by Tyler Bennett
Since the opening of the Student Services Center last March, WVU Parkersburg administration looked forward to the start of the fall semester to test the effectiveness of the center.
Instead of students going all over campus for help, the center brings all of the services in one location.
The one stop shop offers admission, records office and financial aid all in one area. Enrollment holds admission and recruitment; records office covers the maintenance, protection of student’s privacy and anything that touches their official record. Finally, financial aid helps students with questions and filling out FAFSA applications.
Anthony Underwood, Vice President of Student Services, wanted WVU Parkersburg to be a Division of Motor Vehicles like experience where every student’s need can be addressed in one place.
“Any time you can go to one place, and get the lion’s share of your concerns taken care of, is better than going to three or four separated places to get that done,” Underwood said. “Like how you can go the DMV and take care of voter registration, license place, driver’s license, and get your tests done all in one place.”
The center will additionally give students more benefits to go along with the location. In the past when coming to an office, if someone was out or absent, some would have to wait an hour or a day to receive help.
However, staff located in the area are cross trained so students can receive help quickly and be on their way. A returning student told Underwood that they saw a great difference with the new center, compared to past experiences.
“We were asking her about her experience here so far, and she pointed out how particularly quick and easy, comparing to her memories of how things used to be, that the staff was extremely helpful and quick,” Underwood said. “She got her questions answered really quickly and she seemed she was in and out. She went from not being a student to a fully registered student in one day.”
Wanting to improve the experience for students, Underwood and other members of the Student Services Division have worked for three to four years. They made sure everyone in the division had a voice in designing and what the procedure in the space would be.
The division researched other one-stop offices around the country and even visited centers in Huntington and Fairmont, but according to Underwood, it was not until Dr. Fletcher Lamkin was appointed President that made it a reality.
“We did a lot of research, and then we were very lucky to have Dr. Lamkin on board as our president.” Underwood said. “Because he immediately saw the value of all of those services co-located. We had our thoughts and plans, but it wasn’t until Lamkin came on board that we were able to advance those plans and make it a reality.”
Part of the new center was instituting objective feedback procedures, similar to when retail stores have a survey about the experience to have a chance to win a gift card, to help improve the experience for students.
When students come in the center, they receive a ticket that is actually a digital record of the student’s request. It tells whom the ticket belongs to, what the student needs and who was assigned to answer it.
Once finished, the ticket is closed. With the ticket being created digitally, staff can check in real time to see how fast a student was served, who performed the service and what was the main concern. Students then will get an email within 24 hours, asking to fill out a survey on the experience to help improve the process.
Having ten percent of tickets were created in the last couple of weeks before school started. To help with how packed the center was in the first weeks, Underwood said that they stumbled upon something that helps with quick questions. By putting two desks outside by the center, two workers helps by answering questions and getting tickets ready.
“That was a temporary arrangement because we were so busy we needed something else that could help people through. So we are looking at a way to keep or bring back a service desk,” Underwood said. “We will certainly bring it back during busy times, but we are looking at the possibility of making that a permanent feature.”
During the first weeks after semester’s starts, the main complaints many students have are how long the lines are in the center. According to Underwood, the lines will be shorter if returning students take the advantage that they can schedule their classes earlier.
“Students who are already here have an unique advantage over all of the new students that come in during the summer, they can already sign up for classes before everybody else”. Underwood said. “We encourage them to meet with their advisor when the schedule comes out during mid-March. And we start registering in late March or April depending on how the calendar falls. And they should absolutely take advantage of it.”
For students who wait until the final weeks, Underwood said they could make it harder to reach their degree.
“You already lost the advantage you had by already being a student, the class you want may be closed or filled. Or maybe you were the last student that could have benefited that class from being cancelled, but you came after the cancelling date which is early August, and now that class isn’t on the schedule now,” Underwood said.
This fall, the center survived its first test. The administration expected growing pains during the start of the semester. According to Underwood, though, the center succeeded in its goal to help students and be an effective tool for student services.