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Business Officer Magazine

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NACUBO'S new book, Student-Centered Financial Services: Innovations That Succeed, edited by Nancy Sinsabaugh, includes case studies from leaders of 18 institutions. In this excerpt, one author explains the synergy created by integrating virtual and actual student service centers.

By Jacquelyn Nealon

The key to meeting and exceeding student expectations and realizing institutional enrollment, retention, and financial goals appears to be the ability to balance the synergy between virtual and actual student service centers. How can an enrollment service office move the mundane, repetitive, and simple services out of the in-person offices and into the online self-help realm, while at the same time escalating the types of service offered in person to an analytical, strategic, and problem-solving level? Many colleges and universities are doing just that.

Purdue University–Calumet

Purdue University–Calumet (Purdue–Cal) is a land-grant, comprehensive Indiana state university situated on one main campus in the northern part of the state. The university’s mission is to provide programs that meet the professional, cultural, and general education needs of the large, urban-industrialized community it serves. Enrollment at Purdue–Cal ( is roughly 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Approximately 50 percent of the student body attends on a part-time basis, and though a new residence facility adjacent to the main campus has been constructed, [Purdue–Cal] is currently a commuter university. Tuition for full-time study in the 2006–07 academic year is $3,499.

The Enrollment Services Center at Purdue–Cal encompasses admissions, financial aid, registrar, and student accounts. Purdue–Cal implemented an integrated student information system in the early 1990s and selected the SCT-Banner product. In 1995, the chancellor charged a steering committee of leaders from the four functional areas to “implement the consolidation of enrollment services offices, cross-train the staff, and empower students with automated self-service.” The steering committee elected to build an enrollment services model that preserved the decentralized functional areas’ ability to set policy and procedures and manage their operations while adding a centralized service component that blurred traditional hierarchical lines.

Five cross-training modules were created, and all staff members within the four functional areas participated in them. The modules included an introduction to the individual service units; an overview of the entire enrollment process; the identification of the 37 most frequently asked questions along with corresponding answers and system overviews to teach staff how to find the answers on their own; functional training; and actual rotations between and within the individual departments.

Concurrently, the steering committee worked with the office of information technology to build an online self-service hub. PC Star (Purdue–Calumet Student Access to Records) enabled students to:

  • Apply for undergraduate admission.
  • Search for course availability.
  • View course descriptions.
  • Use a transfer credit equivalency system.
  • Access student e-mail.
  • Register for classes.
  • Pay tuition and fees.
  • Sign up for a payment plan.
  • View financial aid information.
  • Access the Blackboard course management system.
  • View student and personal information.
  • Download important forms.
  • Search for scholarships.
  • View academic calendars.

This self-service portal enables Purdue–Cal students to accomplish the majority of their enrollment services needs in a centralized online environment, completely on their own. In the new model, students no longer have to move from office to office to accomplish their goals. Students now visit a central enrollment services center, and the staffs from the four functional areas [have] moved closer to the students. The back-office operations remain completely independent for purposes of policy setting, strategic goal setting, staffing issues, and basic administration. Students rarely, if ever, need to go to one of the back-office areas for assistance; however, staff members from these areas are often summoned to the enrollment services center to assist students.

The Purdue University–Calumet enrollment services model is a hybrid of a traditional, functionally-based silo model and a completely cross-trained, cross-functional model. Frontline staffs have been minimally cross-trained to perform routine functions across departmental lines, while functionality-based managers handle student needs that exceed basic service levels. In general, physical layout of the one-stop service center is conducive to accomplishing what Purdue–Calumet wanted to accomplish.

To further blur the line between virtual and actual student service centers, Purdue-Calumet intentionally carved out a significant space within the center dedicated to a bank of self-help computer stations. Staff refer students to the PC Star stations regularly and use them to teach students who do walk-in how to self-help in the future.

Boston College

About the Book

Nothing can dampen enthusiasm about admission to a first-choice college faster than a negative experience in resolving a billing question. The financial services interaction should build on an institution’s brand, ensuring that a student’s positive impressions during recruitment continue throughout the enrollment process.

Student-Centered Financial Services: Innovations That Succeed shares how 18 colleges and universities across the country have effectively evaluated and redesigned their student financial services programs to improve the transactional experiences of students and their parents and find cost savings for the institution.

This volume illustrates how institutions have tackled such issues as:

  • Integrating systems to offer a student-centered, “one-stop” model.
  • Designing and implementing multicampus solutions.
  • Understanding bursar/financial aid differences.
  • Developing an enterprisewide portal.
  • Merging financial aid and bursar offices.
  • Administering financial aid and funds management.
  • Managing strategic enrollment.
  • Exploring innovative financial aid options.
  • Meeting common bursar challenges.
  • Measuring student financial system performance.

Representatives from each of the 18 institutions have contributed a chapter that describes the mistakes and successes of redesigning student financial services programs. The colleges and universities involved include Belmont University, Columbia University, Flagler College, Frostburg State University, Georgetown University, Howard Community College, Indiana University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Miami University, Michigan State University, the New York Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Stanford University, Temple University, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington.

The book (item No. NC3080) can be purchased at The volume is priced at $54.95 for NACUBO members and $70.00 for nonmembers.

A more mature example of the blend of virtual and actual student service centers can be found in Boston. Boston College (BC) is one of the oldest Jesuit universities in the United States, founded in 1863. Situated on more than 100 acres of suburban property just outside Boston, the college’s mission is to foster rigorous intellectual development, as well as the religious, ethical, and personal formation of its students in preparation for citizenship, service, and leadership. Approximately 8,900 undergraduate and 4,700 graduate students are enrolled at the liberal arts-based college. Tuition at Boston College for the 2006–07 academic year is $33,000, with most undergraduate students living on campus at an average cost of $11,000 per year.

Enrollment services at BC ( include the registrar, bursar, collections, financial aid, parking services, student identification/meal cards, and medical/insurance services for students. What emerged from the redesign of service delivery was a student services center that has five primary units: general services, academic services, financial services, technical integration, and student services support. More than 400 individual processes from within the former enrollment services offices were dissected and analyzed to determine whether they should be moved into the new model, eliminated, or combined for efficiency with other processes in the enrollment cycle.

At the same time, Boston College launched Project AGORA (, a Web-based service hub for faculty, staff, and students. The AGORA home page describes the hub as follows: “In Ancient Greece, the agora was where the community gathered for discourse and trade. At Boston College, AGORA is where the university gathers to communicate electronically, conduct business, and retrieve personalized information at any time, from anywhere.”

Students can accomplish the following self-help services on the AGORA site:

  • View course history, current schedule, and grades.
  • View exam schedule.
  • View financial aid application and awards.
  • View loan status.
  • Complete medical insurance waivers.
  • View or change addresses and directory publishing preferences.
  • View library withholdings.
  • View undergraduate degree audit.
  • View student account.
  • View advisor information.
  • Create or add to Convenience Bucks Dining Account.
  • Request a reprint of a bill.
  • Request enrollment certification.
  • Order replacement ID cards and deactivate lost or stolen cards.

An estimated 80 percent of all student service needs can be met in the AGORA online environment.

Synergy between in-person and virtual service is obvious throughout the center. Tucked into a corner of the service center lobby are two computer stations, where service associates teach students how to self-help the next time they need the service rather than make the trip to the center. Downstairs in the same building are six self-help computer stations, all with Internet access. This area is positioned directly across from one of the main student dining facilities. Students can access AGORA from this location.

Boston College developed an in-person, service-encounter model for its students that matched the online environment in its seamless service delivery. Eliminating the former registrar, financial aid, student accounts, parking services, and identification card service departments and reorganizing according to student service, counseling, and operations created a service experience for students that did not require an intuitive understanding of the college bureaucracy. The student simply needs to know what he or she is attempting to accomplish and the model facilitates what follows. The student can count on the same level of service quality and experience whether he or she engages in the activity independently through the self-help online tool (AGORA) or in-person in the student service center.

Striking a Balance: Virtual and Actual Service

The infusion of technology into the enrollment service arena has changed the nature of individual service encounters with college students and the nature of service delivery itself. By enabling students to self-help on routine tasks, expectations for in-person service have increased. Students expect more complex and multidimensional service issues to be handled with the same ease and convenience they have experienced in the online environment. These expectations affect cross-training and staff selection for frontline service roles.

The old ways of delivering student service are gone forever. Enrollment service offices must rethink the way they are organized, the way they hire and train staff, the way they deliver service, and the way they measure success. It is no longer wise business practice to organize these offices according to institutional needs alone. Today’s enrollment service units must mirror how their students experience the services. This approach includes incorporating meaningful technology throughout the process and ensuring that students have the tools and support needed to engage with it. It is a challenge, to say the least, but one that can be met with perseverance, an open mind, synergy between virtual and actual service delivery, and a lot of hard work.

JACQUELYN NEALON is vice president of enrollment services, New York Institute of Technology, Old Westbury.