Aim for Everyone – Miss the Most Important One

We received notice from the Provost’s Office that we should stop using a Withdrawal Procedures form because things had changed, but there were no instructions about what we should do when students contact us about how to withdraw. The Provost’s Office said they don’t use the form anymore so please discontinue it. However, our front line staff were quite concerned that they wouldn’t have a procedure in place to help these students. So we explained that we need the form and would simply have it in place for our staff to give to students when they need it, but we wouldn’t make it publicly available or give it to any other offices (for some reason that was a big deal).

We drafted a new form and brainstormed like crazy. The list of target audiences grew. You’ve likely seen how this goes.

  • “Well, we need it for students who are withdrawing to go to another school.” Ok, add that to the list.
  • “But if they aren’t withdrawing forever, just for a while, we need to put that info in the form.” Right. Got it.
  • “And if they want to withdraw after the mid-point in the semester, there’s a whole process for that – it should be there too.” Yep. Written down.
  • “Well, if that’s on there, so should the 3-6 week withdrawal stuff.” Yes, yes it should. It’s there.
  • “And to be consistent, we should also put how to drop classes during adds/drops.” A bit of a stretch, but I guess.
  • “And don’t forget about the money – when they get refunds and when they don’t.” Oh right. Gotta have money stuff there.
  • “We should tell them their options for Incompletes if they don’t want to lose their money.” Ah, that would be good too.
  • “Don’t forget all the departments that they need to see.” Oh. The dreaded run-around. I guess, if we have to…

So, we drafted the form, which looked like this:

CYA Form

And then we sent it off to the Provost’s Office for their OK. As you might have expected they pushed back a little. And the minute they did our eyes were opened. What a complicated, dense, and (sorry) ugly form! With all good intention we had basically copied the majority of our website and processes for everyone and crammed it all into one little form, hoping to cover all our bases and hit every possible student situation.

But really, we already have processes in place for every situation except the one that started the form: the student who wants to withdraw completely part way through a semester. So I asked, “Why do they want to withdraw?”

“Because they’re usually in some crisis and they can’t complete the semester.”

“Give me some examples, please.”

“My mom’s been injured in a car accident and I’m the primary care-giver.”

“I have a serious health condition that I was just diagnosed with.”

“My sibling just passed away and I just can’t do it anymore.”

Oh. That serious, huh? Yes, that serious.

We decided that students in crisis would just glaze over if we gave them a form like the one above. The last thing they need is more complexity in their life. So, we brainstormed in a completely different way.

“What do these people need at this time in their life?”


“Personal attention.”

“Someone to cut through the red tape.”

“What do they need to know right now?”

“Who to talk to so they can drop their studies.”

“What they need to do so they don’t fail.”

“Let’s say we drop everything and give them the care and personal attention they need. What would the form look like if it was simply a resource to look at later – after we’ve helped them?”

As it turned out, the form took on a whole new look. We wrote it as though we were in their shoes. And we quit trying to cover every possible circumstance because we decided that personal attention would take care of all those possibilities. This form would simply be a reference for where to start. What a difference!


2 thoughts on “Aim for Everyone – Miss the Most Important One

  1. Heehee… makes me giggle…. a good lesson in not copying previously written brochures without examining the audience and purpose of the brochure!


  2. Forget the brochure: “That’s institutionalized thinking. It’s you-centered…….why not let them do it on their smart phone right now, in their skivvies”…….

    OR: just give them the degree now: “Whether fake or genuine, it’s a degree. It makes no difference.”

    (all quotes are from previous or subsequent posts – not going to commit “an act of plagiarism” here)


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