Authors: Alexandra Pickett and Larry Dugan
If you’ve stayed at a hotel in a strange city and sought restaurant recommendations, tickets, or even a local map from the knowledgeable individual at that prominent desk in the lobby, you’re familiar with the help a concierge can offer. A distinctive and key feature of the initiative carried out at SUNY Learning Network (SLN) with funding from NGLC Wave I, Building Blocks for College Completion was the creation of the role of Learning Concierge and incorporation of that role into services both at the partner campuses and centrally at SLN. Learning concierges assisted at-risk and first-generation blended and online students with information and assistance with campus resources and services. By design, they provided the kind of live, regular online and face-to-face contact with knowledgeable people that would help at-risk students to find easy paths to the services they needed, when they needed them. In addition to identifying Learning Concierges at each partner and pilot campus, we trained centrally located SLN help desk analysts to function as first-tier Learning Concierges on behalf of the participating campuses. Working in concert with campus-based student success offices and using an online student learning commons also created during the initiative gave these system-level concierges the opportunity to chat live online with students to assist them.
To make sure that the learning concierges had enough information to target students appropriately, we also integrated the early alert system Starfish into the learning management systems used by the partner campuses. It allowed our campus-based concierges to identify and flag students in order to proactively contact and assist them. This personalized approach to supporting student success enabled the concierges, at both the campus and system levels, to function as advocates and facilitator-guides charged with anticipating student needs, responding to requests and inquiries, and assisting students in navigating the complexities of college, campus life, and student services.
To give a more specific sense of how the concierge role functions, let’s consider the integration of a learning concierge position at Finger Lakes Community College (http://flcc.edu/), one of our partner campuses in the grant. Finger Lakes has a robust online learning program, including an ever-growing list of hybrid offerings. Adult learners are particularly interested in pursuing credentials in this hybrid method. What we hypothesized in our NGLC grant was that the adult learner has all of the motivation, but little time to attend classes on a traditional schedule. Lower income students are particularly challenged with these issues. The Learning Concierge position was conceived as a single point of contact for the adult student taking online and hybrid courses, serving as that student’s direct connection to services and resources at the institution. A customer service approach to this role provides online students that sense of community with the college that is often missing in the online learning experience.
At Finger Lakes Community College, the new Learning Concierge position was initially supported with funding from the NGLC grant. The concierge provided support to student participants in several ways, beginning in the classroom during the first, in-person week of their hybrid courses with an introduction and explanation of the services available to them.
The concierge offers technical support, gives administrative assistance, and facilitates academic tutoring and other support as needed for online students. Prompted by the Starfish Alert System, she also can intervene with struggling students. Additionally, she sends out reminders about upcoming events, resource options, and important college dates. In fact, reminders about the very presence of the concierge have increased student contact. Many students report a sense of relief and reassurance knowing there is someone on campus dedicated specifically to their academic success.
As the role of the concierge has grown through participation in the NGLC grant, the position has taken hold as a vital service for all online students at the college: those are studying completely online, those taking part in hybrid classes, and those enrolled in a combination of campus and online classes. Online students can receive academic advising, registration and orientation assistance, technical assistance, and administrative assistance in all areas of the college through the concierge, just as campus-based students receive those services in person. The intention of this customer service approach is to provide personalized support from enrollment until graduation, and it seems to be working!
Read more about our project and other interventions used in our project here: http://wiki.sln.suny.edu/display/SLNNGLC/about+the+project
Larry Dugan, DMgt., is the Director of Online Learning at Finger Lakes Community College, and campus partner liaison for the NGLC grant.