Self Service Central to Improving the Student ExperienceKim Wagner | Executive Director of Student Financial Services and Auxiliary Enterprises at Elgin Community College
We see them in the stores where we shop: kiosks that allow you to buy online, price check scanners mounted to the wall, and rows of self-check cash registers to quickly purchase goods while never interacting with a single human being. The 21st-century consumer wants convenience, immediate customer support and quick purchases. These truths also relate to students in higher education. In the last few years, colleges and universities have felt the push to respond to these consumer expectations as well. Therefore, implementation of self-service technology has risen to the top of many colleges’ and universities’ information technology project lists.
For us, it has become a very high priority to implement self-service technology as our student surveys reflected the need for better educational planning. Long lines, thousands of phone calls and appointments made for weeks in the future characterized students’ experience in our student service offices. Overall, most students want the ability to create an educational plan, register for their courses and select payment options on their own quickly and easily. There will always be a need for the face-to-face customer service, but placed alongside self-service options, it becomes more manageable. However, implementation of this software alone is not enough. Student service office staff and administration must discuss and create new procedures and communication strategies in response to this new way of doing business. A college’s communication style shifts from written letter and phone calls to more emails, alerts and online postings.
College students look for self-service capabilities in a variety of areas. They want to select their program of study or major, plan when they can take these courses in the future, register for the current term, and pay for their outstanding charges. Students expect a “portal” environment where they can customize their view settings, check their student email, and search for college policy information in one online area.
One of the largest challenges for colleges is to see the value for the student compared to the projected financial investment for the training and implementation of this technology. In planning for Elgin Community College’s Student Web Finance portal, administration and staff had to explore various ways to incorporate existing payment policies within established software. In response, a few software customizations were introduced and a detailed how-to letter was sent to all existing students. Elgin Community College was pleased to experience an easy transition, which was ameliorated by the students’ obvious ability to adapt.
Many colleges feel a necessity to mail paper billing statements or registration confirmations to their students since they have always done business that way. The fear of shifting the culture within a college’s business practice can be difficult to overcome. For instance, administration might question whether these changes will have a negative impact on the college. How will students know when to pay without a paper bill? Will our accounts receivable increase significantly? Nonetheless, with top management support, planning and adequate communication to students highlighting these changes, these fears are usually needless and the value added towards your students’ success is considerable.
Author Perspective: Administrator