One-Stop Student Services: Strategies to Succeed


We already know the benefits of investing in a one-stop student services solution–you will improve consistency of service and answers, improve the student experience, and better utilize overburdened staff. But how do you start reaping those benefits? Hear what three higher education leaders in the student services arena have to say about strategy, implementation, and challenges about one-stop student services solutions.

Some common themes we heard about strategy included the following:

  • Depending on the institution’s resources and parameters, a one-stop strategy can be operational within a year through collaborative planning and commitment. Using a phase-in approach allows change to occur quickly but in a planned manner which allows all the stakeholders input into the process and leads to greater understanding of the changes that are planned.
  • Get staff, especially seasoned staff, involved in planning so they can provide input and you will have their support. Your staff will play a large role in the new project and can easily become resistors.
  • Building consensus among all the related functional areas of what the integrated model will look like at your institution will be a challenge. And you will need to continue to evolve your one-stop. The planning does not stop at launch.
  • Many institutions implement one-stops to increase low student satisfaction levels. Make sure you define student success and satisfaction at your institutions so you can measure those areas, such call and email response times and line reductions.
  • Once your one-stop data starts rolling in, the possibilities are endless. With preparedness and efficiency under your belt, your team will be able to make an even bigger difference by taking on new projects to help with student support and success.
  • Resources and time will be two factors in where you decide to create your own one-stop strategy internally or partner with a vendor. You can succeed via either approach.

Q: How Do You Start Thinking About Your One-Stop Strategy?

Julie Selander, Director of One Stop Student Services & University Veteran Services, University of Minnesota: We started by thinking about how we improve the physical service environment and what should our virtual integration look like. We thought about how best to phase the project and what we should tackle first. We started with virtual integration and how we consolidate various websites and integrate them in a meaningful way for a positive and good online user experience. We also knew we have to reduce complaints to the President’s office about the long lines and how various processes could be more efficient and streamlined. We performed a major business process review of all of our silo-based transactions to determine how they would integrate in the new “one stop” world so we could create a better experience for both students and staff.

Anne Valentine, VP of Student Experience and Customer Service, Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana: We knew our processes were inefficient, incongruent across campuses, and not aligned with a flexible campus learning experience. Service was slow, bottlenecked by high student demand and limited resources. We began a search for more efficient ways and decided to partner with Blackboard to launch a one-stop virtual Student Success/Help Center to augment our on-campus staff. We developed solutions for enrollment, admissions, advising, financial aid, and registration. Our approach included a mobile-friendly self-help portal, extended live support, proactive outreach calls, and interaction tracking. Once those critical virtual components were in place, we were able to work on the in person, on campus student experience.

Q: What Is a Reasonable Implementation Plan/Timeline?

Anne: Total time from approval of the concept to having both virtual and in person one-stops available throughout the state was two years. Ivy Tech was able to launch the virtual one-stop experience with Blackboard within six months of starting the project. After that, we spent another year doing extensive process improvement work, facility renovation, and staff training before the first in person one-stop opened. The remaining one-stops opened over the course of the next six months. The scale of our project is unusual – if we didn’t have 16 one-stops to launch, a year would have been sufficient.

Julie: It depends on what aspects of integration you plan to work on. Are you virtually consolidating a number of websites from various units within the institution? Are you planning to remodel or build a new location to support your walk-in customer needs? Is there anticipated push-back from various leaders, a lack of support from key stakeholders, or other concerns that might prevent you from moving forward? It can take years, particularly if you are moving the project through a phased approach. One of the keys to keep the project on track is to have a unified goal and to create a planning and implementation team that can help you get there.

Dennis Day, former Vice President of Student Success and Engagement at Johnson County Community College: Depending on the institution’s resources and parameters a one-stop strategy can be operational within a year through collaborative planning and commitment. Using a phase-in approach allows change to occur quickly but in a planned manner which allows all the stakeholders input into the process and leads to greater understanding of the changes that are planned. Short term and long term considerations are critical in this method due to the many anticipated changes to the areas involved. Shorter time lines are possible but may lead to superficial acceptance and not gain wide spread cooperation. Longer timelines are not unusual but are vulnerable to constant changes and lack of sustainable effort.

Q: Who Should Be Involving in Planning an Institution’s One-Stop?

Anne: For us, Student Affairs was most involved day to day, making sure everything was lined up before implementation and talked to students throughout the process. Our Vice Chancellors were involved in all planning as well as staff from every region and functional area that would be a part of the new one-stop center. Our President was committed to making this happen, which helped propel the project. HR was involved to help facilitate changing of roles. It was a focus to make sure we were building up trust amongst staff and making all aware of the benefits. Blackboard’s expertise in the virtual student experience and measurable customer service results helped us set benchmarks in planning how we would measure the in person, on campus experience.

Julie: You have to get staff in the process, their input, get their thumbprint on the project – you need their support and ideas.

Q: How Do You Overcome Individuals Who Aren’t Supportive of Centralizing Student Services?

Dennis: There will be resistors at one level or another. Find out who they are early and showcase the vision early and try to get joint creation. The Registrar or Financial Aid Director may have a hard time conceptualizing the new concept because their job functions require such strict adherence to rules and regulations. Getting them involved with the project and developing the vision and expectations together can help minimize resistance and lead to acceptance.

Q: What Are Common One-Stop Benchmarks?

Dennis: Student satisfaction is a top one but you need to figure out what you as a higher education institution want to measure – phone calls, email response times, line reductions, etc. The institution needs to define what student success is and how the one-stop operation helps with that. How is the one-stop operation helping to provide an education and leading students to completing their programs?

Julie: About 15 years ago when we started our one-stop, our institution was very focused on graduation rates and retention rates. We’ve made great strides as an institution. In our One Stop organization, we want to better leverage data and show how we have made direct impacts of improving the student experience. We are currently trying to correlate data to show how students interacting with our one stop are able to progress through their degree and graduate sooner.

Anne: For us, Blackboard runs our call center and provides us with general student services benchmarks such as average speed to answer, average handle time, abandon rate, escalation rates, hold times, and enrollment management benchmarks such as volume of inquiries, applicants who have completed enrollment steps, registered for classes, etc. For the in person, on campus experience we measure average wait time, average visit time, escalation rates and student satisfaction via surveys.

Q: How Do You Use Your One-Stop Data?

Anne: The possibilities with the data is endless. We worked with Blackboard to deploy more than 440,000 proactive outbound calls to students to help them through enrollment and financial aid requirements as well as remind them to pay bills and register for class on time. Students who speak with a Blackboard advisor regarding their admissions process enroll for classes at a rate of 25 to 30% higher rate than students that do not speak to an advisor. In addition, we also now have insight into what points in the enrollment process we are losing students, and we found our assessment test was the main reason. With this information, we can now create a solution. We also have tools now to manage the voices of complaining students. We know what information they provided to the staff and how long they waited. We have the data now to understand the student experience. We can put it in perspective.

Dennis: Understanding the immediacy of the student and accountability is crucial. Did we create a long line by communicating with students to come register at a certain time? Delving into the data will reveal many answers to your questions about service to students.

Julie: It allows us to be more prepared and efficient. We still have some lines during our peak operational periods. They will never completely disappear. With our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools, we can more easily do forecasting and trend analysis, which allows us to manage our staff more effectively and efficiently.

Q: What Are the Three Most Challenging Aspects of Going From a ‘Traditional’ Model of Support to an Integrated Student Service Model, or One-Stop?

Anne: The first and biggest challenge is earning the trust of seasoned staff at the institution (including leadership) that this will improve student services and isn’t just a fad, including leadership. The second challenge is building consensus among all the related functional areas of what the integrated model will look like at the institution. And the third challenge is continuing to evolve the definition of a one-stop. When people are resistant to change (see challenge number one) and you finally convince them to support the one-stop, it takes some time before they support the idea that one-stop allows for and encourages continuous improvement. They may have thought they could settle in once the one-stop launched but they soon learn that’s just the beginning.

Julie: One of the challenges I have heard from quite a few other institutions are leaders who resist. Often they are in tunnel vision and cannot see the broad perspective of how this can improve the overall student experience, increase student success, and help staff in their job satisfaction. It’s important to get that buy-in and support early on and to ensure there is a unified goal that everyone sees how their jobs/units align with that.

Q: Outsourcing vs Home-Grown—What Is the Best Strategy?

Anne: For Ivy Tech, the best strategy involves both partnering with an outside organization and developing our staff. We evaluated what were our strengths (in person interactions) and what were our weaknesses (lack of capacity to handle the phone call volume) and chose to partner with Blackboard for the virtual one-stop. That enabled us to develop the in-person one-stop and allow on campus staff to focus on the students who came in person without having to worry about who is there to answer the phone.

Julie: It has worked well for us to create our own strategy and work from the ground up with all of our staff and management team working toward a common goal on this project. We work with our students every day and we truly understand their needs and having this perspective at every step of the project has helped us to be successful.

Dennis: Colleges and universities have been successful developing their own plans or getting assistance from an expert or facilitator. Staying in-house will add to the time involved with the planning and implementation, by out-sourcing a great deal of time can be saved and many hurdles can be avoided. Again, resources and time will determine the best strategy. It is unusual to have someone on staff with much or any experience with the development of a one-stop operation.

Check back here for a continuation of our interviews and discussions about one-stop student services—we will focus on the evolution of one-stop student services and trends for the future. Visit us to learn more about Blackboard’s One-Stop Student Services solution.