Until 2009, students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (N.C.) could wait as long as two hours to be seen by a counselor in student services, which includes the offices of admissions, advising, financial aid, and the registrar. After signing in on a sheet of paper in one of the four offices, students waited to be seen. Sometimes they were then referred to another office, where they got in the back of the line. The process was not only time-consuming, but frustrating.
Because of the long waits, students frequently had to return several times to have all of their academic issues resolved. For adult students with other work and family responsibilities, the length of time required to discuss financial aid, register for courses, or receive admissions guidance was excessive, especially with multiple visits. “I’m sure we lost students as a result,” says Deborah Harmon, vice president for student services.
In 2008, administrators began investigating ways to reduce student wait times in student services, says Harmon. The department of motor vehicles was viewed as a model, for the way users check in at a central desk, are issued a tracking number based on their topic of discussion, and are seated until their number is flashed on an LCD screen overhead. The college purchased a Q-Flow platform, to help manage wait times, from ACF Technologies.
Consisting of a touchscreen kiosk with basic software functionality and a large screen display, the initial system cost approximately $23,000, plus an $8,000 recurring annual fee. Students sign in at the kiosk and answer a few questions about the purpose of their visit, then receive printed directions with a call number and an approximate wait time.
Once their wait in a virtual queue begins, students can get some work done on nearby computers, visit the career center, or do some shopping in the campus bookstore (where there are speakers to announce the current number being served). If multiple advisors need to be seen, staff can transfer students from one service to another, slotting them according to original arrival time.
Information about the reason for each student’s visit can be forwarded ahead to the next advisor, prepping him or her before the student even walks in the door. This ability to give more personal attention and the shorter wait times have helped to reduce student complaints about the process.
As of spring 2013 registration, the financial aid office saw an average of 110 students a day with a peak of 264 one day. The average wait was 21.5 minutes when Q-Flow was introduced and has declined to 8.5 minutes as of the most recent registration process.
The introduction of the Q-Flow system has saved ABTech approximately $40,000 a year—the amount it would cost to hire additional part-time staffers to provide administrative support. Instead, the new technology helps get issues resolved more quickly, in fewer visits. The extra time staffers now have can be used proactively, allowing them to follow up with students on their academic performance or check back with students who applied for financial aid but didn’t register.