For the five state colleges collaborating on a student services project they see as transformative, calling it the Shared Services Enterprise Resource Planning system didn’t sound bold.
Now, CHESS? That’s more like it.
The five participating schools invested in the project — which would streamline student recruitment, registration, financial aid and advisement — announced last week they had created a nonprofit to help it come to fruition.
College leaders say the new nonprofit, called the Collaborative for Higher Education Shared Services — or CHESS — will allow them to seek donations and apply for private, state and federal grants for the integrated system.
“To really optimize the project and be able to really look at all of the different shared services that will be involved as we move down the road, having its own nonprofit structure seemed like the best option for us,” said Becky Rowley, president of Santa Fe Community College and chairwoman of the CHESS board of directors.
The partnership involves two-year and four-year schools and includes Santa Fe Community College, Northern New Mexico College, Clovis Community College, Central New Mexico Community College and San Juan College. Rowley said other state colleges have expressed an interest in the project, and the group could grow.
The schools will share information through one system, which would eliminate the need for multiple applications for admission and employment, reduce duplication of student and employee records, and ease the student transfer process, according to a news release on the initiative.
Rick Bailey, president of Northern New Mexico College, said the schools explored the partnership voluntarily, which he said makes it unique compared to other shared systems in the United States. He added, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state legislators have challenged higher education institutions to be more collaborative, and CHESS is an example of that.
Bailey said the organization could eventually attract out-of-state colleges and universities.
“We purposely built the tent to evolve and expand so that other institutions who are interested will never be compelled to join but will always be welcomed,” Bailey said. “It’s an open tent on purpose.”
Stephanie Rodriguez, secretary of the state Higher Education Department, said collaboration is the key to success for New Mexico colleges and universities, and she is looking forward to seeing the project’s results.
“This initiative is aligned with the New Mexico Higher Education Department’s vision to streamline and improve the student experience at our public colleges and universities across the state,” Rodriguez said. “I commend the five New Mexico colleges working together on this groundbreaking project.”
The state Legislature recently allocated $3 million to the project through the state Department of Information Technology, but Rowley said the price tag could run into the tens of millions of dollars.
“This will be an extremely expensive venture,” Rowley said. “We’re looking at phasing the project in and paying for it as we go along because it will be implemented gradually over the next three or four years.”
The first step will be to integrate the human resources and financial systems at each college. Several companies have submitted proposals for that work.
Rowley said a committee of employees from the participating colleges is evaluating the proposals and will have finalists demonstrate their systems. The goal, Rowley added, is to award a contract before the beginning of the summer.
The progress the schools have made with their plan is a far cry from three years ago, Rowley said, when the presidents struggled to attract the attention of state leaders.
“We were still trying to conceptualize what we were doing, but that was important work,” she said.
“Now, to receive funding three years later and be in a much better position where we have understanding and support from the Higher Education Department, from the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislature — that is a lot of progress.”