Some students, staff scoff at college helpline reform

Amy Horst

Beginning next semester, those who call the University’s College of Continuing Education helpline will get a live person, rather than the machine they get now – but not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

With the change, the college’s student services office will lose more than half its current employees and rehire new employees who will be trained to handle calls from prospective and current students.

Although college officials said the change will help students, some staff and students are critical of the change.

Most of the criticism centers on the college’s decision to focus more on outreach than support, which to some seems like turning the support center into a sales operation.

Mary Nichols, dean of the college, said the change will make it easier for prospective students to access information about their education.

“Our goal is a round service to those people in the public and in the community who are interested in learning from the University,” Nichols said. “The change has been part of our ongoing look at how we can provide the best possible service to adult learners.”

The college provides education and resources to adult students. The college offers noncredit classes, helps adult students find University courses that fit their goals and schedule and helps students who want to design their own majors.

Nichols said shifting the scope of student services would improve what the college currently offers.

Liz Turchin, media and events specialist for the college, agreed. “We’re hoping we can make it easier for students to find information that fits what they need,” Turchin said.

Some of the college’s current and prospective students said the center does not need the change.

Tanna Simmons, who graduated in May with a self-designed major through the college, said the current support staff is knowledgeable and helpful.

“A lot of times, they can answer all your questions even if your adviser isn’t there,” Simmons said.

Bobby Williams, a student at a Minneapolis community college who will take classes through the College of Continuing Education next semester, said his experience with the current support staff has been exceptional.

“They tell you exactly what you need to know and what information you need to hand in to them,” Williams said.

Don Barbee, an office specialist at the student services office, said concerns like Williams’ might be valid.

“My concern is that people are going to be calling for help and they’re going to be sold,” Barbee said. “The administration seems happy about it, but I think the students need to be aware of it.”

Barbee is one of five student services workers who will lose their jobs Dec. 4 as a result of the change.

Since 1999, the college has lost 35 percent of its funding. The college has overhauled many of its programs because of the implementation of Incentives for Managed Growth, which changed how it receives funding from the University.

Incentives for Managed Growth was started in 1998 and gives departments funding based on their profits from classes and how efficiently they manage resources such as space. In the past, funding was distributed through all departments regardless of how much revenue the department received.

Because many of the college’s classes are noncredit and offered at lower prices than traditional University classes, it makes less money from tuition than other University colleges.