At the University of West Georgia (UWG), ensuring every student graduates is the top priority. Thus, UWG leaders work diligently to remove any barriers, while adding as much value as they can to directly impact student retention rates. This fosters what they call a “graduation mentality.”
Leaders at the university recognize that student retention and success are not only dependent on the learning environment, but also the social environment. Where do students build these close, interpersonal relationships? At UWG, this takes place around the table. Thus, Dine West was born and a new campus climate emerged.
Mark Reeves, Associate Vice President of UWG, explains in detail the “why” behind the Dine West initiative, how leaders targeted and addressed the need for change, and how the entire campus community is benefitting from its reinforcement of mission:
What specifically prompted the university’s decision to implement the Dine West program?
We know that dining services on a campus is a strong retention motivator. UWG had contracted the dining services for 43 years. This was a good relationship for many years but as contracted services evolved, the mission became less about the needs of the individual campus and more about the profit-driven motive. This evolution in philosophy led to an erosion of quality in both food and customer service. Given the importance of dining to our students, we felt it was necessary to remove an obstacle, the contractor, and add an attribute, our own purposed dining program. Some would say this is a risk and a lot of work, but to them we posit that nothing great comes without a lot of work and the absence of risk is the status quo.
The UWG leadership team believed that self-operated dining would align with key elements of UWG’s strategic plan—those key elements being student success and operational success. Furthermore, leaders were optimistic that self-operated dining would facilitate a greater focus of energy on providing unique menus and social opportunities for everyone on campus to enjoy.
Not only has Dine West been a success at the university level, but also at the local level. The program contributed $16.6 million to the local economy in its first year, more than double the university’s impact for the previous year.
How did Evidence-Based Leadership℠ contribute to more than doubling the university’s impact from last year to this year? Which specific practices were key?
Evidenced-Based Leadership has helped immensely and most significantly in the development of a workforce that is really focused on excellence and superior hospitality. This is a significant change from when the contractor managed our dining program. NACUFS student/staff survey (a benchmarked survey across the industry), Engage West surveys, staffing matrix and retention outcome data, panels and focus groups, and other efforts all provide Dine West with a steady stream of customer (internal/external) feedback and opportunities for improvement. Specifically, these efforts focus primarily on quality, variety, aesthetics and hospitality, pricing, and overall value among other categories. Early on we learned that variety of vegetarian options and variety of healthy options were areas for improvement. As a result, the dining team made specific changes to the program including menu engineering, station themes, communications/awareness, etc. Additionally, Dine West has been set up operationally so that we have 14 unique “operating centers”; each with its own inventory, staffing, quality control, etc. With this arrangement, we are able to closely monitor inventory freshness, minimize waste, better utilize staffing, and overall reduce unnecessary costs to provide dining on campus.
How has Dine West positively changed the campus climate?
The campus community has expressed appreciation and high regard for Dine West; it has given them a sense of pride that ‘UWG’ has done this! Operationally, the Dine West staff have really embraced our Engage West philosophy; they feel valued and know that their efforts are making meaningful impacts on students and the rest of our campus community. Dine West employees are members of the UWG family; they have uniforms, they receive benefits, they are well trained and receive opportunities for professional development, they participate in the Engage West recognition programs, and they are invited to town halls, focus groups, division meetings, etc.
Dine West could not have been successfully planned and implemented without the passionate, results-driven leadership team, as well as the many collaborative efforts across campus.
Through these efforts, we have developed lasting relationships, as well as demonstrated to the campus community the incredible value of diversity, inclusion, and cross-functional partnerships.
We applaud the efforts of the university and are inspired by their passion to achieve within and beyond the campus.