What services are you offering?
As we discussed previously, an institution’s target population of learners is a critical determinant for which services are offered as mandatory and which services are optional, beyond the core academic program. Historically, traditional colleges have not paid a great deal of attention to providing user-friendly non-academic services. Students have largely been left to their own devices when it comes to everything from paying the bills to transferring credit, to getting a parking permit, library card, career counseling.
When a learner is engaged in online or digitized learning in the new universe, however, making these services simple, accessible and user-friendly becomes even more important. In almost all online, web-based institutional cases that I am aware of, more learners leave without completing because of the lack of “friendliness” in these non-academic areas rather than their inability to perform academically.
Consequently, when we are innovating in the new universe, we need to consider the services that the target population must have or at least have access to, as well as the academic program requirements before we try to fit a financial framework around them. And, as a part of that process, the innovator must decide which services she will provide directly (develop, own and execute) and which she will contract for. The point underlying all of this is not that it has to be expensive in order to have appropriate quality. It is that all aspects must be considered before a cost-price/quality balance for that population can be determined. And then scale (numbers of students) and higher retention rates will determine price, making quality the driver of financial solvency!
In the up-coming digital age, new universe models will comprise “single stroke” high tech services. While this list may not be exhaustive, it will signal the scope of services, and hence excellence, needed to support the learner’s non-academic experience.
- Learner Advocate: From the moment of enrollment, every learner should have one person, or one contact point with that learner’s history and complete data base. The outcome: that when a learner has a problem getting the answer or the results she needs, she can make one call or write one email and have the advocate solve the problem.
- Admissions and Enrollment: there should be one person or, again, a unified data base, that serves every step in the process, from “first contact” to enrollment.
- Financing and Financial Aid: each learner must know, as soon as possible, the time to degree, overall expense, and availability of grants and loans. The objective: learners must know what the costs and liabilities are to them as soon as possible.
- “Bridging In” from the enrollment phase to the academic cycle: The handoff of an enrolled student to their academic advisor must be smooth and integrated. For example, if academic advice is needed to clarify time to degree and cost, then the right hand (enrollment advisor) and the left hand (academic advisor) must know what each other are doing.
- Career Services: Diagnostics which help learners identify their aptitude for specific jobs and careers as well as up-to-date information about currently available jobs, pay levels, and requirements must be on tap at all times.
- Clubs and Social Spaces: In an online and digitized environment, interest-oriented clubs and informal social spaces are important outlets and resources for learners.
- Library, Learning Resources, Remediation: Before enrolling, learners must know the adequacy of their current skill sets and knowledge and how remediation, integrated with regular course work, will be made available. Library and learning resources should be generally made known to the learner, with specifics tied to their degree program and courses.
Cost and price must reflect investment in success, not a rush to the bargain basement.