Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

Making the Grade: 3 Reasons Community Colleges Need Cloud ERP

Guest Author

by Joe Burkhart and John Loera

Pop quiz:  How do you define student success? If you’re a finance officer at a community college, you know that’s a tricky question. That’s because the majority of states are changing their funding incentives from a system based on enrollment numbers to one that’s tied to performance.

We’re seeing many community colleges struggle to revamp their budgeting models to more accurately reflect the new paradigm. In a 2016 University Business report, 66% of college business leaders said they were not confident or only “somewhat confident” that they have access to all the data they need to make informed financial or business decisions for their institution.

For community colleges, the problem may be even more complex because you often face challenges that aren’t as common at traditional four-year schools. For example, your student population may have diverse needs, with many students attending part time or simply wanting to complete a single career-development course.

Meanwhile, students increasingly expect a personalized digital experience that often mirrors their interaction with consumer sites, such as retail shopping sites or Netflix. These factors combined mean your community college needs to consider a smarter approach to analyzing financial information and demand patterns to succeed now and in the future.

By moving your ERP system to the cloud, you can focus on delivering more value to students. During our session at this week's Community College Business Officers annual conference in Orlando, we will discuss three key ways cloud-based ERP can transform higher education.

#1: More Precise Accounting of Program Financials

You need tools that provide insight into your actual classroom or program costs. For instance, a course that appears to be losing money may have high retention or graduation rates, which, in turn, can increase funding. Oracle ERP Cloud and EPM Cloud include a set of tools that provide analytical information to help administrators tie the cost of education to their strategic plans. So you may discover that a course is losing money but has positive student outcomes, making it worth additional investments. Essentially, you can calculate a profit and loss statement for a program or course with a breakdown of key attributes, including the time of day the course is offered, location and modality (online, blended learning, on-site, etc.). You also can use information generated from the EPM tool to conduct predictive analytics on which courses will have higher success rates on a per-student basis.

#2: Planning and Budgeting for Flexible Learning

Students today may have significantly different goals and expectations than in years past, particularly at community colleges; the canned associate’s degree may not be appropriate for every student. For instance, many students want to build their own curriculums so they can pursue their immediate career interests. You need technologies that allow you to deliver highly flexible programs, such as ongoing open enrollment and self-paced learning, and adopt a competency-based education model.  

In a flexible learning environment, academic program cost and delivery becomes more complex. You may face new requirements for classroom space and instructor time. Cloud-based ERP solutions can help you analyze trends that answer critical questions, such as how to allocate resources more effectively, which  courses need to be delivered differently or whether you may need to merge departments.

#3: Enhance the Digital Experience With ERP Cloud  

When students explore colleges, they’re often benchmarking their experience against other websites, such as those of banks, online retailers or utilities providers, rather than benchmarking against other schools. They expect near-real-time fulfillment as well as an intuitive user experience. Community colleges face increasing competitive pressures from for-profit online universities that often have a far more frictionless process for students to enroll and take courses. A cloud-based ERP solution can offer journey-mapping tools that free up IT and finance resources while creating a more seamless admissions process for students. Administrative processes, such as registration, admissions and financial aid, are integrated and feed into each other in sequence so students flow from one process to the next with relative ease.

Finance Best Practices: Focus on Differentiation

Effective execution of each of the above scenarios helps your institution innovate and differentiate itself from competitors. Cloud-based ERP frees resources so you can invest in capabilities that deliver a highly flexible learning environment. It accomplishes this by consolidating and integrating disparate systems and standardizing and centralizing processes, and by reducing manual effort. College business leaders seem to agree, with 86% saying a cloud model is “very important to their institution’s overall IT strategy.” Reduced IT workload (52%), increased agility (52%) and reduced administrative workload (42%) were among the top ways respondents said cloud computing could benefit their organizations.

If you're at the CCBO conference this week, drop by to see us. To see how institutions are improving student outcomes with cloud technology, visit the Higher Education Resource Center.

Joe Burkhart is director of higher education at Oracle. John Loera is a senior sales consultant.


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