Cosmetology students speak with college staff to get information at Blue Ridge Community College's One Stop in Henderson County.

One-Stop Centers: Invaluable Tools for Community Colleges and the Students We Serve

Featured Photo: Cosmetology students speak with college staff to get information at Blue Ridge Community College’s One Stop in Henderson County. (Photo: Benjamin Rickert, Blue Ridge Community College Marketing & Communications Dept.)

By: Dr. Laura B. Leatherwood
President, Blue Ridge Community College

There are many factors that contribute to a student’s success and completion of their educational journey. According to an article by “Inside Higher Ed,” one of the top student success strategies to help with retention is to reimagine advising and support services. This includes the creation of one-stop centers for resources. Particularly at institutions where students possess several risk factors, it is important to cater to their needs and adopt a student-centered approach.

When you think about it, what student wouldn’t want to have an easily accessible, one-stop resource available to support their journey? Moreover, what higher education institution wouldn’t want to implement a strategy that helps with retention and contributes to long term success?

For many four-year colleges and universities, this type of resource is commonplace, but for community colleges, the option hasn’t always been readily available or as robust as we’d like.

Thankfully, offering services in one location that will enable our students to successfully navigate their educational journeys is becoming more of a trend among our community college peers. Many community colleges, particularly those of smaller sizes, have similar models in place but use different terminology. For many of us, these are simply student services where the resources are already in one central location.

Easing confusion and bolstering future plans

When students have access to services housed in one area on campus, their level of stress and confusion automatically decreases, while their ability to navigate and chart a plan for their future naturally increases. At a very basic level, one-stop centers can house the college cashier, financial aid services, student counseling, the Registrar’s office and Admissions — all of which assist in easing confusion for new students or adult learners returning to the classroom for the first time in years.

Based on a survey conducted by “Inside Higher Ed” and “College Pulse,” 44% of students whose colleges have a one-stop office were very satisfied with the course registration process. This is compared to only 22% of students at colleges that do not have a one-stop office.

Serving the broader community

At many one-stop centers, like those on Blue Ridge Community College’s campuses, we’re also able to provide invaluable services to assist students with disabilities, veterans, and community members. Student veterans are able to tap into programs and information that will help them reach their educational goals and make the transition from military life to college life easier. We accomplish this by offering one-on-one registration assistance, financial aid counseling, referrals to local resources, faculty mentoring, and support.

A multi-dimensional one-stop center can also serve to support the local economy by providing workforce development services. Our local NCWorks Career Center can be found in our one-stop center, along with workforce development services supported by the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA). Adults returning to the workforce or those individuals just starting out can find assistance with resume writing, job searches and interview skills, as well as assistance in securing funding for their education.

A service-centered culture

Email, phone calls, and yes, even texts, are tools that we all use and are accustomed to, but there’s something to be said for looking someone in the eye, sharing your questions or concerns, and getting an answer that enables you to take the next step. Ideally, the staff in your one-stop center are cross-trained to assist students regardless of their educational journey — be it curriculum, continuing education, or short-term training.

By strategically positioning these one-stop centers to aid our students, we’re able to efficiently address a broad range of student concerns while providing clear and timely information at key points throughout a student’s journey. Additionally, when we provide students with fast and accurate information — and resolutions to their challenges — we see reduced dropout rates.

The challenge for all of us will be in making sure that our students not only know about our one-stop centers but are also encouraged to take advantage of them and the services available. Simply having a one-stop center is not enough. We must be vigilant in breeding a service-centered culture on campus that ultimately translates into student satisfaction.

I have no doubt that we’re up to the challenge, which in turn will yield long term benefits for our students and communities.

Laura B. Leatherwood, Ed.D., is the president of Blue Ridge Community College. Leatherwood was selected as the 2022 President of the Year by the NC Community College System. Prior to Blue Ridge, she served for 17 years in various roles at Haywood Community College. Dr. Leatherwood holds a doctorate degree in university and community college leadership, a master’s degree in human resource development, and a bachelor’s degree in business law, all from Western Carolina University. This story is also available through Education NC.