Student services model improves retention, satisfaction


When Ivy Tech Community College needed to revamp its student services model, it turned to Blackboard.

A year ago, Ivy Tech Community College, a statewide community college in Indiana, was struggling to answer and reroute phone calls to and from its many different campuses.

Overly complex systems were mostly to blame for the college’s failure to answer phone calls in a timely manner, and students were beginning to post angry comments on the college’s Facebook page. Administrators faced a shifting landscape, and they knew that if they wanted the college to remain competitive, they would need to make some dramatic changes.

Ivy Tech operates 31 campuses across 14 administrative regions—meaning that within the community college there are 14 different financial aid departments, admissions departments, and so on.

“We needed one level of service [to] accommodate … all of our students and all of our needs,” said Jeff Fanter, vice president of communications, enrollment, and marketing at Ivy Tech, during a recent Blackboard webinar.

Students frequently dialed the wrong campus, and they grew frustrated that Ivy Tech lacked a clear-cut path to access information. Administrators recognized the unnecessary complexity and were concerned that student conversion and retention rates were suffering.

Fanter’s goals were to provide a consistent experience to students, enable them to access information more quickly during all hours of the day, and become more proactive with prospective and current students. To meet these goals, Ivy Tech weighed its options: Build a new system itself, or partner with another company?

(Next page: How the Blackboard Student Service model helped Ivy Tech reach its goals)

Fanter said he understood that building a student services system was not Ivy Tech’s core competency, and that the college could benefit from the wider scalability options and faster installation time that a partnership could offer.

Ivy Tech previously had invested in Blackboard’s Learning Management System (LMS) and was happy with its experience. Fanter said he was impressed with Blackboard’s recent expansion into student services and wanted to be part of the movement.

A changing tide

The result of this partnership was Ivy Tech’s Student Success Help Center. Today, all inbound calls to Ivy Tech are transferred to a trained professional at one of Blackboard’s two remote call centers located in Texas and Kentucky.

“We went to Kentucky for a week and did all-day training with the [call center] agents,” said Fanter. “Our people taught them the Ivy Tech way.”

Call center agents can access student records efficiently using Blackboard portals, enabling Ivy Tech to stay “proactive instead of reactive,” according to Fanter.

Students from any Ivy Tech campus now can access their records and information using one phone number. Both call centers are open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week, granting students maximum accessibility.

To understand the impact of the Blackboard Student Service model, Fanter compared data from January 2012, before Ivy Teach had implemented the system, to data from January 2013.

On average, before implementing the Blackboard Student Service model, students would wait on hold for upwards of 19 minutes to speak with a college representative; now, the average student wait time has been sliced to 30 seconds. Because of the extensive wait time, Ivy Tech previously experienced a 49-percent phone call abandonment rate; current phone call abandonment rates are a mere 1.46 percent.

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(Next page: How important are student services models?)

Fanter said he worked closely with Blackboard to ensure that students would gain the best service experience possible. Blackboard promised Ivy Tech that the system would go live in less than six months to ensure that student excitement would remain high.

While the college’s Facebook page was once littered with angry comments from disgruntled students, Fanter said the page has more than 71,000 fans, a staggering upshot in a mere 12 months.

“I’m proud to say that we have reinvented their experience,” said Fanter.

Ivy Tech is now free to focus on its other priorities, such as faster follow-up during the financial aid process, following up on students with unique situations, providing help to students in academic difficulty, increasing recruitment efforts with more direct contact, and integrating Starfish for proactive advising.

The larger impact

Craig Chanoff, senior vice president and general manager of Blackboard Student Services, said campus leaders often forget just how impactful student services are, and they don’t understand that today’s students have higher expectations than perhaps any other generation before them.

“Expectations have changed; these students are much more proactive consumers,” he explained.

Chanoff said allowing a poorly-designed student services system to chug on can be hugely detrimental to colleges.

A recent Pew Research study found that 78 percent of college students cited lack of service, immediacy, personalization, and connection as reasons for dropping out.

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse to colleges. Student feedback is made more visible through Facebook, so colleges can see when students are unhappy and gain a better understanding of what students think their experience should be like. However, that feedback is entirely public, so any viewer can see when a college is failing to meet students’ expectations.

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