By Jarell A. Alder

It is official! Today’s world requires that universities offer much more than a degree as its primary selling product. Instead, the growing demand of higher education providers is that they offer memorable learning partnerships that deliver quality customer experiences.

When we begin to think of Education as a business, the student as the customer inevitably comes to mind and as we begin to think of our customers in relation to the current climate and begin to explore the possible futures of education amidst the disruptions, we begin to understand that customer centricity is the single most important sustainable model for business growth.

The UWI’s world ranking is owed to the institution’s excellence and stellar performance in a number of strategic areas including the advancement of its student centeredness mission. By design, the institution seeks to provide a fully integrated educational experience for all members of the student population as seen through the establishment and continued work of the dedicated cross campus offices holding responsibility for student engagement, development and support services.

The discipline/profession that is Student Services accounts for a critical component of the Higher Education experience as through engagement, students are prepared for active participation in society and are presented with service offerings that address academic, personal, emotional and developmental needs. Common to the campus offices of student services at The UWI is the concern of the “whole student” concept which advocates for student well-being and holistic human development. Student Services professionals at The UWI acknowledge students as being active partners in their educational journey and continue to ensure therefore that the institution stands out positively to today’s value focused students by considering and taking intentional steps towards meeting the expressed and ever evolving needs of the student population being served.

Students across campuses at The UWI benefit from a range of programming and support services offered by the respective Offices of Student Services. Within this suite is the “First Year Experience” (FYE) programme which is a common staple at all campuses that maintains the primary goal of providing sustained new student transition support through the entire first year of study. This programme continues to be crucial to the academic preparedness of new students and the primary tool that meets informational demands and fosters personal/social integration into the campus community. “Adopt a Student” is yet another programme that may be considered “universal” as staff members across The UWI make a monthly contribution towards their designated campus fund for students in need of financial assistance. These contributions make it possible for registered students within the programme to receive a much valued monthly stipend for the semester period that assists with living expenses. More well-known at The UWI are the uniquely tailored programmes and support services that each campus offers in direct response to its student needs, pulse and climate. Initiatives that embody the notion of “customer value in action” as reflected in the likes of the “Academic Support/Drop- In Clinic” and “Campus App” found at the Cave Hill Campus, the St. Augustine’s “World of Work”, “Safe Space” and “Christmas at UWI” programmes, “The UWI Leadership”, “UWI Mentorship” and “Environmental Awareness” programmes at the Mona Campus and the attractive group of student scholarships, bursaries and grants made available at The UWI Open Campus through contributions of both public and private sector entities.

Collectively these offerings have an enormous and unquantifiable impact and strongly affirm that student learning does not only occur within the traditional classroom but that opportunities for teaching and development exist everywhere be it on or off campus. Regardless of the campus to which a student is attached, The UWI offers opportunities and support services that relate to scholarships, bursaries and financial aid; on and off campus student accommodation; support services for students with disabilities and medical conditions; counselling and psychological support services; mentorship and student leadership opportunities.  There are also provisions for student advocacy, new student orientation and transition support; career services including planning, career development and readiness for professional employment; academic support; volunteer and community service; as well as recreational, social and cultural enrichment opportunities.

At a glance, one can appreciate the inclusiveness of this approach as the aforementioned opportunities target the specific needs of at least one or more sub groups within the institution’s student population including new students, students with disabilities, regional/international students, mature students, first generation students, hall residents and commuting students. With this strategic approach, The UWI produces scores of “Distinctive UWI Graduates” and active global citizens to transform the world positively.

As The UWI and other Higher Educational institutions shift focus to the increasingly competitive global landscape and the growing threats posed to education as a business, the question of “How Do I Define and Leverage My Competitive Advantage?” takes centre stage. The UWI’s unique positioning as an institution rooted in the Caribbean already gives competitive edge. When combined with the existing quality product of teaching and learning coupled with the delivery of a dynamic, personalized student experience powered by the cross campus Offices of Student Services, the institution by design is well on its way to maintaining global excellence.

Thriving however in the rapidly changing Higher Education landscape requires a constant acknowledgement of students as customers and a deeper understanding of their expectation and demand for consistent quality service across all providers in today’s world, regardless of the industry. A strategic focus on the student journey becomes a game changer therefore in fostering a shift from the traditional ‘inside out view’ to the now very important ‘outside in perspective.’

The work of Student Services across campuses collectively advances the mission of customer journey mapping for The UWI and has the Design Thinking approach embedded within the process for designing student programming and support services that meet the needs of the target audience.  This philosophy maintains a human centred approach to problem solving through the phases of Empathy, Defining, Ideation, Prototyping and Testing. Understanding that the student experience simply refers to how students perceive interactions with the institution at varying touchpoints including off line, online, social media, print media, telephone exchanges, emails and in person interactions to name a few, all help with creating even more perspective for the importance of the CX mission.

Addressing issues and areas of concern such as data silos, communication needs, service awareness, distributed services and staff as well as the absence of an online community and culture not only optimizes the student experience but yields significant institutional rewards for The UWI in the great global CX delivery race.

In defining the student experience as the totality of a student’s interaction with the institution, one should appreciate the value of regarding the student experience as an institutional responsibility and establish the subtle differences between Student Engagement, Student Experience and Student Success. As The

UWI continues to define and maintain competitive advantage, attention to the Student Journey and Student Lifecycle Management is critical in effectively managing interactions throughout the Application Experience, the Orientation/Transition Experience, the Academic Experience, the Integration/Campus Life Experience and the Graduate Experience.

In looking towards the future of the Higher Education industry, it is increasingly important for The UWI to continue its focus on transforming the end-to-end student journey specifically for the life-long learners within the system. This inevitably leads to happier, more engaged and brand loyal students as being among the many great institutional rewards for The UWI.

professional photo of Jarell Alder standing in front of a grey backdrop

Jarell Alder, M.A., B.A.