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Want to retain more students? Process map the student experience to find hidden pain points

June 8, 2017

“The only thing I would change about my experience so far would be the feeling of being thrown into college not knowing what to expect and not given a lot of leeway.”

That’s a student’s response to an EAB survey evaluating their first-year experience. This may read to you as an understatement: the student downplays the monumental challenge of understanding college requirements as the one little thing they would change about their experience. Unfortunately, feeling confused or overwhelmed is not uncommon for our student respondents, especially those new to navigating the hidden curriculum. Yet these challenges remain in place because many university leaders don’t get the chance to think about how a student experiences their processes and policies.

So when we began working with colleges and universities to implement our mobile advising application, Guide, one of our goals was to help our members see their institution through a student’s eyes—and the experience surprised many of them. In this post, we highlight reactions to some of the unintentional (but all too common) barriers to completion that colleges put in front of students:

“I’d like to have a better idea of the different majors that I am considering.”

Remember what it was like to choose a major? It can be an understandably tough decision, given that you have to make a commitment among your different intellectual interests, distinguish between similar sounding programs, and make sure that you’re adequately preparing for the professional world.

Having a detailed description of every major in a single place can help ease this tough decision. Surprisingly, many universities don’t offer one.

Our consultants uncovered this when we requested lists of majors and descriptions to build the customized major exploration capability in Guide. This resource would seem like a basic prerequisite for major exploration, but our members were often surprised to find that they had not yet consolidated program descriptions across different departments and schools. By pulling together an exhaustive major repository and embedding it in a mobile application that students can easily access anytime, we hope that undeclared students and students considering changing programs can deliberate over their options more easily.

“How do I complete this requirement if the website is broken?”

Implementing Guide is a great way to audit a university’s online resources. During the process mapping phase of implementation, EAB consultants help members document the requirements that students face in college, like paying tuition and selecting courses, that may seem straightforward. As we discovered, it’s not so simple. While helping one member navigate the housing application process, we found that their residential life website had out-of-date information and a broken link to the online version of their application.

While online self-service tools are a great way to make the student experience more efficient while easing the responsibilities of basic advisement, these resources only work if they are accurate and current. Broken links and outdated information diminish the credibility of your services and prevent your students from fulfilling time-sensitive requirements. We’ve seen this before: when we audited the onboarding experience of community colleges across the country, we found that poorly maintained resources had real attrition consequences. These service gaps, however, remain invisible until college administrators try to complete these tasks themselves.

“What’s a bursar, and what are all these different fees?”

Any time a mystery fee appears on my bank or credit card statement, I invariably feel stressed out and resentful towards the charge. However, unlike bursar holds, these fees can’t jeopardize my college standing.

Because financial holds prevent a student from registering for classes, they can directly impact a student’s likelihood of graduating on time. Our study Incentivizing Behavioral Change with Aid Dollars housed in the Student Success Best Practices Library found that 2-4% of undergraduates are dropped per term due to non-payment of a fee.

Guide includes a notification system that alerts students to financial holds placed on their accounts. To program those holds into the app, EAB consultants must collect a comprehensive list of hold codes from our members. At more than a quarter of our member institutions, we found dozens of financial holds that a student can face, each with a different resolution process. This was often the first time that leadership at our member institutions saw the breadth of holds that can affect a student. Our consultants help to streamline hold resolution policies and sunset holds that unduly restricted student registration.

At EAB, we understand that if you want to improve a student’s chance to graduate, you have to step into their shoes and experience the challenges of navigating college from their vantage point. The Guide implementation process surfaces many pain points in the student experience that institutions wouldn’t see had they not mapped the student journey. If more institutions took the time to imagine themselves as students, fewer students would have to struggle over bureaucratic hurdles as they forge their way through college.

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