Closing the Gaps: Connecting Student Services to Drive Student Success

I’m sure you’ve gone through this process before: you dial the customer service number, answer a few questions from an automated machine, and get put on hold for the next available agent. Once you are finally connected with a representative, they will ask you the same questions again, listen to you as you explain the reason for your call, then transfer your call elsewhere and repeat. It is not ideal to let go when we need an answer. And although this process is most often unintentional, it may reflect a lack of knowledge, training or communication process.

It’s the same situation many students go through when we bounce them around campus; they go from office to office to get their questions answered or to connect with the supports they need. Students see the college as a single entity, but institutions are more generally structured as separate and disconnected units or silos. While it’s clear that aligning student-focused services would streamline student experiences, the question for many colleges is, “How?” ”

Achieving the Dream, the nonprofit higher education reform organization where I work, has worked with institutions across the country to develop models for meeting this challenge on their campuses. We have found that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for colleges to streamline student services or to bridge departmental silos. Likewise, there is not just one way for student services to work better together, as the model will ultimately depend on the culture and context of the campus.

Here are some examples of successful approaches to filling the gaps:

Gather the offices

In some cases, our campuses (buildings, facilities, offices) are simply not designed in a user-friendly (in this case, student-friendly) way. Students can move to different offices, travel back and forth across campus to resolve overlapping issues, and line up in each office just to retell their story.

To address this problem, many of our colleges are physically unifying different student services by creating hubs for this purpose. One of our colleges has a one-stop-shop, which brings all of its student services together in one building and allows students to access all the services they need in one place. Another has created Meta-Major Centers. Each center houses the faculty and support staff of the meta-major, placed to work alongside the instructors. The impact of the center is twofold. First, it streamlines the student experience from a Guided Paths perspective, reducing the number of confusing choices students face when building an academic path through Meta Majors. Second, it allows students to build relationships with staff and faculty through these centers.

Learn to communicate differently

Many colleges have used various technologies in their institutions, but do not use them effectively to streamline communication. Leveraging technology to promote collaboration between student-focused services is essential as the systems facilitate and promote communication and information sharing between departments. One of our colleges intended to train their counselors, professors, graduate coordinators, tutors and peer mentors in their software; it supports appointment scheduling, note taking, referrals, and tracking alerts with students as needed. They have proactively tracked each department’s software usage and continue to actively work to increase and encourage usage among all staff by providing ongoing training and accountability so they can work together more effectively to serve them. students.


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Feedback from students indicated that they strongly agree that this new software is having a positive impact on their experience. The use of alerts and positive outreach messages helped keep staff, faculty, and students informed of student progress and next steps. Consistent practices and protocols for entering case notes into the system ensured that a student only had to tell their story once, when coming into contact with various student support staff, and to quickly view the history and progress of a student. This not only creates a better experience for the student, but also frees up valuable meeting time so that counselors and support staff can have more enriching and meaningful conversations with students.

Reshape roles and create new ones

Beyond the idea of ​​breaking down (physical) silos and streamlining communication, for many institutions, bridging the gaps means systematically changing the way staff and faculty work. It means changing roles and responsibilities, and sometimes creating new positions to create a more student-centered experience. Several colleges have developed “navigator” positions, which are full-time roles with employees trained to work with new students from the admissions process, through onboarding and academic planning, and connecting them from scratch. transparently to the supports they need when they need it. Navigators provide personalized, holistic and hands-on support and can facilitate transfer to academic advisers and facilitate connections between departments, ensuring that students are better equipped and prepared for more meaningful interactions. A year after implementing the Navigators, one college reported high student satisfaction, with over 90 percent of students reporting that their Navigators were both knowledgeable and helpful.

Several institutions have also made efforts to make their advisers and teachers more active outside their departments. One college had counselors who worked alongside faculty members from their designated programs to offer counseling sessions in conjunction with class time. With this new level of engagement, the school reports that full-time college counselors are now seen as a more active and essential part of the learning experience. Professors have also been touched by this collaboration and have updated their program plans in a way that provides more orientation opportunities for students.

Today, many campuses struggle to meet the needs of students because their structures, policies, practices, and people operate in ways that do not reflect the needs and experiences of students. Unifying student-focused supports that have historically been seconded to campuses can create efficiencies for a more streamlined and holistic student experience. Such efforts can be created by assessing student needs and identifying gaps in how we connect these students to the supports they need when they need them.

To learn more about what’s working and how your college can approach the overhaul of student support, check out Achieving the Dream’s built-in student support toolkit.