CONWAY — Top administrators at Horry-Georgetown Technical College are evaluating a system designed to give quick, thorough answers to student questions about financial aid and other things that could translate into more students enrolling and thus more revenue for the school.
College president Neyle Wilson said the school needs a 3 percent to 5 percent annual growth in revenue, or a minimum of about $1 million, to meet higher costs because of inflation, the growth of staff and more expensive benefits.
To get that kind of money, the school would need to enroll 300 to 400 additional fulltime students, assuming that tuition for them remains what it is today, approximately $1,700 a semester.
“What we’re looking at is to outsource how to immediately give students information,” Wilson said.
Harold Hawley, HGTC’s chief financial officer, said there are companies already doing that kind of work for other colleges, and from the information he’s gathered so far, the payoff is worth the investment.
Hawley said he thinks HGTC will have to pay between $400,000 and $600,000 for a year’s contract with a company that can not only quickly respond to incoming calls, but also will be able to identify visitors to the college’s website and contact them as well.
“I’m impressed with what we’ve heard,” Hawley said, but added that he doesn’t know yet if the schools he’s talked with are getting the same kind and level of information to students as HGTC would want.
“Are we comparing apples to bananas?” he asked.
Wilson said the college averages about 3,000 incoming calls a day during peak enrollment times of July-August and October-November. Hawley said the financial aid office has logged as many as ll,000 calls a month and has no way to respond to all of them.
Hawley said the school had its own outreach call center to help with the overload that made between 13,000 to 15,000 calls over a four-month period in the last year. The school doesn’t know how many of the 6,500 to 7,500 callers the five call center staffers talked with enrolled at the school as a result. But Hawley said as soon as the call center began its work, calls to the financial aid office increased.
Hawley said he’ll expect that a service hired by the school would answer and respond to calls as they are made as well as respond to internet hits within 15 to 20 minutes. There will be other benchmarks the service must meet to keep the school’s business, Hawley said, and if they don’t, he’ll have no problem cancelling a contract.
Wilson said the need for such a service stems partly from the make-up of today’s generation of students. They expect to get immediate response when they make a call and immediate answers when they ask questions. If they don’t, the may go elsewhere. He said they’re getting that kind of response from private colleges and HGTC needs to have the same standard
He said the school has heard from prospective students who went elsewhere because calls to HGTC went unanswered.
The school currently has an answering service where callers can leave names, callback numbers and the information they’re seeking, but the volume in some months swamps the school’s ability to respond with its own staff.
Wilson said the need for information is particularly critical just before fall and spring classes begin because students tend to wait too long before applying for financial assistance.
Other callers, Hawley said, may need to know if they can substitute one course for another and still maintain progress in their programs or the effect of dropping a particular course on their expected graduation date.
The service would be able to answer all, he said, because it would have software that could interact with the school’s computerized information banks.
Coastal Carolina University has a 24-hour call number where callers can get the number of a person or office they to call the next day for answers to their questions, said Debbie Conner, vice president of student affairs.
CCU students can also track their own records through the school’s computer system.
But Wilson said you can’t compare the need for information at CCU with that at HGTC because of differences in the students. He said that CCU students’ parents are more likely to be familiar with the college and financial aid application process, so their children also tend to start sooner.
Hawley said the systems he’s looking at can also help to combat student dropout, which at HGTC is about 45 percent between the first and second year, and to turn more one-year students into two-year students.
He said the school already has done what it believes it can internally to attract and keep more students, and administrators have determined that it’s time to take the next step with some help from the outside.
He and others are gathering information now for seeking bids from suppliers.
He hopes to sign a contract by the end of September, with the company ready to go full bore on the effort by next summer.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.