This is the second of a two-part series highlighting how Tennessee State University is innovating their financial processes to deliver better student financial experiences and outcomes. Read part one, “Payment plans, automation are helping Tennessee State meet the needs of its largest class ever.”
At Tennessee State, strong IT and finance collaboration is proving to be the dynamic duo in busting silos across campus, bringing departments together, and driving better student financial success.
At a time when one of the top reasons students do not matriculate and end up having to leave school is financial, that’s critical. While student financial issues often land on the bursar’s desk, the IT department has a window into many departments across campus and can help make a difference. Together, these departments can facilitate relationships, build consensus, and drive scalable, more sustainable solutions to help address one of the most challenging issues in higher education.
Capri Harston, Bursar at Tennessee State and CIO Sterlin Sanders are at the forefront of prioritizing IT and finance collaboration, and building ties across campus at the Nashville-based public institution and HBCU.
“There’s power in each of our departments knowing what the other is doing in the combined financial success of students,” Harston said. “Together, we’re going to be able to bring our students things we’ve never had before on this campus.”
In a conversation facilitated by Charmaine Daniels, who manages Flywire’s deployment consulting practice, Harston and Sanders recently shared real advice on how they are driving cross-campus collaboration on a recent Flywire “Embracing change: Tips & tools for enhancing IT & finance collaboration” webinar.
At institutions across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, the IT department is collaborating more with other departments, recent Flywire research showed. A full 98% of the 200+ IT professionals surveyed said they are definitely or probably brought into discussions around technology early enough. Facilitating better communication between stakeholders is one of the ways IT leaders see their roles changing in the future.
At Tennessee State, they’re building strong relationships not only across IT and finance, but across campus. Here are 7 tips to help pave the way for better collaboration that drives big changes in the student financial experience:
- Identify and meet with the department heads that impact the bursar’s office the most – and build a dedicated student financial success team. Harston recommends picking the top five stakeholders that your team interacts with the most or who have the greatest impact on the jobs you do on a regular basis. At Tennessee State, she frequently meets with the director of financial aid, the records office, academic affairs and parking services – teams who impact A/R – and ensures close IT collaboration.
Harston also recently launched a student financial success team at Tennessee State. This team includes admissions, enrollment management, financial aid, auxiliary services like the bookstore and student cards, and of course, IT. While the makeup may be different on every campus, she recommends meeting roughly once a month and keeping the lines of communication open
- Get out of the office and introduce yourself to campus groups. Sanders and his team make sure to put themselves where their constituents are – at faculty senate meetings, staff senate meetings, the student government association, and more. This not only helps to foster conversation, but also enables people to engage and speak up where new business is being introduced. “The persona we want to make sure we abide by in IT is that we are always available,” Sanders said
- Establish tech committees. At Tennessee State, the dean or department head appoints a few faculty or staff members to meet with IT regularly, and those people are charged with representing the needs of the entire department from a tech perspective.
- Have a weekly change management meeting. Sanders has a weekly change management meeting where his team discusses current, incoming and previous IT projects. A stronger IT project management function has helped weed out one-off projects.
- Make sure to build buy-in for projects. Go to the stakeholders and build buy-in 1 on 1, or find a leader who you know has the strongest feelings and can support your cause. Such a “chain buy-in reaction” may help you get to your final goal. Bring forward issues that impact multiple stakeholders, and fine-tune the drivers of your problem position or challenge, Flywire’s Daniels said.
- Organize the finance office for success. Tennessee State’s Bursar’s office is organized into clearly defined sections – a defined collection team, accounting team, customer service team and cashiering team. Each of those teams is led by someone who is able to focus their team members’ talents towards overall departmental success.
- Make sure there’s collaboration within IT. Sanders ensures that when there’s a new solution coming, every IT director within the department vets it from their point of view. These departments include security, networking, servers, application, and even the end user side.
Flywire’s Student Financial Software helps Tennessee State deliver payment experiences that meet different student needs across the financial journey, and equips staff with automated functionality to securely process payments.
It’s all working toward one very important goal: helping higher ed bring the student financial journey together with unified processes and functionality that doesn’t treat unique student financial situations as one-size-fits all. This also helps drive cross-campus collaboration, enabling departments to work more efficiently together for the common good of student success.
For more information on how to drive CIO and finance collaboration: