OSA’s New Face for Fall

Matt Bonilla, the new Assistant Vice President of Office of Student Assistance, discusses how the department plans to cut through the red tape to change its reputation from rule enforcers to problem solvers.

In what way does your new position in OSA differ from your previous role as the Interim Vice President and CIO?

Believe it or not, there are a lot of similarities between what we did in information technology and what we do in OSA. There are a lot of policies and procedures that are dated and need to be revised with the infusion of technology to make the execution of those policies/procedures service oriented for students, faculty, and staff. We want to make the way we do business more efficient and less manual process driven for the people involved.  One key task we are focusing on is eliminating the manual processing of paper, allowing staff members more time to focus on our primary objective of servicing students.

What are some of the new things that are happening with OSA?

We’re quickly becoming flexible as an organization to meet the peak demands placed on each aspect of the OSA operational business model. What do I mean by that? I mean that within OSA there are a lot of different departments; all have a shortage of staff members during peak periods if viewed independently. Each department within OSA has its own busy period based on the time of year. So what we did was get rid of all the barriers—all of the individual departments—so now everyone does everything. During peak times, what would’ve been done by 10 people is now being done by everyone in OSA.

You’ve recently launched the new OSA Program Liaison Initiative. What is it, and who is it for?

We did a customer satisfaction survey of students, staff, and faculty to try and pinpoint the exact areas within OSA we could improve. People indicated we weren’t picking up the phones and so on, so the survey really gave us a baseline of what we needed to focus on for the fall. We heard about the “Pace run-around,” people being sent to different areas, being sent from department to department, and not knowing who to speak with. Another thing they mentioned was the bureaucracy – the inability to get things done because policies and procedures would get in the way. The OSA Program Liaison Initiative is a single point of contact—I call them the “red-tape specialists”—for each program. An individual who is in charge of all aspects of OSA business for that program is assigned to someone who is having a problem or for whom the system isn’t working. They speak with their personally assigned representative who then navigates the backend of OSA [Ed. Note: There is also a representative for Financial Aid] to get back to the person with an answer within 24 hours. We’ve seen a lot of great success with this program.

How do OSA employees function within this new initiative?

They work on an operational calendar. They meet with program directors once a month, and during orientation they meet the students and talk with them again in University 101. The representatives also meet with program coordinators, who they are developing long-term relationships with. Everyone is responsible for their programs—creating an individual accountability model. People are really taking pride in their work and in positive working relationships.

At the beginning of each semester, before we go live, OSA staff take an exam that they need to pass to be sure we are up-to-date on the policies and procedures. We also send in “secret shoppers.” We have people making phone calls and visiting the office to rate the service we provide.

How else do you gain feedback for OSA’s efficiency?

The student/faculty advisory council is very important to us. We meet with them once a month and we also meet with the Student Government Association. We listen to their concerns and then the next meeting the following month, we come back with results. They love to see progress and I think we need more of it.

What are your plans for OSA going forward?

We’re teaming up with our friends from Financial Aid and we’ve been sending our OSA staff members for Financial Aid Certification training [see the article on the new Financial Aid Training Institute in this issue of Opportunitas]. Already three have come back with scores above 90 percent. In the fall we’re combining OSA and Financial Aid, both physically and operationally. Right now there are several different places someone might need to go to for the answers they need, and we’re trying to reduce the “run-around” for students.

We’re also setting up a centralized call center for the start of the fall semester. The big thing people say is that OSA doesn’t answer the phone—it isn’t that we don’t want to answer the phone; it’s just that it’s impossible to answer 20,000 phone calls a week at the beginning of the semester.  We’re spending time fixing the main issues that cause students to call in the first place. We’ve started using the Help Desk ticketing system, so now each ticket is assigned to a staff member and tracked. You can also leave a voicemail and that, too, will generate a help ticket and someone will get back to you within 24 hours.

I think the biggest thing we’re trying to do is move away from our role as rule enforcers and toward our new role as solution developers. We’ve always looked at ourselves as a group that enforces the rules, but that’s not really what we’re here for. We have the integrity of the rules to uphold, but we also have to work within the rules to find accommodations for people.