Students who choose to attend smaller colleges are interested in a personalized and participative learning experience. What does this mean? It means that students who choose to attend colleges like Wittenberg value a strong academic advising program, full-time faculty doing all the teaching, and a low student-to-faculty ratio. And, their expectations go far beyond the academic side of the house. They want attractive living accommodations, the opportunity to engage in a variety of campus life activities, and to be treated as individuals. Like all customers, students (and their families) expect unsurpassable quality and a good price to round out the value equation.
This trend is not going to go away. As a smaller, private, liberal arts college, we have the privilege and responsibility to provide a unique educational experience that enriches the lives of young people and provides great value to society at large. Our success in meeting this challenge clearly rests with the quality of our faculty and staff and their ability to provide the personalized education and services that students expect.
The critical question is: Are we better than our competitors at delivering what students need and want? We're probably better in some areas and need improvement in other areas. Wherever we are on this continuum, we must guard against developing a false sense of security. Competition is very high for highly motivated students today. With families facing a $100,000 decision in choosing a four-year college, expectations are high. Colleges compete on price, by offering higher and higher ratios of their operating budgets in financial aid. Successful competition also depends on defining a distinctive educational experience and delivering on that promise with a high level of satisfaction.
How can we gauge our potential for improvement? Here are some of the questions we might consider:
- How can we reduce the amount of time and stress involved with student sign-up processes? Is it possible to reduce or eliminate the need for students to stand in line in the first place?
- What training or equipment purchases are necessary for faculty and staff to better teach or serve the students?
- How are you checking to see if the services you provide are meeting student needs?
- Do your office hours match the needs of students? Is the main door to your office kept open? If not, have you posted a sign that welcomes people to come in?
- Do students understand the processes within your area of responsibility? How do you communicate with them?
- When a staff member comments that a process is not working, does the department talk about ways to improve it? Do you wait until a student complains? Until several students complain?
Each of us plays a part in continuously improving the services and experiences we provide to our students. In weeks to come, you may be asked for advice on ways to improve efficiency in your own job. Self-evaluation is a difficult task, so you might team with a friend or colleague to get them to ask questions about your work. Either way it's very important that each of us carefully and realistically consider each facet of our work. By doing so, you will come up with improvements that could make us all more effective.
Think about it. What we do is important and how you "deliver" what we do is important to how well the university will continue to compete in the "marketplace."