May 9, 2017
By Bhushan Kulkarni
Use Technology to Bolster Retention
Universities have four primary financial income sources: student tuition, research funding, athletic departments and alumni donations. The higher education industry is in a state of flux with a record high number of students entering universities, but the 6-year graduation rates of these students is struggling at 58 percent for public universities, which impacts the first two sources of income.
Research is core to the mission of any university, as it is a critical tool to retain students and improve graduation rates. But research is an expensive proposition. So, as resources for higher education become more limited, and as competition for research dollars becomes more intense, research offices will be asked to enhance research capacity while holding down costs and freeing up faculty time.
Furthermore, as institutions both public and private look to cut or constrain costs, research and research offices continue to be something of an anomaly. As those of us who work on the inside know, externally funded university research is, at least in the strict accounting terms of dollars in and dollars out, a money loser. The cost of conducting the research that is paid for by external sponsors invariably exceeds the funds provided to support it.
This is because the funders do not pay sufficient funds to cover the physical space and overhead costs. Physical space related payments are underestimated at least by 20 percent. The second portion of payment is 26 cents for every dollar of direct research support — an amount far below the true costs, which are on the rise due to increased federal mandates and administration costs.
The upshot of these circumstances for research offices is that nobody has time to waste. However, this is not a straightforward call for efficiency. Efficiency is too simple a calculation for what is needed. Research offices must work in ways that add value to institutional efforts to improve knowledge transmission, creation, and mobilization. The introduction of technology to streamline operations is key to successfully dealing with shrinking budgets. Some technologies can streamline operations by up to 95 percent of the original tasks.
Technology solutions can also be used for more than streamlining operations. Consider engagement opportunities designed to increase student success. As new students are becoming ever more technology savvy, academic offices should leverage technology solutions to present research and other opportunities designed to engage and retain students.
Despite a plethora of opportunities, schools lack an efficient, technologic solution to place these opportunities at the student’s fingertips. Instead, students gain awareness primarily through word of mouth, which simply isn’t sufficient.
Technology can’t solve all of the problems, but it can solve some of the problems. By introducing strategic technology, universities can improve their institution’s return on those investments resulting in more cost-effective research. They can drive awareness. Those factors will ultimately impact a university’s reputation and increase student retention rates.