Streamlining the Financial and Management Reporting Systems for Higher Education Institutions

Often times, one of the duties of the Vice President of Finance for a higher education institution is to lead in its efforts in the streamlining of its financial and related management reporting systems, as well as assist in the evaluation of academic and administrative technology planning. This duty and the encompassing project related thereto will be a major undertaking. It will most likely require the formation of a special project team consisting of various departmental leaders at the institution who will provide much input before a final recommendation is made to implement a change to the financial and related management reporting systems.

A project report containing a timetable for implementation with due dates of completion for each phase of the project undertaking should be formally developed and approved, most likely by the President and Board of Trustees of the college or university. Because of the time and effort required for this undertaking, including a concerted effort and embracement by the Team Members required for a successful implementation, this project will most likely be completed over a number of months.

The following information will assist you in your endeavor to streamline the financial and related management reporting systems at your college or university. This information covers the various capabilities of software/IT solution based systems and products that have been developed and available through solution providers. Much of this information and the items noted should be considered in identifying appropriate software/IT solution providers who will assist you in meeting and serving the needs of the academic and administrative offices of the college or university.

In presenting this information, I am not advocating any specific software/IT solution provider or what route for a revitalized financial and management reporting system for a college or university for their specific undertaking. But, as more research and investigation is performed as a Team effort, I am sure you will be able to identify a very good provider, with a great history, with great platforms of products and resources, and someone who is very much up-to-date on meeting the needs and demands for your institution; not only today, but for years to come in assisting you in your desire to continue to grow and prosper.

The key steps and processes noted in this article will provide you with information for identifying the “types of features, resources and capabilities” you will want to consider in deciding what types of changes may be needed in order for you to streamline the financial and related management reporting systems at your institution. The following is the information for your consideration.

Identify Leading Software/IT Solution Providers

A potential list of candidates of leading providers of software, strategies, and services for higher education institutions will need to be compiled. You should identify providers that have been providing these services over an extended time period, with a proven record of providing solutions that have given colleges and universities the power to meet all of their academic and administrative needs.

You will identify software/IT solution providers that have developed and continue to improve and enhance their software, and combined with their experienced professionals, have a successful record of implementation, cost-effective operation, with a record of setting a clear path to future growth for colleges and universities across the nation.

Ideally, identifying providers who maintain a singular focus on higher education may give them a unique perspective on the industry, allowing them to plan for changes and ensuring their clients have the technology, knowledge, and strategies to be leaders.

The Software/IT Solution Providers Must Have Exceptional People

At every level of the company and across each department – from product development, to support, to consulting, to services, to their leadership team – the software/IT solution provider you choose to work with must have people in their organization who are truly committed to partnering with their clients to maximize their success.

Vibrant Client Community

You should identify software/IT solution providers who have a strong active client list. Their client list should represent a community that is one of the most active and engaged in the industry, demonstrating consistently high levels of customer involvement and satisfaction year after year. You will want to make sure they utilize customer advisory boards to help shape the future of their products and services.

Broad and Deep Product Portfolio

The software/IT solution providers you identify should have a family of integrated, proven, and innovative products that caters to the needs of academic and administrative offices across the entire campus and throughout the student lifecycle.

Strong Financial Position

The software/IT solution providers you identify should be on solid financial footing and have a strong balance sheet. They must take a long-term perspective, valuing customer satisfaction and enduring client relationships. You should make a determination, if it makes any difference to you, if the software/IT solution provider you select is a strong privately held company or a publicly held company. Something you will want to consider is that many publicly held companies chase quarterly earnings targets and change ownership frequently, and when this occurs there can be problems with continuity of services; whereas a long-term strong privately held company will most often continue to remain a stable partner with their clients and they can be relied upon to remain committed to their client’s best interests.

Cost of Ownership

In your search for the ideal software/IT solution provider, you should identify organizations that provide the most advanced, innovative, award-winning solutions for higher education, delivering exceptional value with the best total cost to benefit of ownership to the college or university.

Solution Suites

You should research, review and consider the following types of solution suites to have in place at your institution in your pursuit to streamline the financial and management reporting systems of the college or university.

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems: You will want to have in place robust ERP systems that are built to meet the unique needs of your institution.
  • Continuing Education (CE) and Workforce Development (WD): You will want to consider having in place CE and WD systems to enhance business process efficiencies and institutional growth.
  • Recruitment: You will want to have in place a fully operational Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform designed to effectively manage recruitment.
  • Retention: Ideally, having a comprehensive retention solution with predictive modeling and a comprehensive alert system to maximize retention rates and facilitate intervention would be a useful tool and feature to have in use in the management reporting system at the college or university.
  • Advancement: You will want a solution to foster a vibrant community of supporters and champions for both major gifts and annual donations that the college or university depends on.
  • Learning Management System (LMS): You will want an integrated LMS to facilitate a collaborative learning environment.
  • Analytics: You will desire to have institutional intelligence solutions to help the institution measure, track, and report on key performance indicators to optimize performance.
  • User Experience: You will need powerful communication platforms and technologies including a Portal, Mobile, and Social offerings for the college or university.
  • Managed Services: You will want to consider the use of managed services to help the institution when you would need it the most – both on and off campus.

Software, Strategies & Services for Higher Education

The software/IT solution providers you identify in your search must offer technology solutions empowering colleges and universities of all shapes and sizes to meet the needs of their students, academic, and administrative departments – serving the entire constituent community.

The enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems must be flexible, customizable, fully-integrated, and designed to help drive higher performance across the campus and beyond. The ERPs must leverage robust functionality and simple controls so that the school operations can be streamlined and optimized from the back-end to the front-end of its operations. The ERPs you employ must give the performance insight you need to nurture critical relationships with constituents. Ideally, data access should be available anytime and anywhere for any authorized users. Integrated data will promote collaboration, user satisfaction, and efficiencies through-out the college or university. Most likely you will be focused on the following areas in streamlining the financial and related management reporting systems:

  • Admissions. Streamlining, simplifying, and automating the admissions processes, so that the institution can keep their focus on identifying and recruiting the best candidates for the institution.
  • Enrollment. Being able to organize workflow and communication with the right candidates at the right time and to get them ready for a successful educational experience.
  • Financial Aid. Providing prospects and students with comprehensive financial aid information, giving each the broadest consideration that is possible.
  • Academic. Being able to budget, project, and plan programs and resources saving the institution time and money, while driving a higher probability that each student will be able to complete his/her area of study on time.
  • Student Services. Having the ability to manage a broad range of student records, student activity, student profiles, and student health information; providing the highest quality of student life.
  • Finance. Controlling all aspects of the institution’s financial operations, including student billing, with accurate timely data – so the right business decisions can be made.
  • Human Resources. Being able to manage all components, including employee compensation, and having the ability to share data with departments across the campus.
  • Advancement. Streamlining and simplifying management of campaign and donor activity for both major gifts and annual donations that the college or university depends on.

Continuing Education & Workforce Development

You will need to have a software/IT platform for continuing education that is designed to help the institution streamline, simplify, and optimize the everyday tasks of operating a profitable continuing education and workforce development program, including:

  • Online registration
  • Course management
  • Student billing
  • Business management

You will want a platform that is easily deployed that can be integrated with any ERP system or can be used as a stand-alone solution.

Analytics

You will want to ensure you are always able to have readily available reliable data so you can make better decisions. The software solution should provide a full range of options that can revolutionize the way you manage your operations and develop strategy.

You will want the availability of analytics that will provide configurable dashboards, alerts, reports, and analytics, so the college or university can gain the insights needed to succeed across all aspects of their operations.

A Need for Information That Covers the Complete Student’s Life Cycle

Recruitment

You will want a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform that will allow the college or university to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time engaging with their prospective students and their families. It must be a recruitment tool that keeps the institution focused on students – and on track with enrollment goals. The platform should contain features such as:

  • Manage lists.
  • Produce and send personal communications.
  • Monitor progress.
  • Capture and update information.
  • Create and manage events.
  • Have the ability to manage recruitment efforts from either at your desk or on the road.

Retention

Having the ability to utilize predictive modeling techniques to assist the college or university in identifying students who need intervention, while there’s still time to turn them around would be a tool to have in streamlining the management system. Having a system in place that will automatically issue an alert through the workflow process when an attrition risk factor appears on a student’s profile, thereby alerting the relevant administrators that intervention is required, would no doubt be an excellent retention tool to assist the college or university’s students in succeeding. Some of the benefits of having this capability would be:

  • Improve student retention rates.
  • Spend less time identifying at-risk students.
  • Intervene earlier to improve student success.
  • Implement the right intervention strategies at the right time.
  • Satisfy parent and student expectations for educational support.

Advancement

Having a web-based fundraising solution that’s flexible, easy, and designed to help the institution meet their campaign goals can streamline and simplify management of campaign and donor activity for both major gifts and the annual donations that the college or university depends on. It should be able to assist everyone in the fundraising team – from administrators to managers and solicitors; so everyone can work smarter and more efficiently. It should be able to be used as a stand-alone solution or as part of an ERP solution to:

  • Improve engagement by reaching constituents in ways that are convenient for and familiar to them.
  • Strengthen constituent affinity with online communities and events.
  • Develop and leverage key relationships with complete constituent profiles.
  • Increase giving with segmented, targeted campaigns and personalized communications.
  • Manage the advancement team and fundraising efforts with individual and overall progress indicators.
  • Analyze results and plan for the future with intuitive business intelligence tools and comprehensive data.

eLearning Tools

With the deployment of eLearning tools, the instructors at the college or university will have the ability to offer more dynamic, engaging learning environments and develop creative learning spaces that engross the students. Having a Learning Management System (LMS) that integrates completely with the administrative system will provide the institution a seamless data exchange and up-to-the-minute information. Some of the benefits of having this type of Learning Management System in place will be:

  • Provide students the power to access their courses through any mobile device.
  • Satisfy the teaching and learning demands of the faculty and students with robust functionality.
  • Incorporate digital learning objects from a variety of sources into the course materials.
  • Integrate all of the learning systems.
  • Obtain a low total cost of ownership by the university combined with simple eployment.

Online Connectivity

Because students today are on the move – and having a desire to attend a school that provides them the convenience of online and mobile applications that will keep up, you will want to work with a software/IT solution provider that can deliver portal, mobile, and social media solutions that will keep users engaged with the institution throughout the entire student life cycle. Some of the benefits of portal, mobile, and social media solutions would be:

  • Portal. Providing the school community the information they need when they need it, from any location, while safeguarding confidential information.
  • Mobile. Offering secure, reliable mobile access to the college or university data and systems in the sophisticated the environment today’s students prefer, i.e., smart phones and other mobile devices.
  • Social. Being able to connect with the student communities where they live: on Facebook. Partnering with a software/IT solutions provider that has this feature developed and in place for use with the availability of its platform of products will simplify the process of building an online campus community via Facebook.

Also, having Customer Relationship Management (CRM) components available for use in a portal solution should allow you the opportunity to tailor user access to key information based on different user roles, such as:

  • Admissions Officer
  • Advancement Officer
  • Candidate
  • Student
  • Parent
  • Faculty
  • Staff
  • Constituent

Using a Single Vendor as the Software/IT Solutions Provider

As part of your desire to streamline your financial and related management reporting systems you will want to work with a technology partner providing the most innovative and comprehensive software suite available. This would probably be best if the services are provided from a single vendor who will also provide strategic and operational services to maximize the return on this technology investment by the college or university.

A Team of Experts to Assist the Institution in this Endeavor

You will want to make sure the software/IT solutions provider has the capability at every level of their company and across each of their departments – from product development, to support, to consulting, to services, to their leadership team that are a Team of Experts whose individuals are committed to working with the college or university to maximize their success. This would cover all areas of the project, such as:

  • Implementation. Their services should be designed to meet the unique needs of the institution and the people who use the college or university’s technology. They should have a proven track record of having on time and on budget implementations.
  • Training. They should offer hundreds of learning opportunities each year in a variety of formats, from on-site training classes to self-paced courses the college or university can take anytime and anywhere to help them use their products efficiently and effectively.
  • Support. They should have expert customer support personnel who are dedicated to finding answers and solving problems. They should have a record of resolving almost all inquiries within 24 hours.
  • Managed Services. They should be able to deliver the IT expertise the institution needs and comprehensive services they can shape to meet the college or university’s goals – whether you would need day-to-day support, project management, total network management, or managing your technology for future growth.
  • Executive Services. They should have experienced consultants who will work with you to create a technology roadmap to align resources with your priorities and meet your mission and critical goals.

An Actively Engaged Client Community

The software/IT solutions provider should have a client community that is one of the most actively engaged in the industry, demonstrating consistently high levels of customer involvement and satisfaction year after year. Ideally, they should utilize Customer Advisory Boards that help shape the future of their products and services, and encourage and support a host of opportunities for interaction and collaboration, such as Regional User Groups, Annual Meetings, Advisory Groups, etc.

Cloud/SaaS

Cloud computing is a way to increase capacity or add capabilities without investing in a new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software.

Software as a service (SaaS), sometimes referred to as “on-demand software” is a software delivery model in which software and associated data are centrally hosted on the cloud. SaaS is typically accessed by users using a web browser. SaaS has become a common delivery model for many business applications, including Office & Messaging software, Management software, CAD software, Development software, Virtualization, accounting, collaboration, customer relationship management (CRM), management information systems (MIS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), invoicing, human resource management (HRM), content management (CM) and service desk management. SaaS has been incorporated into the strategy of all leading enterprise software companies. One of the biggest selling points for these companies is the potential to reduce IT support costs by outsourcing hardware and software maintenance and support to the SaaS provider.

According to Thomas McHall of the Gartner Group, it was estimated SaaS sales in 2010 reached $10 billion, and were projected to increase to $12.1 billion in 2011, up 20.7% from 2010. The Gartner Group estimates that SaaS revenue will be more than double its 2010 numbers by 2015 and reach a projected $21.3 billion.

Whether you are looking to leverage the cloud for operational efficiency, cost savings, or business continuity, you should to look to a software/IT provider that has a solution to ensure your success. Ultimately, you should choose a hosted application that fits your needs best in one of the following:

  • Cloud Hosted Applications. For scalable and flexible application access.
  • Fully Managed Infrastructure and Applications. For cloud-based hosting of the institution’s applications with or without the expertise of the software/IT solutions provider’s team of managed-infrastructure specialists.
  • Virtual Infrastructure Hosting. For scalable, reliable, and secure disaster recovery and business continuity.

Conclusion

On the ideal digital campus, every administrative and academic office matches the technological sophistication of its socially-networked students. The digital campus leverages innovative technology to operate at optimal efficiency and the lowest possible cost, resulting in the highest possible return on investment. The digital campus leverages the most effective tools available, including software and services, to achieve its critical goals for enrollment, retention, and advancement. And, at every initiative, the digital campus ensures that its technology investment is aligned with its institutional mission and goals. For colleges and universities today, the digital campus is a superb model for achieving institutional success in our new century.

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Campus Security – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Proper planning prevents poor performance when designing the scope and scheme of security countermeasures. This is the basic rule of the “5P’s”. Yet, it’s just a beginning. A guide to get moving in determined proactive directions. On a school and college campuses, this means a multi-task approach to productive community interaction. People, places and property interface in a cooperation effort of reducing opportunities for criminal activity. The synergistic actions of connectivity foster a higher probability of more effective safety and security. Yet, there is an illusion. It’s the simplistic notion that all the people in a given setting will actually work together. Or, really practice “neighborhood watch”, implement defensive tactics, and report suspicious persons. Planning involves time, talk and tactics. The tools, methodology and techniques implemented are critical to the social infrastructure of the campus environment. However, people suffer misconceptions about such issues. Resistance to restrictions is not untypical.

Motivating the members of the particular setting is a significant organizational challenge. Various cliques, factions and pecking orders pervade the common sense precautions of communal security. Many are naïve, foolish and harbor illusions about the nature of criminality. Others, like young students, are often immature and unable to recognize the early warnings of threats to personal safety. Having lived sheltered lives, they’re not prepared to deal with the real world of prowlers, perpetrators and predators. Still, some people won’t take protective measures seriously. They reside in the small world that bad things won’t happen to them. At the same time, others will ignore the safeguards in frequent defiance of the rules. Rebellious contingents oppose restrictions. Then you have those in the ranks of the “elite self-centeredness” of academia. We sometimes call them faculty. Although, they could represent other community groups. And, with them as well as others, the concept of “security” is viewed as some “working class” annoyance. So, planning campus protection is a challenging endeavor of fostering productive acquiescence. Issues of public safety and security cannot be intimidated by the prideful arrogance of privileged groups or persons. Nor can it be stifled by incompetence, misconception or ignorance.

Each campus situation is unique. But, regardless of how special the school thinks it is, administrative authority must place full faith, resources and power in its protective services. And, these members of the staff have to be competent to do the. Well-trained, effectively financed, equipped and staffed, these personnel must ensure, to the extent possible, effective crime prevention strategies. Police or security officers must know they have the support to carry out active safeguards. Defensive fortifications to “shield and secure” the environs, entail degrees of flexibility, adaptability and common sense. In addition, recognizing attendant needs requires the development of specific goals and objectives. A safety and security mission plan has to be developed. These initialize the security process in the gathering of relevant data to ensure a proper methodology. The approach, appraisal and initiation of corrective procedures identify specific courses of actions, as well as alternative options and solutions. Security planning is a comprehensive long-range process. It doesn’t occur over night and it never ends. The capacity to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the locale’s security posture invites the necessity of talented expertise.

To reduce criminal opportunities and maximize delivery of effective preventive measures, law enforcement services must be a priority. Campus police forces should have full authority to act in the best interests of protecting the school’s population, the visiting public and property assets. It cannot be micromanaged by anxious, meddling and over-bearing administrators. Full disclosure of crime statistics, adverse incidents and inappropriate behavior has to be openly available to the public. To this end, proper planning includes allowing police services to implement a full range of protective measures without bureaucratic obstructions, cover-ups or hiding embarrassing events. As such, in some instances, it may become necessary to remove the police forces from the school’s control. In other words, to ensure a higher level of accountability, reduce academic “politicizing” of policing, and increase resources, security services may need to be contracted out to state or local law enforcement agencies. This could amplify proper levels of enforcement, order maintenance necessities, as well as lawful early intervention into problem areas.

Yet, for the most part, school, college and university police services work extremely hard to safeguard the campus setting. In most states, at public institutions, campus policing operates in a manner similar to any other law enforcement agency. Like their counterparts in the local town or county, many campus law enforcement agencies strive for enhanced professional development. And, while national statistics generally show that campuses are fairly safe and secure, the range of criminal behavior is always highly probable. The potential for violence is regularly present. From substance abuse, theft and burglaries, to sexual batteries and robberies, school campuses reflect the proclivities of human nature. Campuses are a collection of many personalities that come from many different places. People, places and property come together into a “melting pot” of ideologies, inclinations and personal needs. Campus communities are composed of persons from all kinds of backgrounds. Predictability of violent behavior is a nebulous notion with no scientific support. So, planning for various contingencies becomes a necessity. Vigilance is critical. Anticipation of threats is vital.

Leadership in the provision of police services requires adherence to proper professional practices. Instead of the pretentiousness of academic privilege, consistent devotion to competent services remains essential. To this end, we must recognize that no system of security is foolproof. Criminals can find a way to circumvent our best efforts. But, at the same time, the objective is to reduce the opportunities for criminal activity. This means increasing the risks of apprehension by “hardening the target”, whether people, places or property. You ensure ever-expanding rings of protective practices around those to be protected. And, you root out the problems as quickly as possible. Interdiction must be sure, swift and certain. Disruptive persons, hazardous situations and dangerous conditions must be handled without hesitation, pause or fear of not being “politically correct”. Early warning signs cannot be ignored. Since criminal behavior is always premeditated, signs and symptoms emerge frequently before an act occurs. These have to be anticipated, recognized and responded to as soon as possible. And, in the process, once the action plan has begun, meddling staff and faculty have to stand back and let the police and criminal justice system do what their trained for.

Leadership is crucial to effective, efficient and competent planning processes. Managers are one thing, but leaders are quite another. School administrators have to assume leadership responsibility for campus safety and security. The management and leadership are entirely different aspects of individual’s personality. This is especially true in the field of law enforcement. And, it’s imperative when it comes to issues of safety and security. Breaches in security, failures of countermeasures and lack of community support usually follow a trail to the top of the organizational hierarchy. So, in terms of preventive measures, leaders must be allowed to lead. And, in so doing, they must be provided the opportunities to be decisive, action oriented and allowed to implement a full range of safeguards.

Some people know what they’re doing and some don’t. Incompetence pervades every organization, from the classroom to the campus operations. We have to allow those with the expertise to do their jobs. And, it goes without saying, you get what you pay for. If you want professional level of services, then, you’ve got to fund it. At the same time, while equipment and materials are critical, the right personnel are crucial to any measure of success. Gadgets and gizmos can be seen an easy quick fix to any problem. But, people, places and things have to work together. And, people are the important ingredient to solving critical issues of safety and security. Preventive measures and associated security strategies involve community partnerships. Interactivity between local, state and federal agencies is necessary to the sharing of proactive planning contingencies. To this process, a security management team should focus on a continual system of threat analysis. Effective campus security relies upon a heightened sense of consciousness, on the part of campus members. The interactivity of campus membership should be alert to early warning signs of potentially threatening behaviors. This can include issues of personal safety, as well as theft of property or abuse of campus resources.

Appropriate preparation is not something that rests solely on the security services or police operations. From threat assessments to security and police training, protective services should be a school priority. Everyone has a part to play. From which, should flow the necessity of ensuring corrective actions to enhance the security profile of the campus environment. Increased patrols, informational programs, and facility infrastructure inspections, all merge into a positive process of probable risk preclusion. In the event of a crisis, management teams should know what to do. And, they should do it decisively, without hesitation or anxious inability. Early warning systems should be activated immediately. Protective forces must move into action quickly with the necessary resources at hand. All this boils down to the fact that, when it comes to campus security, proper planning prevents poor performance in an emergency.

Sources, reference data, additional resources available from author on request.

Exploring the World of Online College Degrees

With the busy and hectic schedules of individuals around the globe, more and more people are warming up to the idea of pursuing their education from via higher education institutions that offer online college degrees.

The number of people that will attend virtual classes is said to reach a figure close to one million.

But is online distance learning right for you?

The Key Elements of Online Distance Learning

While some students settle into a campus dorm, meet with professors in a classroom setting, take tests in front of a proctor, and participate in group debates, online distance learning students approach their schooling in a different manner.

They may connect to the Internet to obtain pre-taped lectures, learn from tutorials, engage in collaborative online chat discussions, participate in simulations and deliver online presentations.

Depending on the online classes you take, the way coursework is submitted will vary.

While traditional schooling deals with handing papers into a professor, taking group tests, or presenting research findings in front of a classroom, students seeking online degrees may email term papers, submit assignments to websites, and videotape presentations.

The Advantages of Online Learning

As one contemplates the advantages associated with online college degrees, the convenient and flexible nature of distance learning are the main reasons why students flock to the Internet for their studies.

It is these factors that have led this form of learning to become an increasingly popular educational structure.

Students pursuing a college degree over the Internet are faced with the opportunity to learn without encountering the boundaries that time and location hold.

There is no worrying if you will make your 8am statistics class or be able to drive through a snowstorm to reach a required lecture on campus.

Online learning also allows students to learn at their own pace and at any location that offers an Internet connection.

When obtaining an online education, students often enjoy the chance to learn by the style that best complements their nature.

For some, the dialogue between faculty and student is enhanced through as communication may take place in an arena that provides a more comfortable environment for asking questions and holding discussion.

Others take pleasure in their online learning environment because it allows them to hold onto day jobs they may already have, while new and at-home mothers are able to tend to their little ones while taking college courses.

The benefits for each student will vary in importance.

For the most part, students are accountable for the way they manage their time, keep to schedules, and complete their required work.

Overall, the entire process involving online college degrees permits students to exercise a high level of self-direction, freedom, and responsibility.

The Benefits Of Online Education

The idea of online education was scoffed at not so many years ago. But these days both educational institutions and prospective students are taking online education seriously.

The first universities to offer accredited online degrees began appearing back in the 1990s. More often than not, these groundbreaking schools were looked down upon by the “academic elite,” and considered to be somehow “shady” or disreputable. But a lot has certainly changed since then, and these days even the most prestigious Ivy League universities are offering online classes, and sometimes, a complete online curriculum for distance learning.

If you’ve wondered how online education works, or if it would be a good alternative for you, read on to get a sense of the online learning experience and what it means to be a “virtual student.”

Obviously the biggest difference between online education and attending an actual university is that it is not necessary to be in any particular location to study. This means that much of the social aspect of going to college is removed from the online education experience. But depending on your point of view, this could actually be a very good thing. It makes it possible to bypass a lot of the peer pressure and “popularity contests” that many college cultures have become inundated with.

If you are an older student — and by older, I mean over 24 — you will probably find much of the petty jostling for popularity and status to be a real turnoff anyway. That’s why online education can be a great option for returning students, or those who are a little more mature.

One of the biggest questions prospective students have about online education is how the virtual classroom actually works. While there are similarities between the virtual classrooms used in online education, and the brick and mortar classrooms of a traditional university, there are striking differences as well.

For example, if you attend a physical campus you will enter the classroom and attend a certain course at a certain time that will be designated to last between one and three hours on average. The instructor of the course will likely lecture for the majority of this time, but there may also be some student participation. At the end of the class the instructor may assign homework or inform students of upcoming quizzes.

But in a virtual classroom the structure is much more open, and there is a far greater degree of flexibility in the lesson plans. For example, normally you may log into your virtual class at any time, where you will listen, read and watch videos covering the course material. As a general rule, you may take as much time as you like to go over the material and complete any assignments given. While your course instructor will normally be available to ask questions via real-time online chat, e-mail or instant messaging, they will not monitor your progress or concern themselves with your work habits.

This means that with online education the student has far greater responsibility for their own learning. No one will babysit you, or ensure that you are doing the required work; it is simply presented to you, and you are expected to be responsible for completing assignments and reviewing the information.

This kind of freedom and flexibility fits many people perfectly, but others — especially younger students — may crave the structure of traditional campus learning. If your time is important to you, and you are motivated enough to be responsible for yourself, online education could be a perfect fit for you.

The Dangerous Nature of Human Trafficking

As a modern form of slavery, human trafficking represents a type of criminology in which victims are forced into an illegal form of involuntary servitude. The range of illicit activities, by force or fraud, include sex trafficking, debt enslavement or forced labor. A multibillion-dollar industry in human beings, human trafficking ranks second to drug trafficking. One source cites between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders every year. Up to 80% of those are women and girls, with over 50% under legal age, or children, in terms of a global perspective.

Domestically, within the U.S., it is estimated that the level of criminal activity for human exploitation ranges between 240,000 and 300,000 youths each year. Many are at risk for sexual exploitation, while others are involved in forced labor situations or other criminal activities. As such, given the dangerous potentiality of the associated criminal activities, as well as other threat possibilities, a personal strategy for safety and security is essential. Part of the planning individual safeguards, includes raising one’s level of awareness to a more heightened state of informed vigilance.

Another aspect includes the realization and recognition that deadly possibilities exist everywhere. Regardless of where you are or where you go, a threat potential could erupt when least expected. As a seemingly vulnerable target of opportunity, a criminal event could happen in the most unlikely places. Unfortunately, most people remain willfully distracted by technology, or other preoccupations, to maintain a state of deliberate readiness. Planning personal safety countermeasures is a full-time effort for savvy urban vigilance, both within the U.S., and especially during foreign travel.

Under “Gonzo Theory”, the rule of “5-P’s” apply. This refers to “proper planning prevents poor performance”. The concept includes both formal and informal risk analysis, defensive preparations, and contingency plans. Naturally, within this scheme, a good safety protocol begins at home with a thorough security assessment of the home environment. From living room to classroom, boardroom or workroom, personal safety is a primary concern. In between, there are traveling considerations. Whether going to the school campus or the workplace, defensive driving demands full presence of mind and body during the trip. Vehicular operations require exceptional attentiveness.

Both illicit sex trafficking and forced labor conscription involve a variety of tactics and trickery. From fraud to force, whereby the victim becomes trapped in dangerous scenarios, sometimes involving torture and death, criminals use various means. A swindle could come from nearly anyone, like an intimate partner, or a co-worker, and the offer of a “good deal” is “too good to pass up”, or simply “too good to be true”. It could involve international intrigue, a foreign adventure and easy money for “get rich quick” scheme. Concerning foreign travel, the traveler should ensure a well-researched travel plan. This includes following U.S. Department of State foreign country guidelines.

For now, on the domestic front, personal security countermeasures require daily vigilance. Developing a “tactical mindset” means preparing oneself each day for the harsh reality that seriously dangerous predators hunt for targets of opportunity. Trusting “intuitive thinking”, that is to say, feeling uncomfortable about people, places and things, is an early warning system that warrants attentiveness. Being naïve, gullible and uninformed as to the dangerousness of human behavior in the real world, is reflective of immaturity that risks personal safety and the security of others.

Self-education in the personal self-evolving process is essential to social survival in post-modern times. Among professionals in the field of law enforcement, most agree that making serious judgmental assessments is vital to personal well-being. Not surprisingly, many people today do not practice the ability to assert rationally logical critical assessments of much of anything. In actuality, a growing body of credible research points to an increasing state of social stupidity widespread throughout the U.S. mainstream.

The inability to think and react becomes challenging. Using one’s full sensory abilities to assess, appraise, and otherwise plan protective contingencies begins early as one emerges into adulthood. Obviously, there are no guarantees to ensure an absolute state of individual security. Likewise, there are no foolproof assurances that everyone can be trusted, or any particular environment is perfectly safe and insulated from dangers.

Given the world of the internet, social media networking and associated societal interactions, distractions loom everywhere. Mass marking in particular is hideously provocative in every medium of information exchange. Gross distractions flirt with seductive contrivances to entice more consumerism to foster gluttonous consumption. Opportunistic predation finds sinister ways to victimize others.

In American society, in contrast to other countries, the average person has very little conception of self-defense tactical skills. Other than public safety-first responders and the military, most people are ill equipped to ensure a defensive state of readiness. A basic framework necessitates building a “tactical mindset”, which infers a sense of self-reliance in personal intuitive abilities. Of this, judicious discretion, or real-world threat assessment, is vital to a profound sense of situational awareness. At a very basic level, such capacity for analysis of people and places requires attentiveness to surroundings.

However, since most people function day to day in a seemingly safe environment, but not absolutely safe, a false sense of security reinforces a lack of proper preparation. In addition, having a limited set of experiences in “up close in your face” confrontations, a perspective of adolescent naiveté allows faulty reactivity. That is, in response to potential dangers of human interaction, many would not expect a horrendous calamity to occur. Nonetheless, any place at any time, a horrific event can unfold quickly.

In one survey, conducted by a national security firm, 80% of respondents reported they were unprepared to deal with a terroristic attack within their working environment. With less than 1% to 3% of the population actively engaged in public safety services, or national defense, the other nearly 97% to 99% rely on 1% to 3% “protect them”. From another analysis of perhaps what might be called “societal capacity for self-reliance”, a major international business magazine reports on what is being call a “nation of sissies”. In the subsequent reporting, the assertion is made that 75% of the younger generation is characterized as being “spoiled, soft and not self-sustaining as adults”. Inexperienced in matters of self-reliance and readiness to deal with an emergency is very visible.

Granted, the forgoing addresses American cultural issues that express a bloated feel-good, relatively safe and excessively consumer-oriented society. There are always exceptions to every claim or assertion. Usually upon closer examination, a small percentage of the grouping does not fit the generalization. Regardless, where studies and analysis support the argument, the majority can be said to suggest a post-adolescent immaturity in adulthood. Overly indulged, pampered, prone to magical thinking and given to emotional reactivity rather than logical rationality, many are easy pickings for vicious predators throughout society on and off the World Wide Web. Not only that, but a false sense of safety and security where many are oblivious to social dangers.

In terms of targets of opportunity, criminals look for weaknesses. Targeting hardening is an age-old necessity of increasing the risk of the criminal. Criminals make choices given their skill set in the selectivity of their victimization. Predators are everywhere and willing to take advantage of vulnerabilities. In the modern age, with a diversity of varying types of slavery, abduction as well as seduction lurks closer than what one might think. Whether incoming or outgoing, immigration to foreign vacation, personal safety is extremely important. Developing a personal safety strategy is vital.

Once upon a time, at least two generations ago, social maturation included a conceptual framework of self-reliance, individuation in social survival training, and a sense of competence in growing up. Civil defense awareness was a customary reminder. Yet, over the decades, subsequent generation of young Americans appear less understanding of the dangers that surround them. Potential threats exist are a real possibility. With the advent of the millennials, and the subsequent z-generation, victimization on and off the World Wide Web is a real and present danger, where many naively travel.

According to one online magazine that contributes to the corporate environment, many young people today are ill equipped to deal with the dangers of a volatile world. Cocooned in a seemingly never-ending array of over-protection, a generation of “sissies” have been described as badly prepared to ascended toward anything that might be considered adulthood. Immature and poorly trained in “social survival tactics”, many are oblivious to the probabilities for threatening situations and human deceptions. Being alert to situational vulnerabilities requires sensory attentiveness. Vigilance is demanding.

Yet, the younglings are not the only group to get the most the criticisms. Older members of society, in particular those who never served in public safety services or the military, are typically not prepared either. For most people, daily travel and interaction with others is mostly safe and otherwise secure, as contacts tend to be in seemingly controlled environments. From home to the world of academia, or the workplace, driving, sitting, shopping, consuming and working, things are primarily routine and mundane. From texting, to posting selfies and interacting in social media, a surreal sense of superficiality overshadows the reality of human nature. Nonetheless, dangers lurk everywhere and happen with a sudden burst of violence that is nearly unpredictable. Many people are in a state of perpetual “greyness”, a foggy sense of the world around them.

Dealing with the criminality of human trafficking is multifaceted and multilayered. Combating the terrorism of criminals who traffic in people crosses boundaries of national sovereignty. While citizen awareness and civic actions are one aspect, another interrelated component are commercial and institutional responsibilities. Likewise, significant in terms of interdictions are the critical resources of law enforcement at the local, state and national levels. As with all public safety endeavors, resources, funding, and personnel are vital. And, with a scarcity of resources, such as personnel, priorities are competitive. Nonetheless, contingencies are required at the local level as well as nationally.

Awareness is essential across all generations, and particularly among the younger ones. As related to targets of victimization and enforcement options, the complexity extends from locale to international borders. Modern day slavery comes in diverse forms of criminality, some overtly conspiratorial by criminal collusions. Other forms manifest by intentional actions of commercial and political contrivances to ensure cheap labor costs, as well as market profitability. Naïve citizens, special interest social groups and career politicians foster an atmosphere of disingenuous discourse that aids and abets criminality.

Relevance of facts in the face of national security threats often goes ignored until the next horrific catastrophe. Whether by foolish juvenile ignorance, or intentional political agenda, serious criminological issues typically miss the mainstream headlines. In place of serious interest and determined problem solving implementations, criminogenic factors are left to underfunded and understaffed limited resources. Modern day human slavery is a matter of national security concern. In particular, an inquisitive investigator might wonder why special interests contrive to interfere with immigration enforcement efforts.

Where credible evidence and substantial data demonstrate the terroristic and illegal trafficking collusions, with regard to immigration activities, question arise as to the complicity of corporate and political agendas. On the dark side of economic globalism, the utilization of cheap labor, low wages and substandard living conditions, reflects business and corporate interest in “cost effective labor” resources. With more than 50% of human trafficking involving forced labor, one might conclude the “benefits” of modern-day slavery to the labor market. In addition, the dangerous nature of human trafficking contains many areas of human exploitation. An assessment of solvability factors reaches to the upper echelons of society, as well as the political processes of society.

In a massive consumer-oriented society, where fixation is on consumption, the ongoing process of raising awareness among many competitive public and private interests remains challenging. While celebrity gossip and political collusions blabber about the superficial and the simplistic, the real hardcore societal issues remain in the background. In the distractions of an array of techno obsessiveness, as well as the mean-spirited nature of political agendas, critical social priorities seldom get much attention.

At the bottom line, an essential consideration for some aspects of the human trafficking connivance is the question as to who stands to gain from illicit operations. Reports from several sources indicate that human trafficking is extremely profitable. One international group suggests that 36 million people are in bondage to some form of modern-day slavery. Of that number, 26% are reported to be children. Complicity lurks in the shadows. Extremely lucrative, the dangerous and sinister nature of human trafficking makes it a highly attractive business operation for criminal entrepreneurs.

According to at least one investigative reporter, and there are many others, the gluttony of consumer consumption is fed in part from the labor of illegal immigrants. As suggested earlier, some would call this the equivalent of modern-day human slavery. From an economic standpoint, slavery generates a couple hundred billion dollars a year. Low cost labor forces save companies’ money on personnel costs. Ignoring the degradation and exploitation, a significant cost-benefit formula arises.

From enslavement to the marketplace, human beings remain an illicit commodity to be sold on the world market. Enforcement of law is critical. Apprehension, prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of criminals are vital. Accordingly, as one research foundation points out, the supply and demand for human slaves is highly profitable in the globalization of transnational commerce throughout the world community.

Issues of impoverishment, barriers to enforcement, governmental instability, warfare, environmental exploitation, political corruption, profit continuity, agricultural production, cheap wages, and so forth, interfere with efforts to ensure human safety and security. On top that, nation-state geographic boundaries of sovereignty, in terms of jurisdictional enforcement, add to the difficulties of interdicting the supply side of the problem. Interdiction suggests international cooperation, and full enforcement of laws. Enforcement infers resources, material, funding, personnel and legal support components.

From all this, a more enlightened, mature and relentless proactive collaboration of public education and politically strong supportive efforts for law enforcement operations are essential. Law enforcement at every level requires serious backing in terms of personnel, technical materials, and resources. Likewise, politicians, pundits, and powerful people, especially the elite wealthy, need to honestly appraise the reality of modern-day slavery, and their role in the world society. From the decadent corridors of academia, to fawning of adulation of celebrity self-importance, relevant action is required.

In one insightful analysis from an online publication, the researchers point out that profitmaking operations like “labor contracting services”, across the border enticements for jobs and benefits, and other recruitment solicitations, require serious investigative scrutiny. Every aspect of modern-day immigration should be assessed critically in terms of the real implications of what actually happens. Some would suggest that “immigration reform” is a cover phrase for redefining slavery. Or, “cheap labor”, “immigrant worker” is synonymous with the word slave. Companies that employ them, “slave holders”.

Serious questions arise every day. As such, where do the policy makers, the politicians and influence peddlers, draw the line? Which corporate empires, global entrepreneurs and wealthy oligarchs further their complicities in support of human trafficking in varied forms? From Europe to Asia, from Africa to the Middle East, and so on, which countries continue to be involved in human trafficking? As the international markets expand, what are the major sociopolitical and economic factors that should be addressed on a global scale? For serious violations, who enforces international law?

From agriculture to construction project, nationally and internationally, profit sometimes ignores the abuse of workers. Consumption, likewise, overlooks the indirect consequences of forced and indebted enslavement. In countries where slavery is part of the production processes, the resulting products, or additives to consumer goods, are bought and sold in the U.S. marketplace. Since Americans are enormous, sometimes gluttonous, consumers, it is important to know which companies and products are the result of human exploitation. When politicians and business organizations clamor about the need for an “immigrant worker program”, what does that really mean? When a city or even a state illegally declares a “sanctuary” status, are they really condoning human exploitation? In addition, what about an immigrant caravan? Are they potential future slaves?