The overlooked impact student services can have on retention

January 20, 2019
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Competencies
  • Enrollment Management
  • Holistic and Systemic Thinking
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
  • Retention
several cartoon figures stand, sit, or lay round a giant green check mark

Postsecondary institutions around the world are facing new challenges such as declining enrollment, changes to the perceived value of education, strained resources and increased accountability. In the face of those issues, many colleges are widening their focus beyond recruitment and increasing enrollment numbers to include improving student retention.

“There are many factors in the retention puzzle that are beyond the control of the institution,” said Tracy Hart, Program Planning Officer at the University of New Mexico. “But in my 20 years of experience in higher education, and according to academic literature relating services and retention, there’s one thing institutions have 100 percent control over: services.”

For many schools, services are a missed opportunity to have a positive impact on retention.  

“Providing comprehensive, quality customer service makes a big difference. The question is are we doing it deliberately, cohesively, and comprehensively?” Hart asked. “Are we looking at student needs from many different angles?”

At statewide, regional and national conferences, Hart has presented sessions regarding the impact of services on retention.Through her professional experience, amplified by the discussions at those sessions, she’s discovered a number of low-investment, high-yield opportunities for improving student services, including:

1. Adapting services for non-traditional students. Many services are designed for last century’s students -- freshmen straight out of high school -- but that is no longer the majority student population at many institutions. For many online or adult students, standing in lines on campus is simply prohibitive. Forms need to be available online -- and should be submittable online, as well.

2. Improving customer service training for service providers. If staff aren’t trained to recognize various students’ needs and meet them where they are, those students will fall through the cracks. Processes and policies need to be in place, but they will not be sufficient if employees don’t have basic customer service skills.

3. Knowing what metrics to use. You need to be using valid measurements so you know where you are, where you’re going, and whether you’re succeeding.

“Institutions are in a lot of different stages with retention challenges,” Hart said. “Some need a big picture view of service design, while some really need work on the nitty-gritty details, with practical recommendations for simple adjustments.”

Hart has expanded this session to tackle service challenges of all sizes into a preconference workshop at the 2019 AACRAO Annual Meeting which will include:

  • Low-tech and easy-to-implement recommendations for service improvements, 
  • Suggestions for institutions ready for a complete service overhaul, and
  • Tips for communicating with leadership and collaborating across departments, regardless of attendees’ locus of responsibility.

Click here to learn more and register for AACRAO 2019, March 31-April 3 in Los Angeles, CA.


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