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Elevating Global Education Outcomes Through A Supply Chain Lens

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at July 30, 2021

Anthony Rotoli is the CEO of Terra Dotta, a leader in global education engagement solutions.

Supply chain management (SCM) principles and technologies are routinely employed to streamline and optimize the movement of goods and services in business, so why not education? In many respects, I think the global education experience afforded by higher education can be elevated by applying an SCM lens, with automation and technology tools playing a critical role in understanding and connecting the interrelated administrative and academic functions needed for success. 

SCM is defined as “the management of the flow of goods and services and includes all processes that transform raw materials into final products.” In the case of higher education, students are the raw materials being transformed as they progress through their studies to matriculation and develop critical thinking skills and an expanded global perspective along the path. 

Addressing The Challenges

In my company’s work with higher-education institutions, I’ve noticed that as they seek to both attract international students and send their own students abroad, the processes involved with these interrelated objectives have become fragmented and siloed for many schools. To create a more holistic global education experience, some college administrators are (perhaps unintentionally) leaning into the core principles of SCM as they seek to unify global engagement — including integrating aspects of study abroad, international student and scholar services (ISSSand supporting campus services like health services, financial aid, admissions, etc.

First, what are the challenges?

Most of today’s students lead digital lives and expect to interact with their schools frictionlessly online. As a result, many institutions have augmented existing student information systems and customer relationship management systems with point solutions for student engagement, transfer credit articulation, health management, study abroad, online learning and more. 

However, these applications may not be integrated when it comes to supporting the global student experience. Application silos are further exacerbated by disparate departmental communication and decision-making. This dynamic can jeopardize the global engagement gains that can be achieved through cross-departmental process reengineering, automation and supply chain management principles. 

Introducing A Connected Global Engagement Approach

So, what is the solution for ensuring that the student journey includes a connected global engagement experience? Here are several steps that institutions can take to achieve this vision: 

Elevate the global experience supply chain to a higher executive office. An efficient supply chain is achieved by first understanding the big picture and then optimizing component parts of the process. In the case of global engagement programs, a high-level administrator, such as a provost, chief financial officer or chief operations officer, should be looking at strategically connecting the critical pieces of the chain. 

For successful study abroad, study away, ISSS, pre-college, virtual and other global experience programs, there are common elements that could be streamlined with shared processes and application integrations. This extends across campus services such as the registrar, financial aid/bursar, risk management, health center, career centers, travel, counseling, legal counsel, admissions, payroll and more. 

A unified global engagement approach could be the hub that connects these systems and acts as a centralized data repository for advanced global engagement analytics. However, an executive champion is needed to drive this effort and enable mutual data flow and communication. 

Reengineer processes before adopting technology and automation. Leading with a connected global engagement experience requires first examining the underlying processes that bring international students in, send students to locations in the U.S. and abroad and enable other cross-cultural experiences on or off campus. No technology can fix broken processes without redesign efforts that document both current and future states, with an eye to reducing inefficiency and building bridges across departments. 

This also requires a high-level view across departments. The likelihood is high that multiple groups will be experiencing similar issues that can be addressed using a supply chain perspective. But the study abroad director or the finance director may not be able to leverage the right resources or have the authority to make the changes and will need the support of an executive champion such as a senior provost, chief financial officer or chief information officer.

Once the difficult work of process reengineering is done, technology can make many jobs easier. For example, if staff in the registrar’s office find themselves answering the same questions multiple times a day, then automated solutions like chatbots and decision trees could help reduce friction with that office while improving service levels.  

Use data proactively. An integrated global engagement approach can enable data-driven decisions based on a single source of truth. Analysis of the full supply chain of data inevitably yields insights for ways to improve performance — ultimately leading to better outcomes for students. Ideally, the executive champion should be able to tie actions to outcomes and answer specific questions about the success of global engagement programs, such as increasing minority representation or evaluating career advancement in students with international experience. 

For higher-education institutions that are committed to providing a global experience to as many students as possible, an interconnected approach based on supply chain concepts can help drive success. By supporting integration and automation across all facets of a student’s global educational experience, institutions can provide more meaningful outcomes for students and elevate their own international imperatives.

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