a negative] mentality of saying no and listing limitations,” Sterling says. “People are going to be asking [us] for crazy things we likely cannot do, but let’s challenge ourselves one step further to present to them a number of options of things that we can do.” In doing so, he says that IT can “be the glue that binds [an institution’s] leadership team,” winning support for technology initiatives and helping the overall institution move forward.

Spring Arbor University recently signed a full-suite Oracle deal to implement Oracle Cloud ERP, HCM, EPM, CX, and Student Cloud. While some customers might be skittish about currently pursuing an extensive technology implementation project, Melton says that the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of sophisticated technology that can support remote working and automated processes. The school had been on a legacy platform for nearly three decades, and the school suffered from its systems’ deficiencies, alongside business process- and policy-related debt. “Our financial aid packaging for our online students was managed by spreadsheets. You can imagine the pain point of that!” Melton says. “This whole enablement of the Oracle technology stack and services is going to enable us to reframe our business” to pursue efficiencies and automation when necessary, in the hopes of allocating more resources to build relationships with students. And while a cloud adoption implementation is expensive, Spring Arbor’s team projected its costs against a long-term ROI of twenty years, and found that moving to SaaS is a “real easy win” that will result in cost efficiencies. In fact, Spring Arbor is already realizing savings.

“The total cost of ownership and ongoing operational costs [of running Oracle Higher Education Cloud] went down…We’re running about 14% lower than what we were paying before.” Randall Melton, CIO, Spring Arbor University

Preparing to move away from customizations in an on-premises system is an important element of a cloud transformation project. The University of Kansas moved from PeopleSoft Financials to Oracle ERP Cloud in December 2017, and experienced that pain first hand. Goddard says that with PeopleSoft Financials, “our focus [had been] on making the system as comfortable as possible for the end users, which created…tens of thousands of customizations” in PeopleSoft over time. Moving to ERP Cloud has enabled the university to adhere to standardized businesses practices and ensure that their system is always current.

“People think if we’re not doing customizations, we’re less versatile. But that’s not the case. The versatility an institution may get just from the system being up to date is incredible.” Dwane Sterling, CTO, Skidmore College

The University of Kansas has reaped the benefits that come with outsourcing the responsibility of systems maintenance to the vendor. “I didn’t want to be known as the university that had the best payables system in the world. Everyone pays bills!” Goddard jokes. “I want [KU] to be known for the kind of innovation we could provide our researchers and our faculty. [Oracle Cloud ERP] allows us to pivot [our] resources to thinking about new and exciting ways to support what the university really needs to be delivering: teaching technology, research technology, and all of those things that really differentiate us from every other university in the world.”

To hear more from these leaders about how they measure business efficiencies and support change management, click here to access the recording.  And to learn more about how other institutions are overcoming their own financial and personnel challenges, click here for a series of Oracle-sponsored case studies, articles, and surveys from Inside Higher Ed.


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