Student Services: Innovative Systems from Acceptance to Graduation
The systems that support adult students are different from those that traditional-aged students need, thus it requires innovative departments to meet this challenge. Admissions and registration units typically deal with issues involving customer service, student records, academic policy, computer hardware and software, privacy and security, and public relations. In adult programs, the student service departments provide these services, while listening to both external and internal customers (through student and faculty feedback), using effective customer service principles that adults have come to expect in the workplace, and encouraging productivity among the hourly staff by being a fun place to work. Leaders of these departments continually remind the staff of the unique mission of providing a second chance for adults to earn a degree. The guiding principle for adapting services for adults is to not just make the students happy, but to give them the tools they need to succeed and graduate as lifelong learners.
The following sections cover the
variety of systems at
The cohort model forms the basis
for an extremely important concept in the
For the administration, the cohort model provides an opportunity to register students efficiently and budget effectively. When students call and identify their cohort group number, it enables the staff to serve the students with a host of information readily available, e.g., what faculty member they have currently, where they meet for classes, and how close they are to graduation. With that in mind, it becomes much easier to provide effective service for adult students.
While enrollment management is
covered in another chapter, the actions and goals there are intimately
connected with the systems in a Student Services department. Since one of the key concepts in most adult
admissions processes is to “strike while the iron is hot,” turn-around time
from the application process to starting class is best when it is
shortest—ideally 60 days. For an adult to return to school, a strong individual commitment is
required--without the advantage of group pressure that high school or even
While a quick start is desired by most adult students, the faculty often want a process that admits only “college material” into their classrooms. To meet this need, some programs are finding ways to help with remediation in the form of self-tutoring software in the early courses of the degree program, or as pre-requisites for specific courses later in the program.
3. Academic Advising & Mentoring
Full-time professional Advisors
seem two work best with adults, versus asking the faculty to advise students on
their program requirements. Scheduling appointments—either face-to-face or
virtual interaction—fits better with the working adult, because they do not reside
on or maybe even near the
Advisors also serve as the primary "customer service" contact person for students enrolled in the University. Advisors make themselves available via phone and email, and in person to talk about individual concerns, or will help the student get in contact with the appropriate person for other issues. After the initial appointment, Advisors also visit the various class sites in their caseload area for general contacts. Advisors are an advocate for the student and an advocate for the University, which requires a delicate but necessary balancing act. However, adult students, more than traditional aged students, will recognize the efforts Advisors put forth to help them work out a plan for degree completion. Here is a sample quote received by a full-time academic advisor at IWU: “Each person I have dealt with has been nothing but encouraging and helpful. My advisor has gone the extra mile to not only answer my questions, but to foresee some other questions and have the answers ready.”
To provide a quick turn-around for the adult student who decides to return to school, Student Services works with the marketing offices to prepare the information needed for new class starts. A modification of the registrations system software was required to handle non-term based registrations, instead of the traditional Fall and Spring class starts. New cohorts begin as soon as there are enough to start a cohort group for a particular degree program. The marketing office gives a final list to the Enrollment Specialist no later than the day before a new group starts. No additions are to be made after this point. Admission Specialists approve each person, making sure the student is accepted, and that there are not financial holds. Class rosters are distributed the day of the cohort start to all offices needing this information. In some cases, rosters may be needed early in the day for materials to be delivered to more distant locations or to make Blackboard preparations (for online cohorts).
Registration for the entire core program (major) is conducted at the beginning of the first class workshop. This procedure lasts for about 30 minutes, when students review and sign payment agreements (including a financial aid orientation), the registrations forms, and complete entrance surveys. A start packet and the books for the course are distributed to each student. A power point presentation about the University is also a part of this first evening workshop. Books are delivered during each course for the upcoming course in a lock-step core program. For stand-alone electives, books are mailed to the student’s home address.
Follow-up procedures are done the day after a cohort start. This insures that all information is accurate. Students are registered for all core courses after matriculation. During the first class session, the students will have signed a registration form that covers all the classes in the lock-step program. This happens along with an orientation to the program and the University. The student's signature on this one form enables the staff to batch register the entire cohort group for the whole degree program. After this automatic registration process, an official roster is then distributed. An important piece to success in registration processes is the ability to automate the student information system to batch as many processes as possible (e.g., registration, section creation, etc).
A more labor-intensive registration process takes place in order to register students for individual courses, i.e., electives, or for any changes in registration (see paragraph below). However, even for students wanting online education delivery of courses, the process can have them enrolled and starting class in two weeks or less. Elective registrations must be financially cleared before being processed for registration in Student Services. Student Services is responsible to verify that the student is eligible to take the course, and the system automatically checks for repeats of courses either taken previously or brought in through transfer.
Both undergraduate and graduate electives courses are offered for students to assist them in meeting degree requirements. Electives are delivered in both onsite and online format, but the registration process is the same. Undergraduate electives are offered to assist students in completing their General Education and elective requirements. However, many adult students transfer these courses in, or earn some of these credits via assessed credit (Prior Learning Portfolio or CLEP/DANTES).
5. Changes in Registration: Withdrawals, Re-entries, and Retention Efforts
When the complexities of job/family/school/health
collide, the adult students needs to know there is a degree of flexibility in
the system to accommodate this. Adult education programs need to continually
offer options for students to “stop out” or “change programs.” Ideally, adult
programs design a way for calling them back into the program as well. Some adult programs use a
IWU has full-time withdrawal/re-entry specialists who help students when they need to initiate any change in registration, whether it is a temporary or permanent withdrawal, temporarily entering another cohort to make up a class, transferring to another cohort for a better time or location, or re-entering a program after being out awhile. Whenever a student is unsure of what type of action to take, all options are explained and explored. Financial Aid recipients are told that any change in registration may affect their aid, and staff are ready to assist in recalculating their awards if needed. Those students who will be out of enrollment more than twenty-nine (29) days must request an official “leave of absence” from the University. A daily report of all registration changes are sent to all offices that need to make proper adjustments for the student.
Occasionally after hearing a tragic story from a student who needs to withdraw, the withdrawal/re-entry specialists will ask the student for permission to tell others in the department who are concerned for them. They also inform the appropriate Advisor to follow-up on certain situations or if there are questions concerning particular degree requirements. In all cases, a reason for withdrawal is asked and recorded.
Since the average age of the students in adult programs is 35-40 years old, they often are eager to pursue the opportunity to earn credit for experiential learning. Most schools with adult programs provide assistance with prior learning assessment, and someone dedicated for consultation about work experience or any number of formal or informal sources which may qualify for assessment of prior learning, and provides training for how to submit such a portfolio. Strict adherence to Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and American Council on Education (ACE) standards is required. The Coordinator will also arrange for pre-certification of other training courses and initiates corporate articulation agreements when appropriate.
7. Career Coaching
Serving the need for job transition
in a changing economy needs to be part of an adult education program. IWU has a very popular elective course on
Career Development, offered both onsite and online, where students assess their
strengths/weaknesses and explore options for future career paths. Some online life coaching is being done with
adults via the Life Calling and
In order to serve a largely adjunct faculty across the nation (and sometimes overseas), grading and attendance reporting is done through the IWU Web Advisor Portal. Faculty may access course rosters through the Portal 24/7, which indicates any changes in student registrations for classes. The system for reporting absences within 48 hours of the class meeting is managed by one full-time staff person. Appropriate effort is made to contact the student who misses more than the allowed absences to determine if the student wants to withdraw, and avoid receiving an F for the course. Grades are not process until all attendance has been recorded.
Grades are due in the Student
Services Department no later than seven days after completion of the
course. Grade reports with current and
cumulative GPA are then sent to students via
9. Graduation: Certifying and Ceremonies
Celebrating the completion of degree requirements with an adult student is a uniquely special time. For many families and friends, they are more than happy to travel to the University that gave their loved one a second chance to complete a degree. For others, it is a celebration with career advancement opportunities on the horizon.
Academic advisors provide degree audits to students throughout their course of study to ensure the student is on the right track for graduation. Three months before their planned graduation date, students are sent an application for graduation and a degree completion evaluation form, which must be returned with their plan to earn any elective credit still outstanding. At this time, students are also sent information regarding accessing their academic attire order form and detailed information concerning the ceremonies.
Students are eligible to graduate if all requirements for graduation have been met one week prior to graduation. Led by the Director of Records/Registration for CAPS , the Student Services certification process for approximately 1200 students per graduation is an intense time for this department… but the celebration day is worth it. Most of our employees work on these commencement Saturdays, and enjoy meeting the students they may have only had contact with via phone or email. Honor cords (for Bachelor graduates only) are presented before the ceremony. Though we experience a 20-30% absentia rate, many students and their families drive hundreds of miles to attend and celebrate with the graduate.
10. Electronic Portfolios
A trend in adult learning is the use of electronic portfolio technology to collect, organize, and archive student submissions. The Graduate Education Portfolio, as an example, is a validation of competencies in core expectations based on standards. Portfolio systems management is greatly enhanced by software that assists in the development of the portfolio process. It has significant economic advantage also as the internet becomes the media of exchange of documents. Student’s can also use the archived electronic portfolio documents in post graduation presentation to current or prospective employers.
11. Internet-based Instruction
Internet-based learning is growing at an increasingly fast pace. Allyn Beekman, Assistant Vice President of the Adult & Graduate Division at IWU, contributed this section and expects the online education student population to exceed ground delivery of education in the near future. The concept of any-time any-place delivery of education has market potential that cannot be ignored. Management learning systems such as Blackboard, as well as open source systems like Moodle, are being used to manage on-line courses. Based on IWU’s 10 years of experience in offering online degree programs, consider the following factors when building a quality Internet-based degree program:
12. Library Service to Distance Education Students
Web-based library service is a competitive advantage for adult students, regardless of where they attend class across the state or online. Providing adequate library services is also mandated from accrediting bodies, both regionally and discipline-specific entities that accredit programs, e.g., NCATE for education and CCNE for nursing.
To avoid disparities between on-
Online librarians and onsite regional library staff are typically available to support students either in live chats or face-to-face during posted office hours. In addition, students have an 800 toll free number to call or they can use online request forms for email document delivery in a 48 hour turnaround throughout the week.
Most adult students appreciate the
convenience of having the books already provided for each course, versus the
inconvenience of waiting in line at a
In order for the leadership of this College plus other department heads to see trends and make decisions, Student Services departments produce a variety of standard reports, plus other statistical data as requested. For example, a one-page statistical summary of students enrolled by program—compared to the previous year—is posted electronically once a month, and all of the adult College personnel can access. Included are the number of cohort groups in each degree program, the number of students in each degree program, the number of students in undergraduate or graduate electives, the number of cites and sites where we hold classes, and the number of Associate, Baccalaureate, and Graduate degrees awarded. Other statistical information is gathered monthly for use in decision-making by administrators of the adult education programs.
Adult students are often at serious change points in their lives, and
are open to spiritual support and counsel.
The Director for Chaplaincy Program leads the training and development
of the SpiritCare program. The regional
16. Physical Site Issues
An often overlooked but significant success factor for adult learner focused institutions are the facilities surrounding an optimum learning environment. Shawn Matter, Operations Director for over 5 years, provided the advice in this section, and it is based on having evening classes from to , Monday through Thursday evenings. The regional sites are properties built by the University. An additional 20% of adult learners attend sites such as rented conferences rooms or corporate training facilities.
The Class Representative system is our best channel for connecting with cohort groups around the state. Elected by their peers in the cohort, the “Class Rep” is a position of responsibility and respect. They develop a phone tree for emergency notifications from the College (e.g., during a snow emergency if classes are postponed) and disseminate material sent to them for the rest of their classmates. If central administration receives a letter from the Class Rep, it carries more weight than a solo complaint. Class Rep Breakfasts as well as special gifts of appreciation are provided for these outstanding students leaders. A student panel was recently held at a Program Directors’ Retreat and they asked as well as fielded many questions from the Directors. These adults represented their cohorts well, and felt honored to take a few hours out of their day to come.
Adults must have a Toll-Free number and online Portal to contact the Institution. When students contact us to update addresses, phone, email, or employer info, the web site is quickly becoming the contact method of choice, this is always entered in a centralized database so that all offices have access to the most accurate, up-to-date information. Most forms (transcript request forms, CLEP/DANTES registration forms, and email links to change addresses) are also available via a link on the Student Services website. The marketing offices have a separate number from the rest of the College.
Class visits are always encouraged and desired by the students. Advisors have a caseload area they cover, and often drop in before class or during one of their breaks to touch base with their advisees. At IWU, Chaplains are required to visit five times during the program, but are also asked to help with special situations, even weddings, grief counseling, and pinning ceremonies during the closing class of the nursing program. The IWU Alumni Magazine, called the Triangle, dedicates about 4-6 pages for articles, reports, and news from the adult students.
The areas of academic policy and
customer service are the guiding principles by which we operate each day. Annual assessment of our goals are a part of
continuous improvement in Student Services as well as in all departments at
colleges and Universities. The support
received from leadership, and the dedication of support staff, are what makes
it possible to keep on the cutting edge of adult education and to further the
mission of higher education in