Timely Advice

Tippie College of Business, The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa

Thanks to the new system, staff can spend more time assisting students and much less time processing phone requests for meetings.

Typical college students, you’ve probably realized, are not 9-to-5 kinds of people. With classes, socializing, part-time jobs, and a myriad of other duties and desires crowding their schedules, they live by clocks that vary widely. This can be a problem for those tasked with providing them the services that help optimize their collegiate experience. Many of those folks, after all, work more traditional schedules and aren’t around to answer a call from a student on her way from her waitressing gig to the library to get some late-night studying in.

Academic advising in The University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business was hampered by this issue. “Initially it was student requests to the academic advising office in our business college saying, ‘We want to schedule [time] with our advisers, but we’re busy when you guys are in your office,’ ” explains Jim Chaffee, director of technology. “ ‘We’re in classes and in our groups. Can you have someone in there working in the evening?’ ”

Rather than reassign someone to evening hours simply to make appointments, Iowa opted for a technological solution. Chaffee’s department, the Stead Technology Services Group, met with advisers and administrators to determine exactly what they needed in their revamped scheduling system. The solution was an online advising application that allows students to make appointments with their advisors through a web application. No matter what time of day she finds herself free, a student can log in and arrange a meeting with her adviser.

The time freed up for administrative assistants was estimated to be in the neighborhood of 800-plus person-hours during the Spring 2010 semester.

The application interfaces with Microsoft Exchange to automatically check the adviser’s schedule and list potential meeting times for the student to choose from. The student chooses the time to meet and the reason for the visit, and enters any relevant notes. The adviser can then look at his calendar in Exchange and see the appointment. An administrative area was created, allowing these users to add advisers, set appointment length and lead time, and have e-mail reminders sent to the student. Chaffee and his team wrote the code for the initial application, but soon found and purchased an application, Independentsoft’s Exchange Web Services .NET, that worked much better.

And as often happens, there was an added benefit to moving the system online.

“We realized if we did that, these people answering the phones, which is not necessarily their main job - their main job is to work more like administrative assistants - would be freed up to do more of the work they were hired to do,” Chaffee says.

Things worked so well for the Tippie College that Iowa’s Academic Advising Center and College of Liberal Studies also approached the Stead Group to implement and customize the system for them. Since the beginning of the year, students have used the application to schedule approximately 10,000 advising appointments, and Chaffee estimates the time freed up for administrative assistants to be in the neighborhood of 800-plus person-hours.

“Over a fairly short period, our enrollments increased significantly and we doubled our advising staff,” Chaffee says. “The appointment scheduler was implemented during this period, and it came just in time.”