We recently encountered an auxiliary service that decided in May to charge a room deposit of $750 for new and returning students. Rather than incorporate it into the student billing system, they simply mailed out their own bills. Students and parents were aggravated, wondering why they were getting a separate bill and why the amount was so high. Another institution reported that they routinely sent bills with the wrong tuition to students enrolling in one particular program because the registrar wanted to be sure the students were really coming before correcting the tuition charge. The correction (as much as $8,000 higher) left the financial aid office scrambling to adjust aid awards. Similarly, sending out bills without informing financial aid so they can get all pending aid on bills frustrates parents and makes more work for the aid office and student accounts.
These are all examples of how poor communication between offices can negatively impact service to students and parents. Colleges and universities are often highly decentralized in their decision-making. This isn’t necessarily bad, as long as authority and responsibility accompany the decision-making. And the more decentralized an organization is, the better the communication has to be. A change that benefits one office doesn’t necessarily benefit all, and ignoring a decision’s impact on prospective students is rarely good policy.
Best practice institutions use cross office planning teams, joint office operational calendars, cross functional training, and systems “users groups” to ensure effective and timely communication between student service offices. They also use “secret shopper” techniques to regularly evaluate how well students are being served, and to identify disconnects between offices.
The key is making sure that decisions are made at the right level of the institution and that all appropriate partners are “on board.” Sound planning and good communications will minimize unintended consequences. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
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About the author: Enrollment Management Consultant Bill Berg comes to S&K from Furman University, where he most recently served as Vice President for Enrollment. His leadership in enrollment management included overseeing offices of admissions, financial aid, planning and institutional research, and student employment. During this period, Bill successfully implemented a strategic plan designed to increase enrollment, increase selectivity, and decrease financial aid expenditures. Prior to his role as Vice President for Enrollment, Bill served as the Director of Planning and Institutional Research. In that position he supported student recruitment and retention efforts with financial aid optimization studies, enrollment projections, and admissions and retention studies.
Before Furman University, Bill served in leadership positions at Rhodes College and DePauw University. He has been active in professional organizations such as the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) consortium, College Board, Commission of Colleges – Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.