3 university students with great onboarding experiences.

Reimagining the student onboarding experience through collaboration

Here's how Carlow University streamlined and improved its student onboarding experience

As the newly appointed assistant provost for academic operations, I was brought back to Carlow University in Pennsylvania to solve basic problems and reorganize the way we operate. Specifically, I was tasked to look at the student onboarding experience and the student transition from admittance to attendance.

What made me uniquely qualified for the role of assistant provost, which includes overseeing the Student Hub (financial aid, student accounts, and registrar), was my previous experience as Carlow’s University registrar and my additional background in a large-scale student services office at West Virginia University. This afforded me the essential skills required to step into a leadership position and define the most critical needs of the student experience, which would be more challenging to someone without knowledge of Carlow’s culture and history. Even though I had an understanding of what changes had to be made, I knew that in order to make an impactful difference for our students, collaboration with other departments was vital.

Student onboarding is a collaborative process

My first task was to assess the purpose and scope of coordinator of advising position. For years, this position existed to serve, but the question as to whom it served became muddier each semester. What started as an extension of the Student Hub and an advising support for when faculty advisors were unavailable soon became a catch-all for everything advising. The coordinator’s easy accessibility caused students to circumvent their faculty advisors, creating confusion and tension. In addition, this position had no tangible jurisdiction over faculty advisors, and initiatives coming out of this office were often disregarded or not clearly articulated.

Related: How to improve faculty and staff onboarding in higher ed

On top of serving existing students, the coordinator was recruited by Enrollment Management to register new transfer students as there wasn’t a designated person to handle this task. Thus, the reporting structure became an issue given the dual focus of the position.

Redefining the advising position

The question was simple: What do we want or need from the coordinator of advising position? To address this, I convened the provost, deans, vice president of enrollment management, and other select stakeholders to discuss how to better align this position with our goal for a more structured student experience. We considered what improvements were needed and what our new and current students were lacking. From this discovery period, we deduced that the faculty advising model wasn’t broken but needed a defined direction, and that the current position caused some confusion as to how much of a role the coordinator played in the advising relationship.

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