Monday, August 27, 2012

Taking Student Service to the Next Level

The phrase student service may sound like the work of a particular office on campus, but in reality it’s at the heart of what all of us do each and every day. It can be described as customer service. However, we know that it’s much more than that because of the commitment we make to our students and the importance of what we do in higher education.

Student service is something we have always done well at Vol State. The caring attitude towards students is a big part of the Vol State Difference. We can always do better, though. Challenges created by our renewed emphasis on student success and completion make effective student service more important than ever.

“It’s really important that students understand that they matter,” said President Jerry Faulkner.

“The data are clear. Students are more likely to continue their academic journey if they have a connection with someone on campus,” said Advising Center Director, Terry Bubb. “If they’ve experienced negativity or think we don’t care about them, they’re more likely to drop out or not continue their studies.”

For those on the front lines of student reception the mission can seem clear.

“Out here you still need to use the hand holding approach,” said receptionist Lesa Durham. “If it takes walking them down to Admissions or going outside to show them how to get to Financial Aid, that’s what you do. Most of them have not been away from home and when they get here they feel a bit lost. I always watch for them when they come back through and ask them ‘did you get what you needed?’ When they give me that smile and say yes, then I’m pretty sure they’ll be back as a student.”

The type of service provided changes from job to job on campus. For faculty there is an additional level of complexity.

“We have to challenge students and we have to evaluate their work,” said Associate Professor Nancy Blomgren. “We can’t always make people happy and we can’t always go by the customer is always right philosophy. Regardless though, treating them with respect is the baseline, treating them respectfully and fairly. Teaching at its core is establishing a relationship. There has to be that sense of trust.”
Establishing that trust can be tough when you have a room full of students, either in the classroom or waiting for you in the Advising Center.

“We are all trained to look at that individual student and tune out the crowd waiting,” said Bubb. “For that student this is their time.”

“Even if I have to tell a student no, there’s a way to do it,” said Vice President Patty Powell. “I don’t feel like I have the right to talk down to anyone.”

We asked Dr. Faulkner what he would suggest faculty and staff keep in mind.
“Number one is to treat that student standing in front of you as the most important person that you will deal with that day,” he said. “You may have had to say something 400 times that day, but it may be the first time the student has heard it. Try to treat people the way you would want to be treated.”

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