My first cycle began by engaging the Student Services Council in developing a comprehensive list of student services that can be delivered in an integrated manner, using the onestop approach. There currently exists a list of these services that have been approved by the University Management Committee in 1998, when the onestop approach was introduced to the university. In many ways, the culture at our institution today in 2002 is much more receptive to the onestop concepts than they were in 1998. The delivery of student services has traditionally been carefully guarded via the established rules and practices of the silo-approach, entrenched in the segregated departments and functional units. This approach has served the "institutional side" of the process. Although the students have been required to be engaged in the complex web of activities, the segregated nature of the process has allowed for clear lines of accountability and control from the university deparmental viewpoint. One of the critical aspect to this whole process is to maintain that accountability and audit trail while providing more effective and efficient delivery to out students. This is at the heart of the change process in which I am engaged.

I called together the Student Services Council for a meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the opening of school in January. The meeting was held at the end of the semester, two weeks before we all would leave for the holiday break, and the new students would arrive within two days of our return. So it was very critical that we engage in the exercise of checking and cross-checking to make sure that we are ready to serve the students when they arrive in January.

Our discussions regarding the opening of school led naturally into the various services that we provide to our students. I had made copies of the list of student services that have been determined to be able to be provided by OneStop in an integrated manner. I reminded everyone present that the list had been compiled by the original Student Services Council after a great deal of discussion among ourselves as well as within the home offices. This list was also brought before the University Management Committee and was formally approved. This list has served as a guiding post for the transformation of our practice in the last three years. The process has been a gradual one with constant negotiation and renegotiation. I shared with them that I would like to be engaged in a more formal approach of action research in order to determine whether or not the design of a "one stop" approach, which integrates the delivery of student services, be effective in meeting the organizational and administrative needs of the student and the university.

We carefully reviewed the list and preliminarily discussed how the delivery of those services have evolved in the last several years from the home offices' perspective. One divisional office manager expressed her appreciation for the consolidated process of changing a student's major. Traditionally, a student would have to visit multiple offices to change or declare a major. Paperwork had to be sent back and forth between offices. The laborious process can often take up to a month before a student's major would be officially changed on the system and an advisor assigned to her. This became extremely problemmatic especially around registration time. The new integrated process utilizes email, access to system update, and the telephone to complete the standard process in matters of minutes. The student walks away with a new advisor, record of the change, as well as a newly revised degree audit report printed from her record which had just been changed in real time. Other stories of such changes were exchanged among the council member. I shared with them my action research plan, and the response was extremely positive.

I shared with the council members the type of data that I plan on collecting during this action research process:

Effective or non-effective service to students
- Measure student satisfaction via questionnaires
- Focus groups with students to discuss student needs and how effectively they are being met, including their descriptions of their experience in receiving service and level of confidence in having their needs met.
- Compare student responses to responses of student satisfaction focus groups' comments collected in 1998

Effective or non-effective in meeting university organizational and administrative needs
- Random quality assurance audit of student records of students served through OneStop on SIS to determine throughness, completeness and accuracy of student records
- Survey home offices to determine number of corrections necessary to student records for above audited records
- Survey home offices to determine problems created or not able to be solved by OneStop

Everyone concurred that it will be extremely helpful to have some concrete research data to back up our work, which has been based on assumptions, theories and prior knowledge so far. Several members concurred that the comprehensive audit of selected student records would represent a significant data pool to determine the effectiveness of the integrated process in meeting the university and governmental regulations for student records maintenance. The data collected through being engaged in this action research process, all agreed, will be invaluable as we continue to shape and mold our collective processes as student services departments as well as the practices of individual home offices.

We also spent a good amount of time brainstorming on other services that can be or are already actually being delivered (on an informal level) in the onestop manner and approach. I collected the input and offered to email the list to each member. I asked each member of the council to study the list carefully and to discuss the listed services with their home office staff. I asked that constructive feedback regarding the newly added services to the onestop list be emailed to the whole council for our further discussion by the second week of school.

 

The action of generating a comprehensive list of student services that can be delivered in an integrated manner, using the onestop approach, generated some important reactions that are worth noting:

  • The spirit of cooperation and willingness to share ideas among council members made for a very productive meeting. Absent from the discussions were phrases such as "That is not for your department to do." "Why should that be my job?" "We can't do that because..." "Can't the students just....?" Conspicuously present was a dialogue which respected the responsibilities that each member has to the institution, the students as well as to their staff members. Questions were raised in a spirit of inquiry rather than to get others to arrive at a pre-determined answers.
  • The concern of the completeness and correctness of the student records, as well as the complete sharing of information were repeated throughout the meeting. "We need to make sure that in our efforts to better serve the students at the moment that they stand in front of us do not create further problems for them in the future," expressed one council member. The visible affirmative nods from the rest of the members empowered others to share their concerns. "It is critical that everyone who needs to know about a transaction is notified. And it is incumbent on the person receiving the notice to take any needed action in a timely manner," said one member. Another member added, "So much of what we do depends on another department doing their part first. For example, in order for Financial Aid to properly calculate the Title IV Refunds for a student who has withdrawn from school, her classes must have been properly dropped or withdrawn and the withdrawal date must be in place on the system. Since we no longer require the students to physically bring us the form, and that we rely on the withdrawal notification email that is sent to everyone at the same time, those who are in charge of withdrawing the classes needs to know that the process cannot be continued without their action first."
  • The telling of the stories of student cases as well as how the processes were working in the home offices revealed some critical learning lessons for all of us!
  • The meetings after the meeting were reactions that added even more data for my action research. I received several phone calls from my Student Services Council colleagues expressing their support for the action research process. I felt vey empowered by all this. One of the themes that stood out among these conversations was the need for onestop to not just be in one place, but that it needed to be implemented across campus. The office managers for our two largest divisions, Business and Communication, have expressed to me during this last semester that their new building is away from the center of the campus. Their students are much less able to travel from office to office to manage their student services needs. They have asked for extra administrative support in their new building.

The spirit of cooperation and collaboration in this process thus far is a marked difference from the original 1998 process of integrating the delivery of student services. When the one stop concept was originally presented, I recall my meetings with various area directors were filled with discouraging remarks. As I looked by on my old meeting notes, some of those comments stand out:

  • We've tried this before, and it just doesn't work.
  • Each department has our own personalities, and our own requirements. It is not right to make us all do things the same way and be all alike. We pride ourselves on diversity not sameness.
  • Why are we trying to fix something that is not broken? Students aren't transferring from our school because it's difficult to get a transcript of find out how much they owe.
  • I've been to several conferences where they have talked about this concept. Most of them think that this is a fad which will not last.
  • You really don't think that we are going to buy into that are you?
  • Is this another attempt of the administration to cut our departments and then add more work? I've been through that before, and this has all the signs of it!
  • This process can really disempower my people. With this new process, they will have even less opportunity to see students. At least with the current system, the students have to come and see us. We get to have some interactions with them.

It had been over three years since I last looked at those comments. Those were some harsh words from people who have been around for a long time. They were based on bad experiences with empty promises and half-hearted, fad-based re-engineering attempts. They were grappling for ways to tell us, "Please don't do this to us again. Just leave us alone and let us do our jobs!" Attempts to get us to work together were viewed with distrust, that somehow along the line, resources will be cut, power will be diminished, and work will be increased. The change in attitudes over the past several years have been tremendous. I now see a new environment of shared ideas and more willing-collaboration. There is more trust among the community members and more willingness to share information. Cross-area communication is becoming more the norm rather than the exception. We are using the technological tools smarter to meet our needs as well as to better serve the students. In reflecting on this reaction, I see the need to conduct more formal interviews to get some concrete data regarding what the council members believe are the elements that have caused the change in our working environment and the way which we have come to work and relate to one another... and how those elements are affecting the way in which we serve the students. (The interviews will be a continuation of this cycle).

The concerns for the completeness and correctness for the student records reveal an underlying and constant concern for the accountability of our professional actions in serving our students. Yes, we can work on improving the delivery of services to our students through integrating services and empowering people to multi-task, but the nagging question remains, "Who is ultimately responsible?" The custodians of the records still feel the weight of the reponsibility for maintaining and producing accurate student records. Traditionally, the records custodians were the ones who created the records. They were responsible for their own actions, or at least for the actions of those in their departments. The integrated process allows for people who are not the final custodians of the records to participate in the process of producing those records through their interactions with and providing service to the students. This issue must be addressed comprehensively. The call for comprehensive audits of the student records serve as a reminder that we must be cognizant of the need for quality records maintenance while we focus on the quality of how we serve our students. For we are accountable to many other entities, including the student herself, to whom we owe the professional commitment to not only do the right thing, but to also do it right.

The integrative process requires that student services professionals, like myself, view ourselves as bricoleurs, who seek out the proper tools and integrate elements that are available to us to get the job done. Traditionally, we have been taught and trained to work within our own area, with the established tools within established boundaries. We do what we can and then pass the student and the process on to the next person, who may or may not have all the tools necessary to complete the task. Our main concern is to do our job tacitly. Completion means that we do what is in front of us, what is within our professional purview. As bricoleurs, we seeks tools and resources beyond our immediate reach. We also use tools in different ways and use different permutations and combinations in our approach to problem solving. As we develop and grow in the spirit of bricoleurs, we not only become more creative professionals, we also become tool providers for others so that they too may become better bricoleurs themselves.

I was fascinated by the number of stories that were shared in our meeting. This was indeed how communities are formed, how histories are made, how culture is developed... through the art of story telling. Each story was a case study in and of itself. The council members were engaged in the production of case studies in their work, and as they shared those stories, the rest of us became learners and consumers of those cases. This has given impetus for me to work alongside some of the council members to formally produce storied/narrative cases that would be instructive in the various models of student services. (Yes... another branch for this cycle is under development!)

The conversations with the office managers for our business and communication divisions regarding the need for a more distributive version of OneStop to better meet the needs of students has created a new direction for the next cycle. The focus of OneStop has been from the beginning to provide a place in which students can come and be more effectively served. I want to expand that vision, to develop OneStop into more than just a place; rather, I want to develop the philosophy of OneStop which will inhibits our culture. The integrated delivery of student services should be done where student are, whenever they come into contact with a student services professional. We need to do whatever we can, use whatever tools or means available to us, to provide for the students' needs. Therefore, to better serve the students, the student services staff members must have better tools, be empowered to go beyond the limits of the functional areas, have access to better and more complete information, and have a clearer understanding of the overall process. I will begin mentoring the office managers for the business and communication divisions with the goal of better equipping and empowering them to bring the OneStop concept of student services into the environment in which they are serving over half of our student body population. A new cycle begins...

  • Conduct interviews with members of the Student Services Council to arrive at a better understanding of the factors that impact the adoption of the integrated model of student services delivery
  • Collaborate with other student services staff to create narrative cases that would be instructive in examining student services practices
  • Mentor and train selected staff members to make the integrated model of student services available to students in the new Communication/Business building, located away from main campus. This will serve as a model for the geopgraphically distributed model of integrated student services delivery.
Action Research Home Page Next: Cycle 2

Literature Review | Action Research Questions | Project Timeline | Cycle 2 | Cycle 3 | Final Reflections

Appendix
Journal | Brochure | Article for Publication | Presentation to Tulane | References

E-mail Hung V. Le

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