Student Success Checklist – Back to School Edition

It’s hard to believe that it’s back to school time already, but the preponderance of ads and sales for school supplies, the dog days of August, and people taking those last-minute vacations all point to the fact that we’ll soon be hosting our incoming classes and welcoming our returning students back to campus. So this month, we’re taking a break from our focus on nonacademic barriers to student success and providing our “back to school” checklist.

Have you conducted a staffing and calendar review?
Everyone’s been busy working on their individual assignments related to the new academic year, and I’m sure they know exactly what they need to do and when, but do they have the “big picture?” I always found it helpful to review the institution’s overall calendar related to the new year, ensure that everyone is aware of special events and extended hours, and most importantly, know their individual roles and schedules.

Have you provided faculty and staff with an opening FAQ?
Does everyone know where to find the orientation schedule? What to do with a returning student who hasn’t registered? Where to refer family members with questions? Brainstorm a list of frequently asked questions with people who have been through it before and provide the clearest possible answer. You may be including general information on parking, food service hours, interesting things to do on campus, but also where to go for medical emergencies, how to arrange for a peer mentor, and what academic services are available for incoming and returning students.

Does anyone need a customer service review?
As we get caught up in the hectic schedule of opening week, it’s a good time to remind everyone about customer service. What’s the expectation on campus? Why is it important? How does it relate to the institution’s mission and goals? What impact does it have on student success?  How can we provide better customer service? How do you prioritize drop-ins, phone calls and daily work? We always want to put our best foot forward, but I think it’s particularly important as students and families get their first impressions of campus culture as they start their academic journeys. If you don’t already require them, make sure everyone has up-to-date name tags and business cards! Smiles help a lot and don’t forget to include your student employees in the discussion!

Is the look of your office and common areas one that inspires confidence?
I always liked to schedule a walk-through a couple of weeks before opening, trying to see my office and common areas through fresh eyes. Are you presenting a clean and professional image that inspires confidence, or could things be a little neater and more organized? Is the physical environment one that is welcoming or off-putting? What impressions are students and their families getting from signage and other physical attributes? Are there ways to express things in a more friendly manner?

Schedule a “casual clean up day” where everyone gets to dress down and spend a few hours focusing on their personal space. Get rid of piles of paper, clear out boxes in hallways, and dust those bookshelves! Make sure that bulletin boards are clear of old posters and brochure racks are cleaned up and restocked with current information. Refill those candy dishes and even think about fresh flowers in appropriate areas!

Have you thought about how you are going to celebrate a successful opening?
Even though your institution may have a convocation or other event that marks the opening of school for all faculty and staff, have you thought about how you can celebrate a successful opening? Get a meeting on the calendar for shortly after the initial “rush” and take some time to do two things. First, make a list of what went well and what could have gone better. Record any items that should have been on your FAQ but were not. Ask everyone for suggestions for improvement. Second, once that’s done, have a party – recognize individuals that went above and beyond and try to make sure that everyone feels appreciated. Consider a potluck luncheon if you don’t have the resources to do anything else. The important thing is to let people know that you appreciate their efforts.

Do you have traditions or tips for making the best of the new academic year?  Let me know via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.

George CovinoGeorge Covino is Student Connections’ vice president of student success.