Doing Your Financial Business Better

Jen McMahonVice President and Senior ConsultantAugust 11, 2022

Co-authored by Aaron Basko, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services, University of Lynchburg

Blog: Doing University Financial Business Better
Improving processes, practices, communication, and teamwork can save your institution millions.

Whether they are trying to grow or to right-size by tightening their belts, institutions need more revenue. What if you could find that revenue without any additional investment in new staff or technology platforms? What if you could get it without taking the risk of launching new programs? What if you could pump up your revenue just by doing the financial side of your business better?

As at many smaller universities, the financial processes at the University of Lynchburg had some room for improvement, especially regarding the student journey. There were missteps in structure and process. There were also policies and procedures that had been in place for a long time and no longer matched the way that current students and their families wanted to do business. The result of all this was late billing, high levels of student non-payment, and a lot of frustrated phone calls.

Aaron Basko
Aaron Basko

That’s why Aaron Basko, the University of Lynchburg’s new associate vice president for enrollment services, partnered with me and RNL to examine the student financial journey at the university and evaluate missed opportunities to improve both the bottom line and student satisfaction.

In working with Aaron and the university, I made two-day visits to campus to meet with all the key players: financial aid, student accounts, admissions, the registrar’s office, billing. I asked questions to get at what students were experiencing and the places that the university’s processes seemed to be breaking down. This also helped us win the confidence of staff to share the things they knew could be better.

Improving processes and practices can save institutions millions of dollars

The deep dive paid off. Working with staff, Aaron and I were able to identify over $600,000 in savings the university could realize just by improving their processes. Here were a few key things we accomplished:

  • Identifying better ways to use state and federal funding.
  • Creating proactive communications to help the University guide students through processes
  • Resetting policies that were costing the institution unnecessarily.
  • Correcting mistakes in financial aid strategy and packaging that saved an additional $500,000 per year.

Aaron says that these improvements and savings go beyond financials and to the heart of what the university does. “Those are big windfalls to an institution like Lynchburg, but this is also about mission. The university differentiates itself based on three things: academic excellence based on strong experiential learning opportunities, our terrific location in a small city at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and our intentional efforts to help students become, not just better students, but better people. We have a giant LOVE sign in the middle of our campus, and all of our branding and values statements talk about teaching students how to make an impact. If we are going to teach them how to make the world a better place, we need to model excellence and service to others in the way we treat students.”

My experience with the University of Lynchburg is not unusual. I love helping institutions work through their financial processes because the payoff is so large. It is not uncommon for a university to find out it has been giving away a million dollars or more for no good reason other than poor practices. Offices like Student Accounts, the Registrar, and Financial need to develop a sense of mission about what they are doing. They often need to rework how they communicate and what they communicate, and they need to have a clear plan for what happens when students don’t follow through. If they plug those holes, they suddenly find themselves hitting their goals.

The gift that keeps on giving

Aaron’s team now leads bi-weekly meetings of directors from all of the core service areas of campus to problem solve service issues together. He’s amazed by how much can get done by getting the right people in the room and asking the right questions. The changes they have made are impacting this incoming class, as the University of Lynchburg’s yield on incoming students has increased by 2.5 percent. Its class size is up 23 percent, and its summer melt is roughly half what it was last year.

“We can’t wait to see what effect improved services might have on our retention as well,” Aaron says. “It is like the gift that keeps on giving.”

My work is a new direction for services at RNL that look at student financial and support services holistically, rather than as discreet pieces. You cannot separate these offices—they are too dependent on each other. A change in one causes a ripple in the others. You have to examine the system as a whole to see where it is not working. You have to look at the financial journey that students are taking. When you make the path smoother at all stages—that’s when the magic really happens.

How can we help you better serve your students and gain more revenue?

My colleagues and I help institutions of every size and mission make these kinds of improvements that help campuses better fulfill their mission to students and make the most out of their resources. We can help you, too. Reach out and we’ll set up a time to talk with you about your challenges, goals, and possible solutions.

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Let’s talk about how you can find the optimal strategies for digital marketing, inquiry management, financial aid awarding, optimizing yield, and other key actions.

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About the Author

Jen McMahon

As a vice president and senior consultant for RNL Advanced FinAid Solutions, Jen McMahon brings more than 15 years of experience in higher education. Her areas of expertise include financial aid, undergraduate admissions, graduate admissions,...

Read more about Jen's experience and expertise

Reach Jen by e-mail at Jen.McMahon@RuffaloNL.com.

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