News  Mini Courses overhaul showing signs of success

Customer focus turning the program into one of SSMU's key revenue sources

An ongoing eighteen-month revamp of SSMU’s Mini Courses has turned the program into one of SSMU’s most profitable and popular operations.

Mini Courses – semester-long, publicly available evening classes in subjects as diverse as Japanese language, sketch, and Caribbean cooking – more than doubled its profits in the 2009-2010 school year and continues to generate strong profits in 2011. The courses have also drawn the attention of organizations outside McGill, including businesses wishing to subsidize Arabic language or public speaking training for their employees.

Mini Courses Supervisor Nell Slochowski, who took charge in the fall 2009, has overseen an ongoing Mini Courses overhaul that has included implementation of online registration, reassessment of course profitability, and greater variety in Mini Courses’ offerings.

“We’ve gone out [and] found new teachers for unique courses, changed prices around, and improved the website significantly,” Slochowski said of the improvements.

Slochowski also credits the increased interest in Mini Courses to the program’s higher focus on customer satisfaction. The Mini Courses team audits courses and solicits student feedback throughout the entire semester.

“We are on top of our teachers and we keep notes on everything,” Slochowski said. “There’s a lot of commitment to making Mini Courses better.”

Mini Courses sources both professional and student teachers in an effort to balance profitability, student involvement, and course quality. Slochowski has also sought to integrate Mini Courses with other McGill clubs, both to find knowledgeable teachers and to potentially provide the clubs themselves with a new revenue stream.

Surbhi Gupta, a U2 Engineering student who taught Indian cooking during the Fall 2010 semester, found the teaching process daunting at first but ultimately rewarding.

“I’ve never taught such a huge group, so it was a little bit of a challenge,” Gupta said. “[But] I thought it would be a good idea to expose students to all of the varieties of Indian food…and it was a very good experience.”

The Mini Courses team’s methodology has been accompanied by dramatic profit increases. Mini Courses revenue represented 18.7 per cent of SSMU’s Building operations revenue during the 2010 school year, up from 10.2 per cent the previous year. In March of last year, former SSMU VP Finance and Operations Jose Diaz cited Mini Courses’ profitability as a key factor in the balancing of SSMU’s budget.

Although some of the improvements have resulted in operational snarls – including traffic-based stalls in the online registration and the cancellation of courses with low registration, such as LSAT Practice and Ukrainian for beginners – Mini Courses saw almost as much profit this fall as the 2009 school year’s fall and winter semesters combined. Slochowski stressed, however, that even as profitability climbs, the focus remains on student satisfaction.

“It would be easy to let profit be the driving force behind all we do,” said Slochowski. “[But] I think we’ve really kept a sense of ‘customer comes first.’”