Multi-year initiative at Johns Hopkins focuses on improving student services

Student Services Excellence Initiative focuses on recruitment and admissions, registration, financial aid, billing, career services and alumni tracking, and advising

Johns Hopkins University has moved into the first phase of implementation of a multi-year plan to improve key student services—including recruitment and admissions, registration, financial aid, billing, career services and alumni tracking, and advising—across all of its academic divisions.

"We want students to take full advantage of what is offered here at Hopkins. ... We don't want some of the barriers of the administrative processes to get in the way."
Kevin Shollenberger, vice provost for student affairs

Since the Student Services Excellence Initiative launched in late 2015, the SSEI team has gathered input from throughout the JHU community. During the assessment phase, which recently concluded, the university hosted focus groups, conducted interviews, and circulated a survey that drew responses from almost 3,000 students.

As the project moves into implementation, Jim Aumiller, the Whiting School of Engineering's senior associate dean for finance and administration, has agreed to a joint appointment as the executive director of SSEI and the senior associate dean of strategic initiatives at the Whiting School. Over the next 12 to 18 months, Aumiller and an implementation team will concentrate on four specific focus areas that emerged as priorities out of a set of 50 recommendations:

  • Further analysis of cross-registration and academic calendars with the ultimate goal of enhancing cross-divisional collaboration and simplifying and streamlining cross-divisional registration
  • Enhancement of career services including exploring universitywide portal and improving services for PhD and postdoctoral students
  • Financial aid compliance throughout the institution and the design of certain shared services for financial aid and billing
  • Implementation of new constituent relationship management platform/tools for both career services and graduate admissions

Strengthening Career Services is a key early priority for the SSEI team.

"Over the next year we will plan strategically to increase access to career tools and resources for all students and to provide specialized career coaching services for our doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows," said Kathy Bovard, director of coaching and education in the Career Development Office at the Carey Business School and chair of the SSEI working group on career services. "These initiatives and others like them will transform career services universitywide and better prepare students for life after Hopkins."

Additional projects will take place during a second phase of work after the initial implementation phase is complete. Ultimately, the project will result in enhanced student services delivery, more robust student services tools and technologies, and the redesign and replacement of the current student information system, which has become outdated.

Kevin Shollenberger, vice provost for student affairs, and Roy Ziegelstein, vice dean for education at the School of Medicine, served as the SSEI steering committee's co-chairs during the past year. Over the last year, the steering committee was aided by six working groups—one for each area of the initiative, with staff and faculty representatives from all of the schools involved—and an advisory committee composed of students, faculty, and alumni.

Both co-chairs said they do not want difficulties with student services to take away from students' time for academics and extracurricular activities.

"We want students to take full advantage of what is offered here at Hopkins," Shollenberger said. "I think the opportunities are really endless here. We don't want some of the barriers of the administrative processes to get in the way."

Eric Engler—a third-year Peabody undergraduate with majors in jazz, trumpet, and recording arts—is a student representative on the SSEI advisory committee. He takes electrical engineering classes on the Homewood campus in addition to his course load at Peabody.

Although he will not see the complete results of SSEI before leaving JHU—the project is expected to last until 2020—Engler said he appreciates that the university is hearing voices from across all of its divisions, adding that working on the initiative has helped him gain a better understanding of how big Johns Hopkins is.

"It's been really useful for me [to be involved]," Engler said. "I do want to be able to help the future students that hopefully won't have to go through the same annoyances or conflicts that I have."

Due to the size of the university, efforts such as the Student Services Excellence Initiative at JHU and similar institutions are not common, Ziegelstein said.

"This is a very, very broad, very serious effort across the entire university to focus on [students'] needs," the vice dean said. "I actually don't think something like this could have or would have happened years ago when their parents were in school."

Another student, Justin Lowenthal, represents both medical students and graduate students on the advisory committee. He said he has been impressed with the university's receptiveness when students raise concerns during committee meetings.

"Our voices are taken very seriously in the meetings," Lowenthal said. "This has been clear as Hopkins and consultants involved in SSEI have come forward with ideas, which have been modified with our feedback."

Alumni have also played an important role in SSEI.

Bryan McMillan is a Carey Business School alumnus and runs the student engagement committee for the alumni association. McMillan said he experienced difficulties with registration while pursuing his MBA and is concerned about improving the current student experience.

"Whenever we pull them from their primary mission, we pull them away from the services that they can receive," McMillan said. "So any changes that can be made are a positive thing at this point."

In recommending changes and developing new plans, the SSEI team has considered the experiences of the many different types of JHU students.

"Even though a student, for example at Krieger, may feel very different than a student in another school," Ziegelstein said, "their interaction with student services is surprisingly very consistent.

"SSEI will really, truly help the student experience."

Added Vali Nasr, dean of JHU's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.: "This initiative has the potential to transform the university. Strengthening coordination among our student services offices and functions, providing our students with top-notch services, and building out our technology capabilities will enhance our students' interactions with the university and allow them to spend more of their time focusing on their academic, research, and extracurricular pursuits."