How to implement a modern one-stop student service center
One stop student service centers have arguably become the front line for campus modernization since as early as the 1990s—and back then it was more about saving office space than streamlining data. Today, schools implementing them can rapidly modernize, streamline, and digitize the student experience, all while improving efficiency and service for students.
As complexity grows at higher education institutions—with most institutions hosting at least some online courses if not fully online programs, with satellite campuses providing services away from the main campus, and student demographics shifting from full-time residential students toward commuting and/or part-time students—one stop service centers become more necessary and practical.
Students’ ability to navigate complex administrative processes should not be the factor that determines whether they stay happily enrolled at their current institution or seek enrollment elsewhere. Additionally, as institutions expand and upgrade the breadth of resources available to students, it is necessary to provide students with easy access to those resources, with options for mobile, web, or walk-in service as appropriate.
One stop centers can provide students with a central location to seek assistance and a trained staff to either provide that assistance or make an appropriate referral. This type of attention to student-centered service is critical to supporting the changing needs of today’s diverse learners, and is critical to schools shifting to an integrated, efficient, and pro-data infrastructure.
A campus with an exemplary one stop center
One Stop Student Services at the University of Tennessee hosts the promise of an efficient experience for students, noting on its website:
One Stop streamlines the most common student services at one convenient location. Our goal is to make your experience with enrollment, academic records, financial aid, and making payments as smooth, efficient, and friendly as possible!
Students have access to services online as well as face-to-face services. For students visiting the physical location, there is a wait time indicator on the website so students can check on the current wait time before visiting the physical location.
Services provided include:
- Financial aid scholarships
- Student accounts
- Grades and transcripts
- Registration and degree planning
- Student records and personal information
- Access to academic policies, dates, and deadlines
(For a look at another exemplary one stop center, check out The Gateway, an award-winning one stop at Central Ohio Community College. Finger Lakes Community College and Miami University also host great one stops.)
Setting up a one stop at your institution
Darren Curry, Director of One Stop Student Services at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offered his insights and experience having worked over the past few years to establish and refine an effective and innovative one-stop center for his institution.
In its first year of service, Tennessee’s One Stop achieved a number of impressive feats:
- 53% reduction in overall calls in non-peak times
- 72% reduction in calls routed to the Bursar
- 74% reduction in calls routed to Financial Aid
- 85% reduction in calls routed to the Registrar
And just this past year, One Stop handled over 230,000 service requests, by email, phone, and walk-in customers—nearly 90% of which came by just phone and email. And the center received satisfaction scores of 90% or above on its recent survey measuring professionalism, courtesy, and “received answer needed.”
The University of Tennessee also saw considerable cost-savings in the form of improved staff utilization: approximately 20% of frontline staff time that was previously idle during down times is now flexed for persistence initiatives.
What follows comes from a brief Q&A with Darren Curry, featuring his recommendations, insights, and lessons learned for how to implement a one stop at your own institution:
How do you make a one stop center successful in year one?
- First of all, it’s important to realize that creating a one stop is a way for an institution to transform the way they recruit and retain students, but it means a change in culture that will impact the entire campus. To be successful and to shift your service model effectively, it is critical to get participation, input, and buy-in from all levels within the institution as early in the process as possible. Hint: that also means you should include students on your implementation team—their perspective is invaluable!
- Compare and evaluate your service experiences in other industries. For your students, aim to create the type of exceptional service you experience in other places. And take time to evaluate, refresh, and document existing policy and procedure to make everything student-focused.
- Clearly define and communicate broadly with staff the service and processing expectations for the one stop. For example, One Stop answers questions about X, Y, and Z up to certain point and then hands off to a specialist in a home office beyond the knowledge level of the One Stop staff. At the same time, home office specialists should set expectations of turnaround time for process the requests that advance to them. For example, How long does it take to evaluate a transcript, or How long until I receive an admission decision?
- Create career paths within the one stop organization. One stop counselors quickly become major assets on campus. As is always the case, it is better to retain talent than to recruit new talent. Build opportunities for staff advancement from the beginning—counselor 1, 2, 3, or senior counselors, assistance directors, etc.
- Technology is essential to an outstanding student service experience, and institutions absolutely need to provide integrated, secure, and 24/7 accessible systems for in-person, mobile, web, call-in, and payment service. Students expect as much. To that end, engage the IT experts early and often in your setup and implementation process, and at every iterative step of improving the one stop after it’s up and running.
How long does it take to implement a one stop?
A thoughtful and thorough implementation can be completed within a year. However, timelines will vary by institution, type of service model, and facilities available.
Lessons learned from setting up a one stop?
It’s important to recognize that customer service is given both internally and externally. Don’t forget to train all staff on delivering stellar customer service.
After a few years, Curry decided to change the Tennessee One Stop’s walk-in service experience from self-check-in kiosks to a welcome desk staffed to check people in to see a counselor. The self-check-in process was not as friendly or efficient as expected. However, another benefit of having run the One Stop for a few years, was that Curry was able to incorporate frontline service for Undergraduate Admissions, further streamlining and simplifying overall service to students.
Overall, Tennessee’s one stop experience led the institution to deliver an entirely new level of service to students. For any institution, it’s an opportunity to move more services online and utilize new channels of service delivery or communication. And creating a modern one stop is just one way to improve student success throughout the student lifecycle.