Helping Students Eliminate Holds One Phone Call at a Time

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Students may end up with a hold placed on their record for any number of reasons: borrowed equipment was never returned, required documents never submitted or they just have an outstanding balance with the College.

Whatever the reason, the result is the same—students with administrative holds can't register for classes or, in some cases, receive their degrees. Even when a student has already registered for classes the following semester, if they don't address the issue, they risk being dropped from their classes and having to re-register at a later date. Some never do.

While students are usually notified of their status via email, or when checking into CUNYfirst or Lehman360, the specter of an unpaid bill may be too much for some. It's a problem that administrators in Lehman's Office of Enrollment Management found has a fairly simple solution.

Last May, the office, together with a team of 60 volunteers from across the campus, conducted a campaign to call as many current students to help them settle their accounts before the end of the semester. That day, the group successfully reached 2,029 students, which resulted in 97 reconciled holds and 239 students registering for classes for the following semester.

"Getting to them before the term ends is crucial," explained Richard Finger, senior director of Enrollment Management. "Especially when it's a financial hold, because then we can present to them all of the options that are available while there is still time to take advantage."

Some of those options include creating a payment plan, applying for an emergency grant, or making a one-time credit card payment.

Calling campaigns like the one Lehman held in the spring are a fairly common recruitment strategy at many private institutions, but not at public ones where resources are scarce. Lehman began using the new approach in Fall 2018, and found that it worked surprisingly well, with the College recouping close to $300,000 in outstanding fees.

"It was good for the college, but more importantly, it was good for the students because it allows them to stay on track to completing their studies and graduating," said Finger, who is gearing up for another campaign on Aug. 16 targeting students who have yet to register.

As it turned out, the spring outreach campaign was also good for the volunteers, many of who don’t normally interact with students throughout the course of their work day. Bethania Ortega, director of Budget and Planning, along with other members of her staff spent the afternoon on the phone.

"We don’t have that front-line connection with students, so this really gave us a sense of purpose beyond what we do to support the college in its mission," said Ortega. She went on to describe one conversation that she had with a transfer student who was frustrated because she had difficulty getting around campus after being involved in an accident. By the time the call ended, the student had information about the resources Lehman offers to students with disabilities.

"I think she needed to vent and to feel that she was being heard," she said. "In the end, we both felt good because she walked away knowing that she had options and I felt good knowing that I was able to help someone. I would definitely do this again."