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This post is written by Terianne Sousa, Director of Education Services and Student Retention at Blackboard.

Research shows that students are less likely to be satisfied with their institution of choice when faced with long wait times and inconsistent student support services. This begs the question:

How can schools better manage student support needs to increase student success?

With more personalized and modernized student support initiatives, institutions can help students meet their goals through a streamlined approach. By instituting proactive student outreach, institutions can improve student satisfaction in many areas of student support.

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is one example of these strategies at work. When student demand for financial aid support didn’t align with the available resources, NOVA decided to make changes with these four goals in mind:

  • Improve student satisfaction levels.
  • Extend campus resources and support to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  • Resolve student issues quickly and accurately.
  • Ensure the mission of student accessibility and equity.

To achieve these goals, NOVA embraced a Financial Aid Support Center that adapted a customer service-based approach. In 2014, the center had a 99 percent response rate for all tickets and an average 30-second answer time. It also included a comprehensive, searchable Knowledge Base to help students find the answers to their questions without having to wait in line to speak with an advisor.

In collaboration with the support center, NOVA also utilized a complete history of all student interactions—including call recordings, chat session records, and survey responses—to inform their interactions with students. This allowed for staff to get a more robust understanding of each individual student’s needs.

Finally, students were able to attach documents for completed checklist items directly online. The documents were then saved in their ticket history and could be accessed in the future by both students and licensed staff. This streamlined approach made it possible for students to never have to actually “go” anywhere to get answers to their questions or submit documents.

All of these changes combined have decreased student wait time and given staff members the time and ability to better address each student.

NOVA has seen their student satisfaction rate rise to over 80 percent and, thanks to a live outbound call campaign, their financial aid office saw a 73 percent FAFSA completion rate in 2014. These improvements are the perfect example of how personalized and modernized student support initiatives can have positive results for both the institution and the student. When students have better access to the support they need without the frustrating experience of waiting in line they have more time to devote to their education, which results in higher enrollment and continued student success.


About the author: Terianne Sousa is the Director of Education Services and Student Retention at Blackboard. She has more than 15 years of experience in education and higher education management in the areas of academic advising, faculty evaluation, career services and online teaching.


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  • Sheila Lee

    The very fact that Northern Virginia community
    college wanted to update and modernize their financial aid services, this alone
    guaranteed retention for most of the students. Making the financial services
    department a literal customer service department, committed to timing their
    responses/actions to customer inquiries to a matter of a couple of minutes.
    This is a good idea to be able to connect services to mobile devices as you
    state in your article that most folks are spending more time on their deices
    rather than on the PC. NOVA provided a good model for ensuring student success by
    expanding and improving student services. Thanks for sharing.

    Sheila Lee