institutional services. This personalized approach
is bolstered by the private sector mantra of “the customer is always right,” even if administrators aren’t
completely comfortable referring to students as such.
Regardless of how community college students
are labeled by leadership, a change in philosophy
is needed for institutions to serve the academically
unprepared and other underserved populations,
“When we give poor customer service, it’s
usually because our bureaucracy breaks down,”
says Terry Murrell, president of Western Iowa Tech
Community College (WITCC) and president-elect of
the Continuous Quality Improvement Network (CQIN).
“The college process was created by four-year
private schools. When community colleges came
along, we borrowed those ideals, even if we were
open enrollment. Most of those processes were
more intent on keeping people out than keeping
them in, so we need to work on another process.”
TAKING A CORPORATE CUE
CQIN assists community colleges with best organizational practices, including how to make faculty
and staff more customer-minded and put students
back at the center of everything a college does.
A people-focused methodology should seem obvious. But fractured front-office support still exists,
with registrars, financial-aid offices and academic
advisors often spread out among different departments. Also, these services’ operating hours likely
aren’t convenient for students who work during the
day and attend class at night. Large case loads for
advisors further exacerbate the issue. Data from the
2011 National Survey of Academic Advising recorded
a ratio of 296 students to one full-time advisor.
WITCC designed its newly enacted strategic
plan directly with the learner in mind. Improving
student completion rates, for example, involved
faculty thinking of themselves as members of a
team rather than individual departments. WITCC's
integrated method “creates a learner environment
that promotes access, engagement and success,”
according to school marketing materials.
“Students may have special issues they bring to the
table that get lost among departments,” Murrell says.
“To fix that, we have to work together, to be willing to
take each other’s calls, and understand that students
come to us because they want a better life.”
Community colleges, including WITCC, are
taking cues from private businesses in scaling
up their customer service. WITCC administra-
tors harness private-sector lessons from Toyota,
Kimberly-Clark, Disney, the Ritz-Carlton hotel
chain and other established companies.
WITCC administrative staffers hold daily
“stand-up” meetings similar to the Ritz-Carlton
employee lineups designed to anticipate problems,
discuss customer needs, or report activities that represent the company’s overall mission. Put into practice, WITCC staff may keep each other apprised of an
upcoming recruitment visit in order to ensure their
guest receives the utmost care when on campus.
“The meetings are a time to coordinate,” Murrell
“What is it that a student needs from us?...That’s
says. “If there’s a recruitment visit, nobody on staff
is going to be surprised. If a guest comes in through
the wrong door, they will be pointed the right way.”
WI TCC further models its customer service prin-
ciples on Disney theme parks, particularly in campus
improvements that make its facilities welcoming and
accessible. The college’s main campus consists of six
interconnected buildings, including a new Learning
Achievement Center providing drop-in tutoring and
other services. Tutoring is integrated into the space as
a means of removing the stigma some learners feel
when receiving extra academic assistance.
where we’re changing the culture. We focus on
what a student needs at that moment.”
CHERYL ROBERTS, president, Shoreline Community College