Counselors ring up big numbers on students’ behalf
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
It figures that Grand Canyon University students would need more assistance as the pandemic preys upon their plans for the fall semester or their continuing online education.
These numbers demonstrate how much – and how much the Student Services counselors do.
In May, the 56 SSCs serving ground students and the 220 online student counselors combined to have one of their busiest months ever. They completed approximately 232,348 activities, which are defined as talking to a student by phone or completing an action on a student’s behalf. That was a 31% increase over 2019.
The rise in outbound calls was just as notable. They jumped 15% year-to-year, to 161,573.
That means that, in 20 workdays, the average counselor made 585 calls, or 29 a day, and completed 845 activities, or 42 a day. That’s a lot of talking and doing and accomplishing – all while working from home because of COVID-19.
“The call volumes and the actions they take to surround these students with support is unlike anything I’ve seen. I’ve been in higher ed for 22 years, and I’m going to tell you that GCU does it best,” said Michelle Nuckols, Senior Vice President, Student Services Operations.
Student Services Manager Tim Jones wasn’t surprised that the numbers were so high.
“I thought that was exceptional, but I also thought that seems about right in terms of how busy everybody is,” he said. “There just are so many questions in this uncertain time, we both – online and ground counselors – have done a great job being there for students and their families and being able to be a resource and providing clarity and expectations for the upcoming terms.”
What makes it even more exceptional is that summer break usually isn’t as busy as the academic year.
“Normally, this is a lot more relaxed,” Jones said. “But with all the different things, whether it be the COVID questions or what class is online or what my housing is going to look like, there are so many questions that parents and students have as we prepare for fall.”
All GCU students have an assigned personal counselor who receives an alert when anything needs to be done on their behalf. Nuckols estimates that there are 90-plus actions counselors can take, starting with welcome calls, preparations for upcoming courses or terms, academic progress, resources, GPA, attendance, early alerts, financial updates and missing electronic documents (she said GCU processed more than 580,000 electronic documents last year).
“It’s pretty much everything that happens in a student’s life cycle,” she added. “When things happen inside of our systems, it will trigger a certain action to go to the SSC to let them know that a student needs something.”
Online counselors are proactively notified three weeks in advance that a student is about to start a new course.
“Sometimes they need to send documents to students or collect documents from students or just make the phone call to say, ‘Hey, Joe, today is Friday. How are you doing? It looks like your next class is XYZ. This is what you need to be prepared for in that class. It looks like your current grade is XYZ. Is there anything I can help you with today?’” Nuckols said.
So what is it like to manage the SSCs with everyone working from home? Managers and directors report that a lot of teams hold Zoom meetings, of course, but overall it has been as seamless as GCU’s transition of ground classes to an online platform last spring — they leverage the same technical infrastructure. Several staff members even have earned promotions while working from home.
“We have such a good team that – and I know other managers would agree – once they know what they need to do, they get it done,” Jones said. “We have an experienced staff that knows how to get the job done and wants to get the job done, more importantly, because they care about students and their families.”
The ground traditional Student Services team has implemented Wednesday night Zoom calls in which hundreds of students and their parents can get answers and, just as importantly, face time. Jones can’t wait until those meetings are in person on campus again.
“Oh, man. I’m a thirsty person in the desert right now,” he said. “I miss it a lot. For 12 years, that’s been a real energy booster for me. I never get mad going to work. It’s never like, ‘Aw, gosh, I have to go there.’”
But, for now, the SSCs will just keep rolling out of bed and looking for about 232,000 ways to help students.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].