Working in the Admissions Office presents a variety of situations and challenges. For this reason, it is important to identify tools that will compliment current business processes, allow room for growth, and result in increased productivity. This causes us to ask the question, “How can we do more with less?”
This article highlights key tools I have used in the CSU-Dominguez Hills Admissions Office to manage workflow in a way that results in goal achievement, as well as staff satisfaction. These tools are centered around the following areas: leadership, building bridges, inclusivity/transparency, problem-solving, resources, accountability, discipline, and professional development.
While it may seem as if each of these strategies by themselves is very basic, I believe the combination of the approach is what makes it work extremely well. This structure allows for the needs of the office to be identified, and at the same time ensures that each team member is aware of the importance of their contribution. This big-picture awareness allows the admissions staff to see how they contribute to the bigger goal of accurately and efficiently admitting students while providing excellent customer service to the University as a whole.
General information regarding the California State University – Dominguez Hills and the Office of Admissions & Records:
- Part of the 23 campus California State University System
- Located in Carson, CA (approximately 17 miles from downtown Los Angeles)
- Public University with undergraduate and graduate programs
- Approximately 12,000 undergraduate & 2,300 graduate students
- 13 Full-Time Staff Members; 3 Part-Time Student Employees; 1-2 Occasional/Seasonal Full-Time Temporary Employees
Leadership: Building Office Morale
Leadership includes the effort to assure each employee that they are an integral part of the Admissions Team. Each year, the team gathers for an On-Campus Office Retreat. Time is spent in break-out groups brainstorming for areas in which improvements can be made. The entire group then reconvenes to discuss suggestions from each small group, resulting in recommendations to management. The result of this effort is that team members feel that their input is valued, especially when a recommendation is implemented. Additionally, the entire Admissions Team gathers during the lunch hour twice each year for an All Admissions Lunch, and once each year for a Management Thank You Lunch. These gatherings are a rare opportunity that allows the entire team to convene at a single point in time to connect and share ideas. Additional recognition and encouragement efforts include birthday cards signed by each team member, group birthday song serenades, a Thanksgiving Potluck, and an annual Holiday Party.
Leadership also includes communication, communication, communication … empowering staff with knowledge and tools. The admissions team meets as a group for a staff meeting every Monday at 10 am. Meetings typically take approximately 45 minutes. The agenda always includes reports from our Staff Committees, Professional Development Reports, and a Motivational Reading or Ice Breaker. Also included are updates for each active term including important dates, deadlines, activities, and other relevant information.
Also important for leadership is to arm the team with the necessary data. I have created an Admissions Evaluator Report, which is all inclusive with live application data. It is a sortable spreadsheet which includes each applicable field from the Application for Admission. It is used by the entire admissions team in order to prioritize workflow, make workflow decisions, and provide the status of progress toward the completion of admission reviews. This allows staff to see the big picture of all applicants, but drill down to the specific students they need to be focusing in on at any given time. Having unlimited and on-demand access to the Admission Evaluator Report results in the often elusive feeling of control and empowerment for each Team Member.
Building Bridges … Over 400 hours of instruction
In an effort to build bridges with other offices on campus, the admissions team has provided more than 400 annual hours of instruction regarding admissions processes. The admissions team has taken an active role in training and utilizing the following offices to relay accurate information to both prospective and denied students regarding admission criteria and application procedures: Academic Advisement, Athletics, Counselors, Customer Service Representatives, Outreach Officers (Transfer Center), Student Information Services, and Student Success Coordinators. In addition, an Internal FAQ has been created with answers to the 100 Most Frequently Asked Admissions Questions. Further, we have taken time to develop relationships with the following areas: Academic Departments, Financial Aid, Housing, Information Technology, International Advisor, Student Groups, Orientation (NSO Help Desk), Student Affairs, Veterans Affairs (Vet Net Allies), Vice- President’s Office, and the campus Webmaster.
The Admissions Office does not have a hidden agenda. I believe it takes a village to service the applicant pool. For this reason, invitations are extended to the weekly admissions staff meetings to members of the Customer Service Unit, Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), Outreach Office, and the University Advisement Center. Additional attendees are welcome, as applicable. An annual campus wide admissions update presentation is also offered. It begins with an introduction and summary for the past year, followed by breakout sessions covering detailed information regarding Graduate Admissions, International Admissions, Residency, Transfer Credit, and Undergraduate Admissions. Finally, it is important to include Student Employees and Temporary Employees in training and professional development opportunities. This inclusion allows casual employees to feel like a genuine part of the office.
Proactive Problem Solving
Extraordinary efforts are made by the admissions team to make problem-solving easy with consistent policies and procedures. This includes cross-training for all admissions team members within each unit. This does not mean that all staff are responsible for the exact same workload. Instead, it means that if one area is more caught up than another, team members are able to pitch-in (as necessary) to meet the annual goals of the office.
Additional efforts are placed toward providing clear and up-to-date website information (online information management tracking for approximately 20 web pages) and the development of more than 150 Business Process Guides (BPGs). BPGs are definitive written instructions that help employees rely on standard operating procedures rather than on word of mouth. Included in each BPG is a creation date, documented updates, as well as archived versions of existing guides. Consistent and documented policies and procedures assist employees with proactive problem solving by giving the confidence necessary to make quality decisions.
We believe that a job can only be done most efficiently and accurately if the entire staff is provided with the necessary tools. For this reason, the admissions team has been provided with many resources that are easily accessible. The list begins with a shared online drive where there is an Admissions Calendar, Department Calendar, and the more than 150 BPGs. The Admissions Calendar provides a day-to-day list of processes occurring throughout the office. It also includes an annual history of these items for the past 3 years. Next is a Department Calendar for the entire Admissions & Records Office, which primarily includes deadlines and mass mailings/notifications.
We also provide the Admissions Team with numerous additional resources. There is an internal library of resource books, which have been accumulated over time. The Library is reviewed each year, new books are ordered, and contents are cataloged on the shared drive. Access to online resources is also provided, especially focusing on publications which assist with international admission evaluations: AACRAO Edge, IERF, WES, and recorded/written presentations & webinars. In addition, a plethora of online information from the Chancellor’s Office is available: CSU Admission Handbook, Residency Handbook, Coded Memos, and Executive Orders. Each of these resources further empowers the admissions team to make consistent decisions resulting in a fair and accurate admissions review process. Finally, the CSU-Dominguez Hills Website, along with reports for specific populations of students (PeopleSoft Queries: Appeals, Exception Admits, Miscellaneous Documents, etc…), has allowed further development of an admission system that works.
Providing these resources and access to shared and online tools empowers staff to make thoughtful and consistent decisions.
Accountability & Discipline
The importance of both upward and downward communication, especially regarding professional expectations, cannot be overstated. For this reason, there are multiple opportunities for the admissions team to both hear and to be heard. The door for open communication is presented by management, and the employee is highly encouraged to walk through it. Not all team members take advantage of each opportunity, but the hope is that, over time, a relationship will be built. The stronger the relationship, typically, the more hard-working and loyal the member becomes to the team and the institution.
Accountability is attained via daily tallies. Each team member is provided with an identical standard list of responsibilities and is required to tally their productivity throughout the day. This is not very different than how a lawyer bills hours. The result allows management to know how much work a particular team member or unit is capable of performing over time. This history allows for more accurate workload planning and time management. We are also, based on the totals for the tallies, able to report an annual summary of work that would otherwise not be easily tracked.
Team members are also required to meet with management individually every other month. During this meeting the discussion is centered on current workload/assignments, notable errors since the last meeting, professional development opportunities, as well as progress toward annual goals. Finally, this is an opportunity for management to give accolades for a job well done.
Another important source of feedback is through probationary (3 month, 6 month, and 11 month during the first year) and annual evaluations. Evaluations reflect job strengths, job weaknesses, required improvements (with timelines provided), goals, and progress achieved since the last evaluation. These evaluations are more than perfunctory. They are meaningful and give the team member guidelines and the opportunity to correct possible negative qualities and prevent a write-up and/or further disciplinary action.
Finally, accountability and discipline must include well-documented disciplinary write-ups. Simply informing an employee that they are not performing at an acceptable level is not enough. admissions team members are provided with specific documentation and examples regarding areas that are not up to par. Copies of errors in student records are provided along with a written summary outlining the expectation and how it was not met. Team members are also given a timeline in which to make the required improvements. For this reason, over the past five years, there has been only one case that escalated to the point where a grievance hearing with the team member’s union representative was required. All other circumstances have resulted in the necessary improvements to get performance back on track.
The final component, but certainly not the least important, is professional development. Each member of the Admission Team is required to participate in at least one individual professional development opportunity each year. The main source for the individual opportunities are Lynda.com. Team members have also attended sessions coordinated by Fred/Pryor Seminars/Career Track and the CSUDH Human Resources Office (Connections and New Horizon Software Workshops).
This is in addition to the many opportunities the Admission Team participates in as a group. Collectively, the Admissions Team participated in approximately 600 training opportunities in 2013. Examples of group training sessions are: Data Entry Proficiency, Data Security & Privacy, EXCEL, Information Security Training, Mental Health First Aid, Military Transcripts (JST), Quality Service Training for Admission, Transcript Authenticity & Verification, and Transfer Credit Update.
I hope this article has highlighted for you some key tools which allow for managing workflow in a way that will result in goal achievement, as well as staff satisfaction. I hope that the structure I have shared with you will complement your current processes and increase productivity… and ultimately, allow your team to do more with less.
When management identifies the needs of the office, and at the same time ensures that each team member is aware of their contribution, success can be more easily achieved. The big-picture awareness allows staff to see how they contribute to the bigger goal through accurately and efficiently admitting students while providing excellent customer service to the University as a whole.
Leadership, building bridges, inclusivity/transparency, problem-solving, resources, accountability, discipline, and professional development are keys that can lead to the success of your team.
Although it may seem that each of these strategies individually is very basic, I believe the combination of these in a unified approach is what unlocks the potential to make them work extremely well.
Michelle Taylor is a veteran admissions professional who has worked in the field for more than twenty-five years. She received her M.A. in Communication Management from the University of Southern California. Currently, Michelle is the Associate Director of Admissions at California State University – Dominguez Hills. She began her career in International Admissions and has since worked in graduate admissions, with professional academic programs, and has extensive admissions experience with both private and public education. In addition to her admissions career, Michelle is an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys golf, hiking, and tennis. She currently resides in Orange County, California and can be contacted at email@example.com.
Author’s Note: I would like to acknowledge that Khaleah Bradshaw, who is no longer working in the CSU-Dominguez Hills Office of Admissions & Records, was a co-presenter for the original presentation at the AACRAO Annual Meetings in both San Francisco and Denver.