By Brian Fleming, Analyst
Recently while meeting with a client, I struck up a conversation with a student on campus about what she loved and did not love about University “X”. Turns out, she loves her classes, her professors, and the burgeoning network of friends and professional contacts she has made so far. She is not so fond of the Registrar’s office, to put it nicely.
- “They use paper forms.”
- “They are so hard to reach.”
- “Their policies are so confusing.”
- “They are so unfriendly.”
Once, that Registrar’s Office dropped her from all her classes without notice simply because she neglected to submit the right paper form. Seriously, I thought, paper forms? So 2005. I did ask her whether the University sent her a warning email or something before so inconsiderately dropping her from her classes, to which she acknowledged (somewhat jokingly), “Probably, but I don’t check that email.” Sigh.
“Innovation” is About More than MOOCs
Higher education today faces an era of rapid disruption and technological change, which has spawned not only things like MOOCs and flipped classroom models but also a hard look at everyday business processes like the ones this particular student struggled to navigate. Today, new possibilities have emerged for innovative services models capable of helping students get on more effectively with the everyday business of being a student. These models are equally—if not more—important for institutions to adopt in this highly disruptive era.
Efficiency, better channels of communication, a Registrar’s office capable of communicating important notices in ways students prefer to receive information—these are all possible with a “One Stop” model of student service delivery.
What is “One Stop”?
Essentially, “one stop” is a student services model that relies heavily on highly developed and intuitive online portals, sophisticated transaction-enabling self-service, cross-trained staff, and thorough integration of “traditional” services such as registration, financial aid, billing, all under one roof (or, two roofs really: one digital and one physical). This model is student-centered and technologically rich, and from a student’s perspective, simple. It aims, in all, to empower students to get what they need, when they need it, from anywhere, at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. It aims also to liberate institutions from archaic, inefficient, often redundant models suited for a bygone era.
- One stop is student, not service, centered. The one stop philosophy emphasizes students’ needs over institutional functions, and focuses on improving student experience of everyday back-end processes like course registration, transfer credits, adding/dropping classes, receiving financial aid and paying bills, largely though the use of online portals and extensive self-service capabilities.
- One stop relies on platforms that are technologically rich. Online portals, the heart of one stop, are loaded with dynamic forms, easy to use registration and financial aid platforms, creative means of communicating policies and reminders (texting, e.g., is a growing practice), searchable indexes, and intuitive FAQs. Portals and self-service capabilities are designed to be crisp, clear, and intuitive. They are also accessible any time of day, on any device. Rather than pick up the phone, student instinctively go first to the online portal, and reach out to a live person only if necessary.
- Cross trained staff ready to help. One Stop functions as a central operational unit, usually conveniently and centrally located on campus, and consisting of cross trained staff prepared to handle student questions, issues, and complaints that cannot be completed online. Staff members utilize a combination of email, phone, chat, and social networking platforms to interact with students virtually, often in real time. In person, should more complex or urgent needs arise, staff are accessible, friendly, and empowered to help students who walk in to the One Stop Center.
- 80-20. From students’ perspective, one stop assumes an 80-20 model in which 80% of students complete their tasks online and 20% of students need the human touch. Students go online first, and reach out to a staff member via email, phone call or in-person only if/when necessary. In some cases, staff are available at non-traditional hours (late night, Saturdays), and work to direct students to online when appropriate while still being able to serve students who prefer, for whatever reason, to talk to a person on-the-spot.
A Win-Win All Around
One Stop is a promising model particularly well-suited to institutions with needing to better support diverse and changing student demographics (e.g. first generation, adult learners, digital natives tethered to their smart phones), overcoming operational inefficiencies, and entering the 21st century with a streamlined, adaptable, cost-saving model. It takes time, energy, leadership and hard work to implement a one stop model, but it is well worth the investment yielding more satisfied students, more efficiently run institutions, and higher employee morale. One Stops are a “Win-Win” all around.
For more information on “One Stop Centers,” see the following:
- SCUP 2002 Innovation in Student Services: Planning for Models Blending High Touch/High Tech. Darlene J. Burnett and Diana G. Oblinger, editors. Society for College and University Planning, 2002. Available at www.scup.org
- Student-Centered Financial Services: Innovations that Succeed. Nancy Sinsabaugh, editor. National Association of College and University Business Officers, 2007. Available at www.nacubo.org
The following are some of the institutions currently leveraging a “one stop” model.
- University of Minnesota
- University of Delaware
- University of Alabama-Birmingham
- Bellevue University
- Southern New Hampshire University