Focusing Talent: Using Specialization to Drive Operational Efficiency and Student SatisfactionAmy Chester | Senior Assistant Dean at the School of Continuing Studies, Georgetown University
University administration is rarely known for efficiency. However, for a professional education division looking to grow and expand, inefficiency is not an option. It jeopardizes student enrollment and their experience, faculty focus and commitment, and institutional quality and growth. Continuing education divisions in growth mode need to focus staff roles around strategic initiatives to achieve operational efficiency and drive both student success and academic experience.
It’s critical to understand that operational efficiency is more than just doing more with less. It is intentionally identifying the positions, roles, and responsibilities that create the most effective partnerships and processes to achieve department goals, and to pursue organizational vision, at the optimal cost.
For the Center for Continuing and Professional Education (CCPE) at Georgetown University, pursuing operational efficiency led to structural changes that are enhancing operational efficiency while also improving the student experience and expanding opportunities for the School of Continuing Studies. CCPE serves more than 3,000 non-credit students annually through more than 30 certificate programs in a wide range of industries. In order to better support this growing portfolio, the department implemented a new organizational structure centered around a specialist model.
CCPE historically used a generalist organizational model, with each team member carrying out the necessary administrative and academic tasks for an individual portfolio of certificate programs. Curriculum planning, course preparation and student support were all completed by portfolio owners.
To increase team efficiency, student experience and scalability, the department reorganized around a specialist model. Instead of having many portfolio owners doing similar tasks for different programs, staff became specialized in performing certain tasks for all programs. First, particular and discrete department needs were identified. Second, staff were selected to fill the new positions that best fit their skill sets and experience. Third, managers of each team were given individual ownership and responsibility and empowered to become experts in their area, driving improvements and their own capabilities.
In addition to the reorganization, a telework and remote access pilot was put in place to improve staff morale, effectiveness and flexibility. Eligible staff can now regularly work remotely to improve focus on higher level projects without distractions and to align with what we know about adult learning: It happens everywhere, not just in the office. Finally, a remote on-call schedule was finalized to ensure off-hour support was available when needed. Staff are now well prepared to continue supporting programs and students on and off-site.
Reorganizing around this type of specialist model can improve operational efficiency and support a better student experience in two specific areas:
Student Relationship Management
Prospective students have a low threshold of patience with inefficient processes. A specialized enrollment management team, focused on supporting the student lifecycle from prospective student inquiry to matriculation, can greatly improve communication. This is implemented by centralizing information, maintaining a main point of contact to have questions answered in a timely fashion, and having a standardized admission/enrollment experience.
CCPE developed a specialized Enrollment Management team responsible for the first line of response for applications and student inquiries, and a Communications team able to support all academic programs to ensure the right message and information is presented across the board. The creation of these two teams can enable:
1. User-centered web design: Strategically sharing information, including program learning goals and policies, on websites to ensure the accuracy of information and the format is consistent. This online experience will be both easier and more enjoyable for the student because they can quickly find necessary information.
2. Instant inquiry response: An automated inquiry response system helps prospective students understand key program differentiators and to identify next steps to enrollment. Universities with small enrollment management teams can more quickly and effectively manage inquiries by creating an automatic response that includes a clear call to action and addresses any information gaps.
3. Centralized course communications: A centralized operations team can establish templates and queue reminders for optimal schedule distribution. This scalable format means that one team can own all course communication plans across the department effectively.
A specialized operations team has enhanced administration and academic capabilities by supporting course logistics across the department and allowing a dedicated academic team to focus on maintaining academic and professional integrity and student satisfaction. Three examples include:
1. Centralized semester scheduling: A designated operations team allows academic staff to identify the optimal course offerings and engage in higher-level academic planning and course analysis. Changes and updates can then be efficiently and consistently implemented into the system by Operations.
2. Streamlined faculty services: When faculty hiring and contract processing are centralized to one team, a tracking system is used to keep paperwork moving and ensure timelines are followed. A single staff contact for all hiring and personnel management needs improves relationships with faculty and with the university human resources department.
3. Documentation of all business processes: A centralized operations team is empowered to document business processes and policies providing more consistent and accurate records management, accreditation, and reporting capabilities.
The Georgetown University Center for Continuing and Professional Education is continuing to learn, improve, and enhance our operational efficiency to provide the best services and academic experience to our student population. Strategic reorganization improves student enrollment and experience, provides increased faculty support, and readies teams for future growth. A specialist organizational structure enables each team member to become an expert in an individual functional area, allowing an entire department to better contribute to the mission of the school and institution.
Author Perspective: Administrator