Administrative overhead is not high on my list of environmental factors that contribute to the mission of any university. (Administrative overhead being the transactional encounters a student must have to facilitate their education, e.g.: apply for admission, register for school, pay for tuition, etc.) In fact, it is at the bottom of it. Administrative overhead should be a minor concern for students attending any post-secondary institution, not a major one. If we are serious about academic success, freshmen retention, and career placement then we also need to be serious about and recognize how much administrative overhead influences those three initiatives.
But sometimes I feel that administrative offices create the very problems we are trying to solve for students. We have an insatiable desire to help students. That’s good. However, our desires to help students should only be tempered by our desire to do it correctly. Sometimes college and university administrative offices and employees (myself included) let our desire to serve justify whatever means to do it. This justification often leads to disparate systems, disjointed processes, and independent efforts to help students with systemic issues in isolated ways. This leads to a silo-effect that we all hate bouncing students around to various services and personnel who are admittedly very expert… in very few things.
Perhaps an illustration is warranted. The other day I was attempting to help an international student with a password issue. He was a new student who couldn’t remember his password.
“Did you click on the ‘forgot password’ link on the university’s login page?”
“Yeah, but I don’t have a social security number. I’m an international student.”
[ssn is one of the key identifiers to reset the password. (it was a process before identity theft was a thing.)]
“Oh, okay. Let me contact Information Technology to see if they can help.”
I put the student on hold, I called IT and they put me on hold to contact the International Services Office to get the students nine digit placeholder ssn to reset the password for the student.
The student was on hold with me, I was on hold with IT, and IT was on hold with International Services.
Apparently I am expert at talking with students; IT is expert at resetting passwords; International Services is expert at international student information and we had a lot of traffic on our phone lines that day. See the problem? A minor thing became a major thing because we aren’t thinking systemically (yes, I wrote systemic-ally.)
What we need to do is begin thinking from the student perspective not the services perspective. What does the student need versus what can I offer. And we need to collaborate about these issues rather than communicate the issues. One way to start doing this is by mapping the student journey. A journey map will help administrators see the actual pain points a student is going through. Why don’t we start this journey-mapping exercise from the point a prospective student clicks “submit” on their application through the first week of their first term at college. My guess is if we were to do it we are going to be shocked. Not shocked at the complexity of the administrative processes at play — we all know we have complexities — but at the complexities our students are exposed to and are forced to deal with when they should be focused on their academic pursuits (example journey map below).
If and when we start to see through the eyes of the student rather than through the eyes of what we think we should be good at, then we will be able to build administrative systems and processes around what the student would expect rather than what they are currently getting. Giving students what they need when they need it. Then students will be able to focus on their major academic rather than minor administrative things.