Happy New Year, 2019! The Supporting Student Success blog is trying something new for the coming year. We want to highlight the amazing work that is going on around the world to support post-secondary students to achieve their academic and personal goals. We want to hear from you! Have you, your co-workers, or the students with whom you work done something interesting? Have you developed a new program, enhanced your own practice in a meaningful way, collected and analyzed data that has led to other institutional improvements? Essentially, do you have a story to tell?
To kick us off, I am excited to share a story of a “one-stop” comprehensive student center at a university in Mexico.
It’s interesting when a campus has undergone such a physical transformation that you are unsure if you have been there before. This happened to me as I walked through the halls of Mohawk College. The first time I had been on campus was to collect data as part of Phase I of the Supporting Student Success project. The next time was to collect Phase II data. In the intervening 18 months, the campus had transformed. My memory of 14 or more individual offices where students registered for classes, received financial aid, paid their tuition bill, learned about student clubs and organizations, and met with a career counselor were replaced with a sleek central location that was well-lit and inviting.
This was more than five years ago but I remember that day like it was yesterday. The look and feel of that single, central location beckoning students—many of whom are adult learners—to engage and take charge of their educational experience is something that I haven’t forgotten.
Locations such as the one at Mohawk College have sprung up across North America. Recently, I attended AACRAO’s Strategic Enrollment Management conference in Washington, DC and re-connected with my colleague, Francisco Maldonado, from UPAEP (Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla), who presented on lessons learned from 20 years of running a “one-stop shop” comprehensive student center.
For the last decade, the concept of the “one-stop shop”, which may include registrarial, financial aid, financial services, academic advising, career services, and opportunities for student engagement, has grown in popularity. In fact, it seemed that every attendee in the room either had a “one-stop shop” on their campus or were in the process of developing one. The interest in the “one-stop” concept made Francisco’s list of 15 “musts” even more salient.
I asked Francisco if he would share his slide show for the Supporting Student Success blog and he has graciously agreed. Below are his slides from the AACRAO SEM conference along with his perspective informed by nearly 20 years on the journey.
15 Musts to Design and Keep Efficient & Satisfactory Service in a One-Stop Shop
How did we design, and try to maintain, an efficient and satisfactory service in our one-stop shop? It is important to note that we speak here of our experience and what we have learned along the way. What you see in these slides is not taken from any book, or manual; it is only what we have learned along the way.
According to this, we have come to identify 15 “musts” that we think must be borne in mind when it comes to implementing a service, from assuring the need for it to continuous improvement, going through various stages among which we identify the sale of the idea, what is related to the service processes, the database, the IT tools and the necessary personnel, the branding, the promotion, the fulfillment of the promises, the service evaluation, the participation of the stakeholders and the joint decision-making that leads us to continuous improvement.
First of all, we had to be sure that this is what we wanted and what our students needed, because once we started and generated expectations among both students and university staff, there is no way back. We could not say “let’s go back to the previous situation”. The fact of implementing almost any service, but especially as a one-stop shop for students, is a point of no return.
It is convenient to remember here that these kind of offices are known as “hygiene” … are any of you familiar with the term or concept?
A department or office of “hygiene” is one that, while it works no one notices, but as soon as it fails or it doesn’t exist anymore, everyone realizes. And that happens with the one-stop shops, particularly in the universities. That is why its implementation is a point of no return.
It was also important to persuade the various stakeholders of the idea, but especially those who would be affected in their work, their processes and, above all, in their position of power.
It is not a secret that integrating various services for the first time in one place changes the playing field. For some people, they may perceive this change as a loss of “power” if the specialized service they had previously provided in their own offices is moved. Hence the well-known resistance to change and its consequent obstruction by some people who feel affected.
We had to face this too and it was not easy. I think it was even the most complicated to achieve, that even having already started operations in our one-stop shop, we still found signs of resistance to change and, even today, some comment or symptom still emerges from some people who were working during the implementation over 18 years ago.
The next thing we did, which was not the hardest part, but I would say it was the most laborious and took the most time, was to analyze, simplify and connect our service processes.
Before the one-stop shop, each office had its own processes, requirements, documents and even information systems, linked to those of other offices or departments, but not in a systematized way, which represented for the student having to make a pilgrimage from an office to another to get the paper, the stamp or the document that the next office requested.
To avoid and solve this, the first thing that had to be done was to analyze our processes separately, simplify them and connect them, all with a systemic vision, realizing (all of us who participate) that being part of a whole (systemic vision) an amount of requirements, steps and business rules were not necessary.
However, the analysis, simplification and connection of the processes would have served little or nothing if that had not led us to build a solid and comprehensive database that contained the information of all our students regarding the different offices that make up the one-stop shop. That is, it was necessary to take the information from the different systems and databases managed by each office to a single central database, which was also necessary for the next stage …
… that was to merge or integrate the different systems into one, so that all the requirements and validations that had to be done manually from one office to another, were made directly by the system, without the need for the student to go to each office for the signature, seal or authorization needed.
Among these three steps, I would say this is the core design of a one-stop model. Without an analysis, simplification and connection of processes, a solid and comprehensive database and a single system (or several, but integrated), I do not say that it would be impossible—but surely it would be much more difficult—to implement this service model.
This is how our current SIS was born, called UNISOFT. A comprehensive university management system, both academic and administrative, homemade, which is now also the source from which the rest of our systems are fed.
At the same time, we recruited, selected, and trained the team with the right profile to give our students the service we wanted. We all know that the soul of any service is the people who provide it and that a person with a profile that is not service-oriented can do more harm than simply not having anyone.
Over time we have also learned that these positions turnover often and that even people with the right profile burn out in much less time than in almost any other position. So the team requires very close follow-up, motivation, and constant training (due to everything emerging and changing within the institution) for a dynamic position that allows them not to get bored or burnt out, and requires a high degree of frustration tolerance.
We also found it very useful to create and position a brand within the institution. This was important to do among students and the academic and administrative staff. Branding was key among staff who supported the general strategy of our university as an innovative institution and focused on academic quality as in the service, but who also generated a sense of belonging to something greater, something more important, for the team that participated in this process (those who we had to sell the idea in the first place, remember?)
From our brand strategy arose this logo, which was the one we used when in the year 2000 our small student service center evolved into a comprehensive center under the concept of a one-stop shop.
Since its birth in the mid-90s, its name was “Student Attention Center” (CAE for its acronym in Spanish) and since the name was already positioned in our community, we used the same base adding a “+” sign (that, in addition, being in red color, gives the idea of the symbol of the Red Cross, which is where you go for help) and the words “and better”. In this way, we came up the “CAE + and better”.
We also conducted a dissemination campaign through the internal media of the institution, alluding to the simplification, the elimination of queues and endless visits, and systematization, since at the same time our first self-service consultation system for students was released, so that at least they could solve their doubts regarding their academic and administrative information without depending on us.
And the moment of truth had arrived; the moment to open the doors, which I remember very well, was on September 17, 2001, that was also the moment of …
… fulfilling the expectations and promises we had generated, which is not a single day thing, but every day, student to student, service to service, case by case.
Because as was said before, this is a hygiene service and with only one promise or expectation not fulfilled, 18 years ago or today, it is enough to take down the work of many people and a lot of time.
It is difficult, but it is necessary.
Once we started, we also learned to measure everything, because what is not measured, cannot be managed and improved. But with the passage of time we learned to measure what really matters and not absolutely everything.
It is useless to have very accurate measurements that reveal that, on average, it takes very little time to solve a problem. Rather, we have to focus on measuring what really matters, which in our opinion is the particular experience of each customer and the resources that these experiences are costing us. Measurement is meaningless if the results are unknown.
These measurements must be shared with those who matter, both to celebrate what is good, congratulate and reward, and to correct what is necessary, much of which is not entirely in the hands of our team, but it is in our hands to seek the solution with whomever we should do it. For example, when it comes to something related to the systems, or when resources of all kinds are required in order to continue fulfilling our promises, we have to negotiate with whomever is needed in order to solve the problem to our students.
But more important than measuring and sharing information is to make decisions based on it. It is useless to measure if that does not lead us to make decisions that allow us to …
continuously improve. These services quickly become obsolete and have to be renewed continuously to meet the expectations of a changing student body.
And perhaps one of the most important things we have learned is that there is always the temptation, for other stakeholders, but also for us, to put processes or systems ahead of or above the interests of students. It is common that in everyday life we lose focus and look for the simplest or most efficient for us, although this is not necessarily for the student, so we have to be alert all the time and fight against each threat so that, others like ourselves, keep our students at the center of everything.
What an honour to share Francisco’s lessons with the Supporting Student Success blog readers. Thank you, Francisco.
It is fitting that the final “must” focuses on staying student-centered. At the end of the day, students bring us to this work. Their stories, their experiences must be at the center of what we do and how we do it.
As we begin a new year and launch into 2019, I invite you to take a moment and reflect on how you demonstrated a student-centered approach in your work in 2018. What will you do in 2019 to maintain and advance your student-centered practice?
If you wish, please “leave a comment” so that others might be inspired by your words and commitments to supporting student success in 2019.