Solano Community College Selects eLumen for Integrated Curriculum, Catalog, Assessment and Program Planning Management

eLumen, the leading provider of software and services built to power student learning and success, announced today that Solano Community College (SCC) has selected eLumen to provide an integrated solution to help the college with accreditation, curriculum and catalog, student learning outcomes, and program review and planning. eLumen was SCC’s choice thanks to its seamless integration, consistent interface, and easy data interchange and exchange, allowing the college to address emerging needs for Guided Pathways and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Vision for Success while eliminating inefficiencies resulting from non-integrated systems.

Solano Community College had been laboring through manual processes and disparate systems to manage program review, the college catalog, and curriculum. This made it difficult to implement effective college planning as integrating data from various platforms was cumbersome and ineffective.

Dr. David Williams, SCC’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, explained why eLumen was their choice for student and institutional success by stating, “Our process for assessing student learning was complicated, and our catalog development process was manual, slow, and susceptible to errors. While there are many options out there for each of these processes, eLumen was the only solution that was easy to use and integrated all of the data.”

The college looks forward to an integrated workflow process with eLumen’s platform, saving time and resources so that more focus can be spent on making informed decisions on program improvements and student programs. “There are so many good things happening at Solano College right now,” says Dr. Williams. “With our increased focus on student equity and Guided Pathways for student success, eLumen will give us the tools we need to be even more effective.” Academic Senate President Dr. LaNae Jaimez agrees: “We were looking for a platform that would be easy for faculty to use and still meaningful for students, so that we could focus on the real goal of continually improving our courses and programs. eLumen will help us do that.”

ABOUT SOLANO COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Solano Community College is a tradition in Solano County. Established in 1945 as Vallejo Junior College, Solano was part of the Vallejo Unified School District until 1967 when the College became a countywide institution. The 192-acre campus, centrally located just off Interstate 80, was completed in 1971. Solano College is part of California’s public community college system of 114 campuses in 72 districts across the state. The College’s service area encompasses the communities of Benicia, Dixon, Fairfield, Suisun, Vacaville, Vallejo and Winters, as well as Travis Air Force Base. Many graduates of the area’s fifteen public high schools and three private schools take advantage of the educational opportunities offered by Solano Community College. The college is one of fifteen in the state to offer a baccalaureate degree: the Bachelor of Science Degree in Biomanufacturing is housed in a state-of-the-art biotechnology center on the college’s Vacaville campus. For more information visit http://www.solano.edu/

ABOUT eLUMEN

eLumen is the first ever fully integrated system to support curriculum and catalog, assessment and program review, ed planning, badging, career pathway maps, and more! eLumen workflows feed performance and disaggregated data to those who need it – academic leadership, institutional research, faculty, and students. Only eLumen can help manage all these processes in one platform that also connects with your SIS and LMS, allowing you to accomplish what you need to do so you can focus on what you want to do. eLumen supports some of the most innovative colleges and universities across the globe. For more information visit https://www.elumenconnect.com/

eLumen Employee Spotlight – Robyn Tornay

Robyn Tornay
eLumen Customer Success Manager

Robyn Tornay is based in Tampa, Florida and has been with eLumen since 2016. With more than 20 years of experience in the higher education student services arena in both two- year and four-year institutions, Robyn was introduced to eLumen while working as an Education Planning Initiative Project Manager at the California Community Colleges Technology Center. As a member of the eLumen customer success team, Robyn works with a number of partner institutions on adoption, implementation, and ongoing use of eLumen.

What are 3 words you would use to describe eLumen?

  • Insightful– Our system helps institutions see real progress across the platform not in siloed areas. It gives you a bigger picture to where your students are achieving.
  • Easy– Institutions are able to dive in and get to work fairly quickly with the platform and begin using the system.
  • Collaborative – it connects everything together as a collaborative process streamlining information in one location

What three words would you use to describe your role?

  • Dedicated
  • Passionate
  • Client-focused

How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?

My husband and I enjoy training for and running half marathon and 10K runs. In between those runs, I bike to the gym four times a week and spend time in our pool to maintain a healthy work/life balance to decompress, let go of the day, and just enjoy the environment.

What book are you reading now?

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway. It is a classic summer read to pick up again and again.

What is one of the biggest achievements to date?

In 2011 my husband was deployed to Afghanistan and his unit did goodwill visits to villages. They found women and children needed supplies at the clinics they encountered. At the time I was a Director of Enrollment at a community college and along with a Sociology professor we teamed up to gather over 400 pounds of supplies (medical, toys, clothing) and shipped them over to his unit. The clinics were grateful for the assistance.

If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be?

My father. He passed away in 2010, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. My father was a good listener – he wasn’t critical, he was very patient, and a man of very few words, and when he did speak, his words were powerful.

What is most rewarding about your job; what makes it all worthwhile?

I love when a college I’m working with starts to see the puzzle pieces come together and they get excited about the big picture forming in front of them. It’s so rewarding and motivating for me. It’s like helping someone build a house, where at first it’s hard to imagine what the finished product will be like, but then as you work through the process of building the house together, there’s that “aha” moment when the vision finally materializes. That’s what it’s like when you work collaboratively on a process. Developing new, integrated processes for more efficient management of curriculum, catalog, assessment, and student engagement helps not only one college but all colleges.

Robyn and her family

Coming up for AIR

Karen Rothstein, PhD
eLumen Vice President of Strategy and Research

This past week I attended the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) Forum in Denver. After climbing a flight of stairs and then having to catch my breath, I realized the need for air at AIR wasn’t just a catchy title. Mile High City indeed. Given my role with eLumen, I was eager to learn about the researcher’s point of view on national trends in higher education, response to current pressures on institutions, and of course all things curriculum and assessment focused. And I was not disappointed.

I attended two sessions that illustrated the enormous effort required to engage in high quality improvement efforts. The first was entitled How Did We Get Here? Curriculum Mapping as the Cornerstone to Good Assessment. Evan Widney from Duke shared the University’s impressive undertaking of curriculum mapping. In addition to the final product of course-level outcomes mapped to program and institutional-level outcomes, faculty had the opportunity to dig deep into the current SLOs to determine if they are still valid and relevant. While SLO work is often framed in the context of accreditation, Widney’s project illustrated the deeper pedagogical conversations that stem from a high-quality curriculum process. He also included a terrific, simple image of design vs. implementation (see below). The second session, entitled IR Collaboration & Leadership in Academic Program Review, was from Springfield College. Mary Ann Coughlin and Jerold Laguilles presented the case study of their college’s implementation of a process to evaluate and prioritize academic programs. The data they used were varied, while the conversations with faculty and administrators were weighty and sometimes challenging.

Evan Widney, Duke University, Design vs. Implementation Illustration

A common theme in these and other sessions I attended was the importance of bringing comprehensive data to the conversation. These data often took the form of spreadsheets, homemade templates, and other labor-intensive processes. I’ll be honest…there were a few times when I wanted to stand up and shout (because I’m from NY, I tend to shout), “I know of a better way…follow me!” But I contained myself lest I got kicked out of the conference for causing a ruckus. eLumen’s way is to house the curriculum and assessment data in a single system, while also pulling in completion and success data from student information systems. The result is a single source of truth for data on your campus that provides the crucial information needed by faculty, staff, and administrators. If you’d like to talk more about eLumen and how it can support your data needs, please send me an email…I always love to talk about data!

Email: karen@elumenconnect.com 
LinkedIn: karen-rothstein-a5629160/
Instagram: klrothstein/
Twitter: klrothstein

eLumen Announces New Senior Technical Product Owner

eLumen is pleased to announce that Chris Houston has joined our team as the new Senior Technical Product Owner. Chris comes to eLumen with 14 years of experience working in technology while spending the last 7 years in higher education at Capella University (now Strategic Education Inc.) as a Senior IT Business Analyst. Chris has been a leader in eliciting requirements, crafting features derived from customer needs, and using his toolset to facilitate the development of numerous successful online products, systems, and solutions.

Chris is passionate about solving complex problems and achieving the unprecedented.  Chris was instrumental in the success of Capella’s FlexPath courseroom experience through creative solution design and collaboration with the LMS architecture team. When most online Learner Management System (LMS) courseroom experiences are homogeneous in presentation, mostly limited to out-of-the box features, Capella was able to achieve a pioneering course experience to complement its revolutionary competency-based, learner-centric online program.

Since 2016, Chris has been a regular contributor to IMS Global Learning Consortium and a supporter of their technical standards. He was a contributor to the Competency and Academic Standard Exchange (CASE) specification, published in 2017, which defines a common data format for Competency statements (learning objectives). His work on the Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) emerging specification (previously called the Extended Transcript) led to becoming a Co-Chair of the IMS Comprehensive Learner Record technical workgroup in 2018. This work continues as the team nears completion of the CLR specification.

In Chris’ new role as Senior Technical Product Owner at eLumen, he will immediately add more horsepower to the Product Management organization and will be very focused on creating more clarity and transparency around the product roadmap, detailed requirements and specifications, as well as product architecture. He will also help us better define our role in the larger integrated higher ed tech ecosystem on campus, leaning heavily on his background developing and implementing integration standards such as LTI, CASE, and others.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/chris-houston-961784/

eLumen Employee Spotlight – Donna Jones

Donna Jones, Ed.D.
Director of Solutions Engineering

Based in Des Moines, Donna Jones has been with eLumen since 2017. With an extensive background in instructional design and academic assessment along with more than 20 years’ experience in education technology, Donna was introduced to eLumen through a mutual friend, Melissa Loble, Senior Vice President of Customer Success and Partnerships at Instructure. Donna found eLumen’s innovative integrated curriculum, assessment, and student engagement system to be an exciting way to further her work in education technology adoption and joined the eLumen team!

Before working at eLumen what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?

For me, one of the most interesting and engaging jobs I’ve had was Strategic Consultant, Senior Specialist at Blackboard where I got to work with institutions on planning their initiatives. The work was not just about adopting technology but also involved helping schools develop change management and introduce new processes before implementing the technology. It was great working with diverse institutions globally.

What does a typical day at eLumen look like for you?

Each day holds a variety of activities related to helping institutions both in the US and abroad gain a better understanding of eLumen’s resources. For example, working on RFPs, discovery calls to understand unique needs for managing curriculum assessment, and student success, and then providing a custom walkthrough of our system accordingly, onsite presentations, and more! 

What is your biggest achievement to date – personally or professionally?

Raising two amazing children! My family is the most important thing to me.

What is a fun fact about you that eLumen clients and colleagues probably don’t know?

Growing up I used to show and train dogs (Shelties). I was a national 4-H champion in Dog Care and Training and went on to become a dog show judge and co-authored curriculum used in the State of Kansas to this day.

What is your go-to karaoke song?

Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”

What are 3 words you would use to describe eLumen?

  • Unique – approach to integrating disparate systems
  • Nimble – can help institutions manage student success support processes faster with less effort
  • Efficient – help improve processes

What is most rewarding about your job here at eLumen; what makes it all worthwhile?

I love helping people and institutions solve problems and overcome challenges when it comes to operationalizing processes designed to ultimately help students succeed. 

Donna Jones and her Family

eLumen’s Glimpse of the Horizon

Karen Rothstein, PhD
eLumen Vice President of Strategy and Research

While many institutions are rightfully focused on the here and now (Guided Pathways and Remediation Reform, anyone?), the next big “thing” is right around the corner…or, if you are EDUCAUSE, right on the horizon. Every year, EDUCAUSE gathers a panel of experts and thought leaders to reflect on educational technology successes, works in progress, and trends, with the results published in the Horizon Report 2019 Higher Education Edition. While I strongly recommend reading the full document, below are a few highlights.

Key Trends

The report separates keys trends that can affect a college’s technology into three categories: short-, mid-, and long-term (Alexander et al., 2019, p. 5). Common across all trends is the ongoing evolution of how institutions support learning, from creating dynamic physical spaces to fostering innovation to ever increasing use of online delivery of content. One of the most critical components to innovation and change is the “and now what” phase…also known as evaluation, reflection, and continued modification. Integrated data are at the heart of these types of conversations to advance innovation to scale. Institutional change requires institutional technology platforms that provide these types of data, while also documenting change in a simple, user-friendly interface. eLumen empowers colleges to engage in this crucial work by being the first platform to integrate fully curriculum and assessment. This approach allows colleges to have a seamless workflow that uses assessment data to drive program planning, which then leads to curricular and program change, which leads to implementation of innovation, which leads to collecting new data…you get the idea.

Challenges

Then of course there are the challenges facing colleges as they adopt and implement technology. Several of the challenges discussed in the report revolve around building capacity and knowledge for both faculty and students (Alexander et al., 2019, p. 5). Embedded within this is the ongoing issue of how best to include part-time faculty. As we all know, part-time faculty are crucial to providing a full schedule that meets the needs of students, yet they are often left out of the conversation and the last to know. Here again institutional change requires an institutional platform that is easily accessible to all employees to ensure they are included and informed. Because eLumen is a single, integrated system that allows for easy sharing of information, timelines, and updates, as well as all things curriculum and assessment, faculty, administrators, and staff can be confident that the information they access in eLumen is accurate and timely.

So there you have it…a very quick glimpse into how eLumen supports these trends via continuous improvement processes and helps resolve these challenges by providing efficient, accurate information to the entire college. Please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to discuss eLumen and the Horizon report in more detail. As anyone who has met me in real life knows, I’m passionate about exciting, big-idea solutions!

Alexander, B., Ashford-Rowe, K., Barajas-Murphy, N., Dobbin, G., Knott, J., McCormack, M., Pomerantz, J., Seilhamer, R., and Weber, N. (2019). EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: 2019 Higher Education Edition. Retrieved from https://library.educause.edu/-/media/files/library/2019/4/2019horizonreport.pdf?la=en&hash=C8E8D444AF372E705FA1BF9D4FF0DD4CC6F0FDD1.

Email: karen@elumenconnect.com 
LinkedIn: karen-rothstein-a5629160/
Instagram: klrothstein/
Twitter: klrothstein

eLumen and Coursetune Partner to Provide Comprehensive Curriculum Development Resources

Minneapolis / Salt Lake City – April 17, 2019 – eLumen, the world’s first ever fully integrated curriculum and assessment management software provider, announced today their partnership with Coursetune, a blueprinting software for visualizing curriculum design. This partnership provides eLumen partner institutions with an interactive way to identify curriculum gaps and alignment at-a-glance and provides Coursetune institutions with comprehensive curriculum and catalog workflow management fully integrated with outcomes assessment, strategic planning, and student engagement.

“From the time we started at eLumen, we have believed that the foundation of a great learning experience is a well-designed curriculum. Partnering with Coursetune allows our institutions to deepen their engagement with backwards design and constructive alignment while leveraging the power of eLumen to support sustainable continuous improvement and program development (and review),” said Joel Hernandez, eLumen CEO. “This opens doors for collaboration and transparency that just haven’t been available before—we couldn’t be more excited about what this makes possible for our institutions.”

“The ability to provide customers with an end-to-end system for designing curriculum, cataloging, and assessing, is exactly the type of big-picture goal we aim for at Coursetune. We are pleased to see this goal come about in our partnership with eLumen, which has been successfully championing this vision around the world, with quality higher education solutions,” said Dr. Maria Andersen, Coursetune CEO. “The more we can help educators ensure high quality curriculum design and continuous improvement of that curriculum, the better the value and outcomes for students.”

To learn more about Coursetune, visit http://www.coursetune.com.

About Coursetune

Coursetune provides highly visual blueprints of the requirements and strategy behind quality course design. Planning first in Coursetune helps teams identify curriculum gaps, prepare for accreditation, communicate program vision, and create higher quality learner experiences. Coursetune enables educators and administrators to collaborate effectively on the complex alignment process necessary before creating syllabi, lessons, activities, assessments, or multi-media content, for face-to-face, online or blended learning.

About eLumen

eLumen is the first ever fully integrated system to support curriculum and catalog, assessment and program review, ed planning, badging, career pathway maps, and more! eLumen workflows feed performance and disaggregated data to those who need it – academic leadership, institutional research, faculty, and students. Only eLumen can help manage all these processes in one platform that also connects with your SIS and LMS, allowing you to accomplish what you need to do so you can focus on what you want to do. eLumen supports some of the most innovative colleges and universities across the globe.

Questions about this partnership?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: Turn and Face the Challenges of Change Management in Higher Ed

Karen Rothstein, PhD
eLumen Vice President of Strategy and Research

April is Community College month, and I kicked off my celebrations by attending two very different conferences: The RP Conference and The HLC Conference. Though region, focus, and attendees were quite different, one theme reverberated…change. AACC’s Community College Daily recently had a short and powerful article on what happens when institutions, whether academic or business, ignore change. The opening line says it all, “Colleges do not fail because of competition, environmental changes or even declining or changing student demographics. Colleges fail when leadership ignores warning signs and becomes paralyzed by tradition or ignorance” (Sygielski, 2019).

Having now had many hats in education…instructor, dean, researcher, and now VP in the private sector…I find myself asking all the time, “Why is change so hard?” Sure, change can be scary but also exhilarating; it’s a potent moment of opportunity and growth. Though for many it is also a gaping chasm of possible mistakes and regret: “What if I’m doing it wrong?” “Will I get fired?” “What if the way it was is better than the way it will be?”

So, here’s the thing. It’s rarely as great as you remember it…those glory days. Like an 80s glamor shot, we often smudge the lens in our strolls down memory lane. While a picture taken with your pink Le Clic camera may capture a moment of unbridled happiness, one data point does not a trend make. Lucky for us, we have decades of educational data that show the good old days weren’t always good (equity gaps anyone?) and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.

As we have heard again and again, there are aspects of higher education that need to change. Closing opportunity gaps. Increasing completion rates. Streamlining the student experience. Most would agree that these changes will help students, but rarely are faculty, classified professionals, and administrators given the training necessary to implement change. I know for some of you a deep understanding of change management may seem like a “duh” moment. But I can tell you from my own experience, and what I hear from colleagues in the educational system, there is a struggle with how to implement change…any change. If this is you, please read on for a quick summary of Kotter’s (2019) eight steps of change management through an education lens. If you already are a pro at change management, awesome…and please share the love with your colleagues!

Kotter 8-Step Change Model

Create a Sense of Urgency and Build a Guiding Coalition

For many institutions, especially community colleges, creating a sense of urgency has been taken care of by events like legislation or funding formula changes. Urgency…check. And if you hold an “informational” meeting, you’ll find your coalition of the willing as well as those who were voluntold relatively easily. So far so good.

Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives

Well, the institution vision is already there in the form of an Educational or Strategic Master Plan. The initiatives are often also in place due to legislative urgency. But here’s where things start to get tricky. People may not agree with the initiatives. They don’t feel heard. They don’t understand why things are changing. They feel that the changes are a direct attack on the hard work they do every day. This is where constant, consistent communication is key. And it must be bi-directional, active, and widespread: newsletters, updates at any and all meetings, brown-bag lunches, and professional development seminars. Any time a group of employees meet, make updates about change a priority. In addition, a transparent process to collect feedback, process it, and send a response out to the college is also crucial. It’s fine to have opportunities for individuals to speak, but if nothing happens or there is no acknowledgement of their voices, the process is hollow and insincere. You’ll know you’ve done it right when someone in a meeting says she didn’t know about something and several people say, “Oh…it was in the email. I’ll forward it to you.”

Enlist a Volunteer Army and Enable Action by Removing Barriers

Your well-oiled communication machine is humming. It’s time to grow the choir. Institutions often stumble at enlisting the volunteer army and removing barriers. The assumption may be that you have told everyone what you are doing in multiple formats, so let’s hop to it. This is what we need to do so let’s just get it done. Nope, there is still work to do to create compelling reasons for individuals to volunteer as well as acknowledgement of barriers. Ensuring that all members of the college community can participate actively in the change is one step. This may mean offering professional development activities multiple times so faculty who are teaching or classified professionals who are scheduled to work can have the opportunity to attend. Have the choir bring a colleague to an event to help grow your base. If a college sees certain constituent groups are not attending events, do a formative assessment to gather data on why and make changes accordingly.

Generate Short-Term Wins

This is another area where institutions can flounder. There is often such a focus on the long-term goal that people are frustrated by the slow pace. In that frustration, people fail to acknowledge the daily good work and the incremental steps large-scale change requires. So, widely distribute and celebrate the wins…increases in fall to spring persistence, calling 500 students and having them avoid being dropped for non-payment, the beautiful new landscaping in the quad; the amazing handout the History department developed outlining their program road map. It’s easy to point out all the ways something is not going the way you planned…but it’s also just as easy, and infinitely more inspiring, to highlight all the ways things are going right. Create a culture of celebration!

Sustain Acceleration

So you have this great momentum going, the boulder is starting to roll…how do you keep it going? This is where deep, thoughtful, meaningful evaluation is so important. Evaluating the efficacy of changes you’ve made, reflecting on the data, and then continuing to fine tune or apply your success to a different area. Always with an eye on how progress can be implemented institution-wide. This is where assessment and program planning are key tools. Collect data from formative assessments and modify as you go along. Move from retroactive assessment to in-time “remediation” for the institution’s interventions and programs. Colleges want to offer timely assistance to students when they hit a bump in the road, with the right tools, you can do the same thing for your institution.

Institute Change

And once you have the data from assessment and documentation from program reviews and curricular changes, the college is ready to grow the change. What worked? What didn’t? What can we make bigger? What do we let go? This is the good stuff…the opportunity to see the progress you’ve made, honor the work that’s been done, and focus on the excitement of the future. Change goes from a place of fear to a place of celebration.

So that’s it…my Cliff’s Notes for change management. As a former English teacher, I find that analogy a smidge distasteful, but if the yellow-covered pamphlet fits…

Sygielski, J.J. (2019, April 4). Failure is a choice we make. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.ccdaily.com.

Kotter International (2019). 8-Step Process. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.kotterinc.com.

Email: karen@elumenconnect.com
LinkedIn: karen-rothstein-a5629160/
Facebook: karen.rothstein.7
Instagram: klrothstein/
Twitter: klrothstein  

eLumen Employee Spotlight – Megan Blevins

Megan Blevins
eLumen Customer Success Manager

Based in Atlanta, Megan Blevins has been with eLumen since 2015. Having utilized eLumen as an Instructional Technologist at Hartnell College in Salinas, California, Megan was excited to join eLumen’s team of innovators with a shared vision of enhancing education practices designed to improve student success. What really spoke to her was – having been a 13+ year military spouse and moving around a lot – the idea of student engagement resources such as badging, portfolios, and extended transcript so she could easily demonstrate learning outcomes and skills attainment for teaching certification when moving from state to state. As a member of  the eLumen customer success team, Megan works with a number of partner institutions on adoption, implementation, and ongoing use of eLumen.

What are 3 words you would use to describe eLumen?

  • Dynamic – we’re at the forefront of trends in education and driven by student success
  • Comprehensive – our solution supports a continuous improvement cycle and getting to the goal of successful students and showing the work that schools are doing to meet this goal
  • Supportive – eLumen really takes all the components of cycle and gives you the tools you need all in a single system, and has a rock star customer success team!

What three words would you use to describe your role?

  • Mentor
  • Teacher
  • Guide

How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?

My family and I love and adore being outside – camping, hiking, fly fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing. We have three small kids, and we’re are trying to raise them as digital natives that are disconnected from their technology; we are a limited screen time family that strives to unplug and go outside. We actually spent a couple months living the “Tiny House” life in our camper, traveling around Utah and the Grand Canyon, home schooling the kids. It was an amazing educational experience!

What is your biggest achievement to date?

Aside from raising three tiny humans, I would have to say summitting Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, back-to-back, with a 20-mile bike ride in between, while pregnant! Although, I was only a month pregnant and didn’t know it at the time.

What are you currently reading?

Building Better Families: A Practical Guide to Raising Amazing Children by Matthew Kelly.

What is your go-to Karaoke song?

Journey’s “Can’t Stop Believing.”

What is most rewarding about your job here at eLumen; what makes it all worthwhile?

I love it when I’m working with a school and as they get excited about using the software, they realize they now have support for something they didn’t have support for before and can now reach their own goals. 

Blevins Family at Delicate Arch at Arches National Park, Utah


New Perspectives on Students as Customers: It’s Not Just About “The Customer Is Always Right”

Karen Rothstein, PhD
eLumen Vice President of Strategy and Research

Customers. More specifically…customers and the business of education. There I said it. Wait…don’t leave…Don’t click on that video of the autotuned cat just yet. Give me a chance.

I recently attended the American Council on Education (ACE) Conference in Philadelphia. While the video I took of the room where Alexander Hamilton attended the Constitutional Convention thrilled my son (thank you again Lin Manuel-Miranda), I was quite inspired after attending a session entitled “The New Student Is Taking Control—Are You Ready?” Jon Connolly, President, Sussex County Community College (NJ) Maura Devlin, Deputy Chief Learning Officer, The American Women’s College, Bay Path University (MA) and Scott Jaschik, Editor, Inside Higher Ed, had a lively discussion on the intersection of academics, business practices, and student success.

What exactly does it mean to apply business practices to student success? At one school, the due dates of assignments are used as part of a retention intervention. In all online classes, the first assignment is due the Thursday of the first week of classes. On Friday, the school reaches out to students who are enrolled in the online class but have not submitted the assignment to remind them that they can submit the assignment by Monday to stay enrolled in the class. This reminder engages the student, showing that the college cares that she missed her first assignment and will check in on her. If the student has not submitted the work by Monday, the student is dropped from the class and does not risk missing the deadline for drop or incurring fees for a class she did not intend to take. While some faculty may find the idea of a mandatory deadline for assignments an infringement on academic freedom, consider the task being asked of colleges…put in place policies and procedures that help students succeed. How do you balance the purview of faculty with a zero-cost policy change that has huge potential to help students?  

Another conversation on many community college campuses is how do you incentivize students to take 15 units rather than 12. One institutional obstacle is the cost of the additional units, since financial aid kicks in at 12 units and students may not be able to afford 15. So, what is the business practice solution?  Don’t charge students for the additional three units…that’s the policy of one panelist’s school. Of course, this is easier said than done, and a school must navigate the process, but the pay off in time saved for students and potential increases in attainment rates should be enough to make it a strategy worth exploring.  

As is my way, when it came time for questions my hand shot up, and I asked about the dreaded phrase “customer service” and why there is so much tension around that concept. The panel clarified the negativity around the idea of customer service in that it is often synonymous with “the customer is always right.”  Visions of disgruntled students inundating a faculty member’s or dean’s office flooded my brain as I imagined what would happen if a school adopted that type of customer service. To me, customer service is about doing your best to help an individual solve the problem at hand. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t…but you try your hardest. It never occurred to me to think of customer service as the customer always being right. It reinforced the importance of sharing common definitions and understandings of concepts. I certainly would have ruffled fewer feathers in my time as an administrator if I made myself clearer.

In the end, the “C” word isn’t all bad. There are practices and policies schools can adopt and adapt from business that will help them best serve their students including streamlining processes and increasing integration of student services and academics. I’d be happy to share examples of how I’ve seen this approach work at schools and specifically how the eLumen platform can boost institutional “customer” support. And if colleges want to effect institutional change, they may want to look to other industries for inspiration. As we often say of our students…we don’t know what we don’t know. I believe both the autotuned cat and Hamilton would agree with me.

Email: karen@elumenconnect.com
LinkedIn: karen-rothstein-a5629160/
Facebook: karen.rothstein.7
Instagram: klrothstein/
Twitter: klrothstein