It is inevitable: all employees eventually move on to a new job, a new campus, or a long-awaited retirement. Turnover in a key position such as bursar or student financial services director is both a challenge and an opportunity. Continuity is vital so no important tasks are overlooked. You may be lucky enough to have an experienced staff member primed to take over. Or you may be ready to rethink the role and would rather fill the position temporarily.
Step 1: Prepare for the departure
When you receive any employee’s notice, have them identify and document critical functions and current processes. A long-serving bursar might maintain detailed mental checklists without physically documenting this information. Your institution’s official process documentation was likely accurate at one time, but is it still? Procedures have likely evolved over time and critical details could be missing.
Don’t let decades of knowledge walk out the door with the departing employee.
- Update process and procedure documentation
Have your departing employee gather all relevant business process and procedural documentation. Ask them to update instructions, document all processes, and include any helpful context. This should include screenshots and system navigation tips. The overall objective is to document processes and the logical thought process they follow for troubleshooting and researching questions.
Have the employee create or update checklists that account for their daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly (or semester), and annual tasks. The lists should include both internal and external deadlines and recommended dates to begin the work. Key contacts and any necessary external systems or website links should be included. It is good practice to ask other employees who participate in business office functions (i.e., assistant/associate bursar, account representatives, functional analysts, etc.) to make their own list(s) to cross-reference.
If you find that your organization does not have up-to-date written cash handling or accounting processes and procedures, make documenting these activities a key priority.
Consider any necessary updates to system access and security protocols. Identify all software and third-party logins used and establish an alternative user or new primary administrator. Make sure you test all login credentials prior to the departing employee’s last day. Cross-reference these items with the checklists and procedure documents to verify all access points are addressed. System access will likely include the student information system, accounting software, banking accounts, and third-party service providers such as payment processors and credit card vendors. Consult with your IT department or service provider to ensure all security protocols are considered and addressed.
Don’t forget to close out the departing individual’s access.
- Transfer point of contact
Consider the departing bursar’s key relationships, such as impacted campus partners, vendors, and bankers. It is important to inform them that their point of contact will be changing. Avoid leaving them with outdated contact information or no one to call about unfinished items. Who will they reach out to in the short term if needed? These individuals or firms can serve as a bridge and help you through the transition.
Step 2: Assess your business office operations for potential gaps or areas of weakness and opportunities for process improvement
Next, consider key functions to identify areas for improvement. You may have staff leaving for jobs they perceive to be easier or less stressful. While there are many root causes for this perception, in the day-to-day operations of a business office, staff frequently attribute their greatest stress to chasing deadlines constantly, inefficient processes, outdated or underutilized technology, and being short staffed. It’s important to uncover and proactively address such challenges. Assessing these with an open mind can help position your institution to grow and thrive.
These questions are a starting point for identifying opportunities to improve your business office functions:
- When was the last time business policies and procedures were evaluated or updated?
- Are reports and data requests challenging to produce in a timely manner?
- Does this office have control of its data and system processes or is it dependent on the IT department or others within the institution? Are you getting the most out of third-party vendors and managed services?
- Are you leveraging technology and other tools effectively?
- What do departing employees consider to be the most challenging tasks, and why?
Step 3: Determine what you truly need from your student business office
With a better understanding of your current operations, it’s time to assess the staffing and skills your institution truly needs—not necessarily what will maintain the status quo. By their nature, student financial service operations must coordinate closely with other offices, notably student financial aid and the registrar, to ensure good service and regulatory compliance. In addition to accomplishing the day-to-day critical tasks proficiently, your staff should be capable of providing timely reporting and updates so senior administrators can make informed, strategic decisions and provide the best experience for students.
Turnover provides the opportunity to revisit the qualifications and experience that are needed to maximize the value of your business office operations. Do you need accountants, collectors, customer service representatives, or technical support staff? Maybe you need components of all these fulfill the institution’s mission and serve its students.
Step 4: Evaluate the value proposition of alternative strategies
Finally, consider if this staffing change can serve as a catalyst to explore alternatives to continuing what has been done the same way for years. A targeted assessment may be the key.
Consultants are experienced professionals who easily identify quick wins and recommend broader initiatives to bring about longer lasting value. They also help develop the roadmap for navigating the transition. Sometimes, the forced change caused by turnover is an optimal time to move your processes forward and set up your institution for long-term success.
Transition and change in your business office can be challenging. Whether you are losing a staff member, or you want to be proactive in addressing opportunities for improvement, FAS’ Student Business Services can help. We are experienced in performing operational or targeted assessments, developing a strategic plan, and identifying new opportunities for institutions to achieve their goals.