How Columbia Southern University Continued Supporting its Thousands of Students Through the Lockdown

Summary
“Your platform just handled 15,000+ concurrent calls!”
Name
 —RingCentral client
Company profile
Company profile:
Columbia Southern University is a pioneer in collegiate online education. The university has been providing distance learning opportunities for nontraditional students for nearly 30 years. Today, CSU offers associate, bachelor, master, doctorate, and certificate programs in a wide range of academic and professional disciplines.
Year founded:
1993
EMPLOYEES:
500
HEADQUARTERS:
Orange Beach, AL
WEBSITE:

With the pandemic leading both to the closures of traditional universities and to the disruption of millions of jobs, career-oriented online universities have become more important than ever.

Columbia Southern University is one of the most highly regarded distance learning institutions in the country. Ranked among the nation’s 10 most affordable online colleges, CSU offers accredited degree and certificate programs for such in-demand fields as occupational safety, emergency medical services, health information science, and public administration. The school attracts students from all 50 states and more than 30 countries.
Ironically, though, when COVID-19 led to a statewide lockdown in CSU’s home state of Alabama, the online institution found its technology infrastructure unable to support its staff working from home. The university’s technology team needed a modern communications solution—and soon.
 

An on-prem phone system that was barely passing

Although the quarantine orders sped up the university’s migration to cloud communications, CSU’s IT team had already been investigating such an upgrade. The institution’s on-prem phone system had become increasingly problematic in recent years.
Pam Gough, CSU’s Director of Technical Support, explains that one event in particular forced the team to prioritize finding a new phone solution. “The provider of our on-prem system went out of business. That made it much more difficult to get support, system upgrades, and improvements to the phones’ antiquated software.”

The lockdown orders made remote communications a top priority

With the quarantine orders coming suddenly, Pam’s team needed a communications solution that would allow their entire staff—more than 500 faculty and staff—to leave their offices at the university’s headquarters and begin working from home.
From a technology standpoint, telephony was the priority because Pam and her team knew their existing phone service wasn’t up to the task. On any given day, the school’s staff fields an enormous number of calls from students.
For example, employees in the Admissions Department take calls from prospective students who have questions about the programs. Applicants call the Registrar’s Office to discuss logistical issues such as submitting transcripts. Students looking for help with tuition call the school’s Financial Aid Department. And once they enroll, students call to speak with their dedicated Academic Advisors.
“In all, our staff has more than 10,000 calls a day with our students,” says Pam. With that type of volume, and the need to support those calls not from a central location but across hundreds of employees’ homes, Pam knew she needed a modern and flexible communications solution capable of working from anywhere.

Cloud communications enables a smooth transition to remote work

As pleased as Pam and her team were with the capabilities of RingCentral’s cloud-based telephony platform, she was even more pleased with how easy it was to roll out. “Normally I’d want months for an organization-wide deployment like this,” she says. “But we needed to move everybody over to RingCentral within a few days. I couldn’t believe it, but we did it.”
Nor was a work-from-anywhere phone system the only benefit CSU’s staff experienced when it rolled out RingCentral. As Pam explains, “I was focused on the telephony aspect because that was our immediate need. But as my team and I investigated the solution, we realized RingCentral could also replace other communication services we had—such as video conferencing, online faxing, and team messaging—and put them all into a single platform.”
When they realized they had these capabilities built into their RingCentral solution, CSU’s staff quickly began migrating to them.
As Pam explains, managers are using RingCentral Video to have face-to-face meetings with their teams. Employees are using the team messaging platform in the RingCentral app to stay connected, and even to send each other animated GIFs to have a little fun.
“And right now, our developers are using RingCentral’s open API to build digital faxing into our CRM tool,” she says. “That’s going to allow us to pull inbound faxes we receive on our RingCentral account directly into a student’s digital record and store them there securely.”
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