Higher Education Student Services Redesign Phase 3: Best Practices Research

SSRSlide3“Conduct Best Practices Research” is the fourth in a blog series that provides a high-level process roadmap for structuring a student services redesign initiative. This process can be applied in all higher education institutions for entire student services organizations or individual departments. To review this blog series from the beginning, click <here>.

The goal of this phase is to gather insight from external sources to help transform the student services organization.  The outcome for best practices research is to generate ideas to innovate student services. Here are 5 possible research options to help change the model:

1. Evaluate best practice student service models.

Identify improvement opportunities to optimize the end-to-end student experience. Understand organizational models that support a shift from a function driven to a purpose driven support model. Cast a wide net when evaluating student services models- review institutions of all sizes.

 2. Evaluate individual service areas.

Select one or two individual departments that require the most innovation. Identify external institutions that are considered forward thinking in how they approach these service areas. Examples may include student recruitment models that leverage social media or career services that leverage non-traditional pathways for job placement support.

3. Conduct student demographic market research.

Leverage student demographic data from the institutional research organization.  Use this data as a baseline and determine if there is additional information required to understand the needs of your student populations. Depth of understanding will provide context for how services need to change to maximize the student experience.

 4. Conduct peer institution research.

Look at peer institutions and what can be learned from them. Determine which elements of their models may work well in your institution. How are these institutions leveraging resources differently? What differs in the overall student experience?

 5. Understand overall trends and potential disruptors to higher education.

Consider MOOCs and other recent innovations that pose the potential for major institutional change. Try to estimate how trends in these ancillary areas affect the student experience and the potential to influence student service offerings.

Question to consider:

1. Review the State of Student Services Assessment Brief from Phase 2. What other research data may be helpful in redesigning student services?

Questions about this phase or how to begin a student redesign initiative? Contact me at
[email protected].

Higher Education Student Services Redesign Phase 2: Assess the Current Organization

SSRSlide2“Assess the Current Organization” is the third in a blog series that provides a high-level process roadmap for structuring a student services redesign initiative. This process can be applied in all higher education institutions for entire student services organizations or individual departments. To review this blog series from the beginning, click <here>.

In Phase 2, the goal is to gather sufficient intelligence about how students are served as they navigate from being a prospective student to an alumnus of the institution. If an individual department is under review, the goal is to understand where these services fit into the student services eco-system. There are four steps in this assessment phase:

 Step 1: Review background data.

The background materials may include: department strategic plans, marketing materials, process maps, annual reports and other existing service materials. The goal is to understand the student services eco-system in its entirety.  Intelligence gathered during this step is used to develop interview guides, focus groups guides and survey tools.

Step 2: Conduct individual interviews.

Individual interviews are conducted with campus, academic, and administrative leaders in each of the student service areas.  The goal is to develop a complete picture of the strengths, challenges and opportunities to improve services.

Sample questions may include:

  • Describe the strengths of the current student services model.
  • What distinguishes your institution’s student services from others?
  • What is your institution’s vision for student services?
  • Where are there opportunities for improvement?
  • What role will campus leadership have in guiding student services towards their vision?
  • How will instruction influence this process?
  • What guiding principles should the steering committee consider when prioritizing initiatives?
  • Which external organization’s student service model do you recommend for best practice research?

Interview results are then used as input to design focus group guides.

 Step 3: Conduct focus groups.

The objective is to ensure that all key demographic perspectives are represented in the organization review.  Focus groups are assembled with students, cross-sections of departmental staff, and faculty. Focus group questionnaires are developed with the audience in mind.  As an example, student focus groups may focus on identifying experiences as they progress from enrollment through commencement.  The facilitators gather real stories to add qualitative context. Faculty focus group participants may discuss what they see and hear from students and how current service models impact the academic experience. Staff provides insight into opportunities for service improvement, service strengths and ideas for vision.

 Step 4:  Analyze data.

The final step in this process is analysis and synthesis of all data collected.  The project team will create a State of Student Services Assessment Brief. This document represents a summary of findings.

 Questions to consider:

  1. What student needs are currently going unmet?
  2. Does the State of Student Services Assessment Brief provide a complete picture of the current environment?
  3. Questions about this phase or how to begin a student redesign initiative? Contact me at
    [email protected].

Higher Education Student Services Redesign Phase 1: Launch Project

SSRSlide1“Launch Project” is the second in a blog series that provides a high-level process roadmap for structuring a student services redesign initiative. This process can be applied in all higher education institutions for entire student services organizations or individual departments. To review this blog series from the beginning, click <here>

There are two goals in the Launch Project phase. The first goal is to confirm the approach, scope and objectives of the project. The second is to establish the foundation for a well-structured project to ensure success.  Phase 1 is organized into 3 steps:

Step 1: Organize the Project Team

This is accomplished by allocating key project responsibilities and setting up project management processes and tools. In this step, the project leader ensures that each of these responsibilities are assigned:

  • Timeline, schedule and resource management
  • Project communication
  • Focus group facilitators
  • Interviewers
  • Best practices researchers

These responsibilities can be combined as required by resource allocation for this project.   A key deliverable of this step is a project charter.  This document will provide an overview of the project organization and plan; detail the approach, scope and objectives;  include a communication plan and qualitative and quantitative project metrics.

Step 2: Convene Project Kickoff Meeting

A formalized steering committee is the audience for the kickoff meeting. The project leader uses the project charter to guide the conversation to confirm the project’s approach, scope and objectives. In addition, the approach for data collection, draft list of interviewees, focus groups and proposed peer institutions for best practices research are presented. A formal communication plan is also reviewed and confirmed with the committee.

Step 3: Launch Project

The project leader is now ready to initiate the project.  At this point, interviews and focus groups are scheduled and formal communication is sent out about the student services redesign effort.

 Questions to Consider

  1. Does the project team have sufficient resources to enable success?
  2. Are project communication tactics with the project sponsor, steering committee, key stakeholders and campus constituents clearly defined and ready to execute?
  3. Who needs to be included on the steering committee to ensure project has cross-campus support and buy-in?
  4. Questions about this phase or how to begin a student redesign initiative? Contact me at
    [email protected].