March 29, 2019

Six Strategies for Connecting Student Service Silos

Advising Leaders

By Adam Griff

Student needs are increasingly complex and cut across the typical silos of student services. Consider students who want to study abroad and the questions they might have: How will this contribute to my degree requirements? Will my credits transfer? Which program best positions me for a future job? How do I pay for this? How do I obtain the right visas and the necessary vaccinations?

Embarking on a study abroad program can involve enrollment, career services, financial aid, student accounts, and the health center. For students, study abroad is a singular coherent experience and process, but from the perspective of colleges and universities, it involves multiple workflows and providers.

Meanwhile, new student cohorts have brought their consumer experiences and higher expectations into their educational life. They expect a cohesive, seamless, personalized experience at every online and in-person interaction, providing information and support how and when they want it.

What’s needed most is a way to build a shared understanding that unites different perspectives. You can develop a cohesive vision and plan using these six strategies for connecting student services silos:

1. Create an Integrated Student Guide Across All Service Areas
At the core of the campus experience are the relationships students build — with other students, faculty, and staff. Rethinking who is delivering your services can be another source of innovation in the student experience. Is it by generalists, specialists, professionals, or peers? Total Advising at University of Virginia — which brings together advising on academics, personal well-being, and career matters — created a new role of generalist student staff, inspired by national park rangers who have a broad range of expertise from lacing hiking boots to knowing the best trails to take. The new student “rangers” act both as “guides” who go with you and “travel agents” who tell you where to go. Read more about how we helped UVA integrate their student services here.

2. Focus Your Service Portfolio on the Holistic Student Experience
A service portfolio articulates what future set of services will be part of your project and categorizes them in a way that will be intuitive and recognizable to students. SUNY Fredonia worked with brightspot on an initiative to centralize students support services into one student success corridor located in the heart of campus. Our participatory design process brought together multiple service providers across academic affairs, student affairs, and information technology to develop a new portfolio of student support services, determined the project’s space needs, and created a staffing and assessment plan. Learn more about how we helped Fredonia build toward student success here.

3. Unify Service Points to Resolve “Student Shuffle”
Rethinking where places of service delivery are located is a common driver in student service innovation projects, such as solving the “student shuffle” as students are referred from one location to another. Recognizing that students seek help at the most convenient service point regardless of specialty, we worked with North Carolina State University’s Hunt Library to develop a strategy for a single, integrated service point with roaming mobile staff to resolve questions in one interaction and meet students where they are. Read more about our work with Hunt Library here.

4. Adjust Operating Hours to Fit Student Life
Just as you would consider the best places to best meet student needs — such as bringing additional partner services into a library — rethinking when to provide services can ensure they’re more responsive to the rhythms of student life as well as operationally efficient. At the Rollins Campus Center at Young Harris College, the center’s various providers — library, dining, meeting, and administrative functions — had varying hours of operations. Collaborating with one another to consider their operating hours helped ensure the center’s operations best-met student needs and stayed within staffing and space constraints.

5. Align Your Core Value and Philosophy With Your Integrated Approach
Every endeavor starts with why and identifying the core values and principles that not only align the different service providers but also serve as a driver in every subsequent decision you make together in your service innovation project. A simple, concise phrase can at once be memorable and provide a nuanced set of values applicable to diverse situations. At one state university’s future success center, the service philosophy of “Treat students like they can succeed” embodied the principles of providing a high level of hands-on support, while also seeing the student experience as an opportunity to teach students how to be independent as well.

6. Deliver Academic Services from the Student Perspective
The service blueprint is an effective and compelling tool for rethinking how service delivery works from the student perspective. We collaborated with Portland State University’s Office of Academic Innovation and Student Affairs to uncover the pain points in the student experience and then identify interventions like interactive degree maps, coordinated student services, and a redesigned student portal, myPSU. Read more about how we helped improve the student experience from the PSU-student perspective here.

Higher education is facing unprecedented social, demographic, technological, and economic shifts. It’s also facing unprecedented challenges to ensuring affordable access, enabling student success, and achieving real-world impact. Consider how these real-life examples can help guide you in addressing student needs at your campus.

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