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Twin Cities CLA Student Services staff (left to right): Chris Kearns, assistant dean; Lonna Riedinger, student services associate; and Colin DeLong.

CLA Student Services staff who played key roles in the transition to online orientation registration were (left to right) assistant dean Chris Kearns, student services associate Lonna Riedinger, and Web manager Colin DeLong.

Orientation registration goes online

Improvement spotlight of the month

By Meredith Fox

From Brief, March 2, 2005

Providing services for more than 14,500 students in more than 50 majors is a complicated endeavor. But the student services team and assistant dean Chris Kearns in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), Twin Cities campus, are up to the challenge.

Over the last few years, CLA has improved many processes to better serve its students. But the greatest impact has come from automating online orientation registration for incoming freshman, beginning in fall 2003. The new system frees up advising-staff time to devote to individual student needs, provides instant online service to students, and dramatically improves ability to forecast demand for programming.

Office of Service and Continuous Improvement (OSCI)

This "improvement spotlight" is part of a monthly series presented by OSCI, which was established by President Bruininks in June 2004. Each month in Brief, OSCI turns the spotlight on a University improvement success story. For more information, please visit the OSCI Web site, www.umn.edu/osci.

The first direct interaction that an individual has with CLA as a student is to register for orientation. What may seem a straightforward scheduling process actually builds important relationships and drives the allocation of resources for the coming academic year.

For the college, orientation registration plays an integral part in ensuring a student's eventual attendance at the University and provides a chance to set a positive tone for the student-college relationship. According to Kearns, information provided by students during the orientation registration process allows them to shape the very services that they will receive.

"Every entering class has a unique profile," says Kearns. "Orientation registration is a crucial feedback mechanism on our plans for the year. It helps us to manage risk intelligently and offer educational options in a more targeted way."

The challenge

In order to accommodate the 4,000 or so new students that enter CLA every fall, the college hosts more than 30 orientation sessions over the summer. Sessions are organized around academic interests and special circumstances; examples of groups include student athletes, transfer students, and postsecondary students.

Information about students' background and interests must be gathered in order to route them into the appropriate orientation session. For more than 50 years, the appropriate session was determined through a series of mailings in which students filled out paper questionnaires, advising staff manually reviewed the forms, a follow-up letter offered an appropriate orientation date, and, if a student was not satisfied with the student community or orientation date, the process was repeated. It typically took 2 to 3 weeks to get a student registered for orientation, and in some cases, much longer.

The labor-intensive process of manually registering students for an orientation date needed fixing.

"Students expect instant access to services, and the paper-based orientation registration fell short," says Colin DeLong, Web manager for the office.

"Advising staff time was bogged down in basic, repetitive interactions instead of specialized services for students," adds Kearns. "The process did not gather necessary student academic interest data in a timely manner to meaningfully inform resource decisions."

The fix

It was the job of student support services associate Lonna Riedinger to read all of the orientation registration questionnaires, slot students into an appropriate student community, and coordinate their attendance confirmations. When the decision was made to automate the process, DeLong sat down with Riedinger and asked her to explain exactly how she invited students to orientation. Together they turned her expertise into hundreds of lines of computer code. In effect, they took the expertise that existed only in the minds of CLA's advising staff and created an automated system.

CLA's newly admitted students now can complete all of their preregistration tasks online, including a student-interest questionnaire. The system is able to automatically determine an ideal student community for more than 95 percent of participants; the remaining five percent are routed to advising personnel for personal attention. Once a student community is determined, an orientation date that fits the individual's availability is offered. Students have the option to accept or repeat the process. Any delays now rest with the student rather than CLA.

The system has been a big success. CLA saves $4,200 in mailing expenses and more than 75 hours of staff time every year through reduced paper processing and automation of routine interactions.

Kearns reports that the automation has upgraded CLA advising staff's ability to devote time to sophisticated, customized student services work.

"The student service staff has a different level of interaction with students today then they did in the past," Kearns says. "Not only does this boost staff morale, it leads to better educational choices by students."

In addition, the system allows all pre-orientation tasks to be completed online, providing advanced tracking data. This data increases the likelihood that students secure an orientation slot that meets their interests and availability, and CLA is better positioned to offer future education options in a more targeted way.

In 2003, 25 percent of new freshman did all of their orientation registration online. In 2004, transfer students were also given access to the automated system and over half of eligible students used online orientation registration. In 2005, all new students to CLA, including intercampus transfer students, will be given access.

Learn more about CLA's online orientation registration system ("Tell Us About Yourself") at http://iamnew.class.umn.edu/tellus.html. Contact Colin DeLong, Web manager, at cdelong@class.cla.umn.edu or Lonna Riedinger, student support services associate, at lried@class.cla.umn.edu.

Do you have an improvement success story to tell? E-mail Meredith Fox at mefox@umn.edu.


Meredith Fox is community relations coordinator for the Office of Service and Continuous Improvement.

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