Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Why Students Left a College -2016 Study


Neal Raisman, PhD
President, NRaisman and Associates

Every four years, NRaisman & Associates conducts a study to find out why students left a college or university.  We conduct this with students who have left a college or university at least six months before the study. This we believe takes out the emotions contained in leaving a school. When students leave they are often quite upset and will tell the interviewer they left for personal reasons. What we have found out in our studies is that for a great many dropping students those “personal reasons” are primarily “I just can’t wait to get out of here”. So we wait and when we talk to the students, at least three months, after the emotions have cooled and we can get more considered responses and more honest ones too. 

Some of the students had enrolled at another college, university or community college but that was not a concern of this study. The ex-students had left a school and that college lost their enrollment and tuition/fees dollars.

In this study we interviewed 618 students. This is lower than we had studied in past research in 2008 and 2012 but the responses were so consistent and followed the patterns of the last two studies so closely that we believe this is a valid sampling. 

We conducted a survey first to get the students considering their reasons for leaving and then conducted telephone interviews with them to follow-up and clarify the responses. Next we reviewed the ex-student’s comments and found common themes to group them under.  The results are above in the chart.

There have been some shifts since our last study in 2012. The category with the greatest number of responses has its descriptor changed from poor customer service to Treated Poorly/Customer Service”. This is because the ex-students used the phrases “I was treated poorly” by the school or “I received bad service “most often. This is still the largest response category with 24% of respondents citing this is a major reason they left a college as it was in the last two studies. 

Students are very consumer-oriented. They see themselves as customers that should be treated well especially since the cost of college continues to rise. Students clearly relate the amount they are paying to the way they believe and feel they should be treated and serviced. They did not necessarily provide an equivalence of tuition to a sense of privilege, but instead that they expected better service for the amount of money they were paying. One student put it well when he said “I am paying a lot of money and I don’t care that she said they were understaffed. For what I am paying they should have more staff and better service”.  

Many students cited they had trouble getting help when they needed it, dour-faced clerks hassling them, and being sent from office to office in search of a solution to their problem or issue which often remained unresolved after getting "the shuffle". They said that they often were not able to have their problem solved or attended to satisfactorily.

The second most cited category was that ‘The College Didn’t Care About Me”. This is an important statement since it clearly points to a lack of engagement created by colleges with these students. Everyone has a natural need to feel he is valued and welcome if he is to engage in a college. Students seem to live in a world rather lacking person-to-person engagement except through social media. Granted this does not exclude the reality of a group of friends with whom they engage in conversation and activities when the group has shown it cares for one another and recognizes the value of each other. As a result, the members of the group engage with it. If there is not a sense that the group or college cares about me, that person will drop out and seek another person, group or college that values and welcomes him or her in.

It is clear to us from a common statement that students made “all they cared about was my money but after that they paid me no attention” indicates that colleges are not engaging students as well as is necessary to keep them. Schools need to maintain positive contact with students and engage them with some activity or aspect of the college. Liberty University has a requirement that all students be involved in some athletic team and physical activity. This rule makes students engage in their activity and team.  The interaction with the coach as well as professors makes the experience seem more personal and helps with their retention quite a bit.  The Citadel and other military-styled schools create engagement through shared experience and a pride in the school’s corps which create a feeling of engagement.  Engagement makes students feel closer to the school,  thus a part of it, and that helps to overcome the feeling that the school does not care about me.

The third most cited response category was that the school was “Not Worth the Time and Money”.  This is related to the cost and service issues of the most common response as discussed above. Students are coming on campus with a very strong return on investment proposition. College is supposed to lead to a career and a job. Students go to college to get the education and training they need to get a job. They see college as a way to gain the needed education and training to become something of value in an area of study that leads to a career in that area.  They are hearing from the media and see that many students who graduated college are not getting jobs and are working in areas not related to their school work or any school work at all such as at Starbucks. This inclines them to be wary about the amount of money and time they are putting in so they are demanding a clear return on their investment.  

This situation also makes parents who have an extremely high need for a clear expectation of a return on their investment which is often the greatest part of their discretionary funds. Moreover, the need to take out loans to pay for college increases the tension parents and students feel between what they are paying for and the possibility of getting it. This makes everyone quite attuned to the question of value for money and leads to concerns that this may not be worth it leading to dropping out of that college. It is interesting to note that 7% (n=42) of the ex-students we interviewed had gone on to enroll in a community college in a specific trade area to better assure they would be marketable and get a job.

It is of great interest to us that two categories have become the equal in responses over the years.  Money Issues and Scheduling both were reported as the reason for leaving a college by 13% of respondents. The issue of money problems has fluctuated up then down year to year but “Scheduling Problems” has increased quite a bit as shown in the slide below.

It can be seen that the issues of finances have increased slightly but is down from its high in 2008 when the economy was also in recession. But the issues related to scheduling have been in constant increase since 2002.  In fact, they have more than doubled for students leading to many more leaving school because of scheduling reasons.

As schools have faced declining support and become more tuition dependent, they have become much more cautious in the number of courses they schedule. They have been cutting back in the number of sections offered to save money. Moreover, they have been clinging to traditional but false go-no go formulas for class cancellation based on the number of students in a class. The traditional cutoff for a class to be offered seems to be 9-10 students enrolled in a class or section. This is a very fallacious number and belief of how many students should be in a section to make it affordable if not profitable. The reality is closer to two to four students in a section to make it worthwhile to offer and still not lose money. With four in a class the tuition money from those four will most always equal the cost of paying for the professor as was discussed in the article Figuring the Real Costs of a Cancelled Section.  In that article, there is a formula provided for determining  if a class should go or not that can be employed to see if the section should be offered or not based on the actual real cost per class (RPC) as discussed below from the longer article.

…what the numbers show is that most courses in colleges and universities are being taught by underpaid, non-benefit receiving part-timers. Yes, some schools do provide some benefits and some adjuncts have unions to try to gain them better pay and benefits but to this point, it’s still serfdom for most. According to the College Board's article on its website What It Costs to Go to College (2013) the average tuition costs were as follows:

Four-year private $27,293
Four-year public $7,605
Two-year public $2,713 

Now let’s assume that the average student takes 4 courses. So the four-year private student pays $6,823 per course; four-year public $1901 per course and two-year public $678 per course in tuition and fees. For public schools which do get some public financial support, tuition is not the only revenue source so the cost per course is actually lower for the student but to keep the playing field even, we’ll just figure tuition and fees.

Now, consider that the best paid adjuncts seem to get around an average $3,400 a course, no benefits. Most get less and some quite a bit less but for this discussion let’s use the high priced serf cost. That way we won’t be understating costs. So to equal pay for an adjunct at a two-year school would need just about 5 students in the section to break even; a four-year public college or university would call for 1.2 students and a four-year private would need just a torso, not even a full student. Granted there are associated costs but this should provide a general notion that the number of 10 in a section for fiscal responsibility is just wrong. Schools  can of course really figure the particular break-even at your institution as follows:

RPC = Tuition per student (revenue per student per course)
4 (credits for the class)

Cost of instructor per section    
                           RPC = number of students to break even

So most courses should be offered yet they are cancelled. What is worse is they are usually cancelled in the week before classes start throwing the student, who has planned her life and work around the schedule she thought she had into total disarray. She had already gotten her work hours set to coincide with the schedule she thought she would have. If she is a mother attending the college, she has made child care arrangements too and they are all thrown out the window. Many students cannot make the changes in their life to accommodate the cancelled schedule and are forced to stop out or quit.  Considering the value per student, this is a major financial loss for no good reason since the section likely would have at least paid for itself.

There are other scheduling problems such as courses offered only once a year and advisers not being aware of this as we found during campus retention studies we conducted for colleges and universities. Often there is not another course available that fits the schedule and the major so students are put into a pointless, non-required course to maintain their full-time status for Pell and other grants. This will often cause the student to have to take extra courses in a semester to make up for the lost course or extend the stay into another year making them use up their Pell before and not having enough money to complete their studies. Scheduling problems have thus become a more major factor in why students are leaving colleges.

Money issues are still a strong reason why students drop out or transfer to another school. This will always be an issue especially as tuition and the hidden tuition of fee increases continue to rise making it more and more difficult to afford them. This issue is down from its peak during the recession but that does not make it any less a factor. It is also a sign of some lack of engagement because if a student is engaged and thinks the college is worth it, she will usually do all she can to find a way to stay in school. If the attachment is weak then when a financial issue arises, the student can and often will use that as a motivator to drop out.

It is also incumbent on schools to help students in two ways. First, many students do not know that a change in circumstances could open the door for an appeal on their financial aid .What is worse is that colleges do not let students know about appeals. Many times, a student with a financial problem could be saved if he filed an appeal to get additional financial aid.  Every financial aid office should make it clear to students that appeals are possible. If your school  is one of the ones that do exit interviews with students leaving the college, the interviewers should all be aware of the possibility of an appeal and let the student know about them if money is given as a reason for dropping out 

Second, quite often students actually begin a semester with enough money to complete it. But, they do not spend wisely and do not budget. Every college and university should take time during orientation to teach students how to budget their money to be able to spread their resources over the semester or year. Students come to college for the most part unaware of financial skills and it is our role to develop them if we are to reduce the number of students who quit due to money issues.

The rest of the reasons we uncovered for why students left a college are fairly consistent with past studies. Personal problems still exist and do cause students to drop out of college and they always will but they are really a much smaller factor than most colleges think. Students will often cite “personal problems” as a reason for leaving when there is no real personal problem. Rather than say “this place sucks” they will just fall back to personal  problems during an exit interview as a way to avoid telling the real reason to avoid letting the interviewer talk them out of leaving..

Students will always leave schools due to poor grades or even one poor grade. We know that most students do not have either good study skills or time management skills needed to succeed in college. Yet other than bemoan the fact, we do not do much about this except for the weakest students who show some remedial needs and are placed into a college prep class that teaches study and time management skills. But what about the bulk of students who do not have known remedial needs? They too should be made to take a college prep class where they will be taught study and time management skills. Even better, mini-courses in both of these should be part of a mandatory orientation.  We know they are coming to our colleges and universities unprepared. We should do something about it.

All of this discussion has actually centered on providing the appropriate customer services to students to create greater engagement with the college, make them feel valued, and it all feel worthwhile making them want to stay at the college. It is clear from the reasons why students leave colleges that academic customer service is a major factor in retaining students. Obviously, the reason of poor service is definitely a customer service issue. But the engagement issue is also a customer service concern. Good services, valuing the customer and making him or her feel welcome on campus are all customer service issues. 

The questions around scheduling are also questions about whether or not colleges are providing the academic customer service needed to keep students in school. The solutions provided to some money problems are simply good customer service processes and techniques as discussed. Even the issues about study skills and time management skills are focused on providing the customer,/ the student, what he or she needs to gain a good return on investment which is simply a customer service concern.  In fact, it can be seen that customer service, academic, not retail customer service, is key to increasing retention, cutting attrition and maintaining a good and necessary revenue stream.

In fact, if the major reasons for leaving as discussed are added together, weak or poor academic customer service accounts for 76% of the direct reason why students leave a college.  This percentage is even higher when the smaller percentage categories that related to customer service are figured in but the major four categories of response clearly show the need for better academic customer service.

What is the level of customer service at your college? Is it sufficiently high enough not to push students out ? Someone you worked hard and spent quite a bit of money to enroll? It costs around $5000 to enroll each student when all costs and personnel salaries are figured in. Is your academic customer service at a level that will make that investment pay off?

If you are not sure please contact us so we can help you be certain that your college provides customer service equal to your students expectation so they remain enrolled. Contact us today to find out how we can help increase your admissions and retention so assure your success at nealr@GreatServiceMatters.com or call me at 413.219.6939 so we can discuss your success.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Results of a Phone Answering Study of College Campuses

The first contact with a school quite often is by a potential student calling the college to get some information. We know that 12% of enrollment is lost after the first real contact with a college.So we decided to see what that first contact with a college might be like. 

Last Wednesday we called 50 colleges and universities – 45 not for profit, 5 for-profit to check on what sort of telephone answering and service skills we would find. If this were a pop quiz the class failed.

Of the 50 schools called, 43 had phone answering technologies picking up the calls. They all welcomed us in a fairly tolerant android voice similar to my GPS Jill voice. Pleasant, non-committal and clearly not human.  These technological answering systems are sold as both labor and cost saving devices that could also provide some CRM information on who calls, when they call and for whom they called.  They may have done that with our calls but they clearly turned us off when of the 43, 16 stated that we should “listen closely. Our menu has changed ... and there will be a quiz. Yes this will be on the test!”

Hasn’t anyone learned that no one cares that your menu has changed. People are not memorizing the menu and they just do not care. The only menu change that interests me is the dim sum menu at Sunflower, my favorite Chinese restaurant in Columbus, OH. And they always just bring the dim sum carts to me and let me choose what I want. No need to memorize anything.

Another problem with the use of phone answering devices and services is that the recorded message is often poorly done. When I called one school three times, the name of the school was cut off from the message. Thirty-eight of the answering voice sounded bored and in a hurry to get through recording the message. For some reason, people have trouble recording a message. They feel awkward talking to a machine and they sound it. Get someone who has a good voice and can record without awkwardness anxiety to make your answering message if you are going to have an automatic system. That voice is the one that a caller hears and gets her first feelings about the school.

The menus on the tech systems all started with admissions Push 1. A logical decision on the part of the school. But if you want something else, still push 1 for admissions. Or at least that was what the for-profits seemed to be doing. No matter what we wanted, we ended up in admissions. That tells us something about the for-profits that is causing them problems. What they seem to care about is admissions and revenue and not much else. Just ask ITT.

Of the 39 systems, the bursar’s office was number 2 on 28 of the systems with financial aid number 2 on 11. This is a reverse of what we would recommend. Financial aid is more important to students and parents calling the school than the bursar's office (or records office as twelve schools called it, Thank you for not using bursar, the arcane name most no one outside of academia knows.)

What was most maddening on 19 of the systems was that pushing 0 for an operator did not get to an operator, just restarting the call tree, branch by branch. The other 20 did go to an operator or at least a promise of one. On seven of the systems, no operator ever answered. Instead we were asked if we wanted to leave a message, someone would get back to us. So we did leave a message in the general mailbox. Still waiting.

Telephone technology and answering systems can have their value but we are not fully sure what it is yet. Having an android answer a person’s call is really not the best way to prove the school “cares and gives each student personal attention.”  Rather it shows that the school may have bought into being impersonal and more commercial than educational.

When a living breathing individual calls, he or she is a real person expecting some form of social equity from an educational institution. We really do believe a real person should answer the phone. Whether the idea is real or not any more, Americans have a quaint image of college being a place different than a cold, money-oriented commercial institution.  Technology answering telephones shakes that image quickly.

Especially so when the technology traps one inside telephony hell and will not let you talk to a real person ever. Four of the phone systems refused to let us talk to a real person unless we knew the extension of that person. So, we ended up back at…yup…admissions.

Of the eleven schools that had someone answering the phone, though it may be hard for you to believe this, but six may have been better off with a technological android rather than the human one that answered the phone. Four of the six sounded so bored they made us worry we had woken them. Two of these were actually rude sounding stating the name of the school as if it were some curse they were sending our way.  Others were just not cut out to be receptionists.

There is some odd belief that anyone can answer a phone and greet people well. Nothing is further from the truth. A receptionist that receives people and makes them feel welcome and as if they were the most important person in his or her life at that moment is a rare and valuable individual. These people are worth doing all you can to keep. If you don’t have one yet, find an enthusiastic people person and we can train them in the finer art of phone protocols for you. It is the enthusiasm and people orientation that is most important. It cannot be taught.

But I Don't Want Admissions
In all of the for-profit calls, the receptionist did everything she could to get us to talk to an admissions person. All but on for-profit phone call did not lead to speaking with an identified individual. This was partially we suppose because some of the calls were not answered by people at the schools but at call centers and they have no knowledge of the school. A very poor situation.

In the not-for-profits, when we did get a real person to answer the phone, only thirty could connect us to the person we were trying to call even when that person was a vice president.  Five answerers asked me what department the person worked in. Receptionists should either be taught to immediately recognize names of important people on campus such as administrators and key faculty or should have a cheat sheet right in front of them to be able to find the information quickly.

In one instance after a person was located and the call transferred, the next person answering was clearly not a native speaker of English. We fully support diversity but perhaps not when answering the phone when the person could not understand us and we could not understand her.

Our on-campus service audits have led us to realize that too many schools employ students as receptionists and telephone answerers. Not that we have anything against students working on campus. Not at all. What we are opposed to is placing students in very important positions without training or at least adequate training. There are definite ways to answer a phone. “Yes” is not one of them. Nor is “Hi, can I help you?” even if said in a half-hearted, cheery voice, Just not quite professional.

And if the person answering the phones is having a bad day, that is not a valid reason to share that in the negative or even hostile tone used to answer the phone. 

Train to Avoid a Train Wreck
A telephone call is still the common first contact with a school for potential students, outside of the web that is. A telephone call is almost always the first contact when trying to gain resolution on a problem or gaining assistance. Having an overtly bored or rude person answering the phone is a sure way to lose potential enrollment or escalate a problem. An impolite or angry tone tells the caller he or she is not wanted on the phone and by extension on campus. When someone is already upset or has a problem, an indifferent to disrespectful tone is going to escalate the concern. The receptionist is the point at which a soothing, empathetic tone needs to be used to make the caller feel he or she is important and can get the help or admissions assistance wanted.

In training. we start with mirrors in Here’s Looking at Me: A Way to End Phone Rudeness. That will help. Teach people to follow the procedure outlined there. It is a low cost, high value, solution.  When you find someone who follows the procedures, be sure to recognize that person and reward him or her. Point out the person as a role model for others. Praise goes a long way especially when raise is not available.

Be sure to train receptionists, students and all others who answer phones how to modulate their voice, what to say and how to say it. If students are answering the phones, make certain they know they are going front stage to use Goffmans term. Also make sure they are dressed appropriately. The voice and attitudes are actually affected by what one wears so have people dress to positive advantage. Teach all receptionists how to reduce anger and antagonism from callers.

Finally, make certain the telephone receptionist has all the information he or she needs to be able to either address issues from a caller or to know whom to send the call to. Without this information readily available, the phone person will not be able to do the job, feel frustrated and soon get aggravated especially if he or she cares. This aggravation will soon be carried in the voice to every caller.

For an example of a school that does it all wonderfully well, contact Columbus State and Technical College (OH) (http://www.cscc.edu/ 800-621-6407) where we did a campus customer service and some training. CSCC has the very best phone call center in higher education. Their well trained professionals do not just answer a call better than anywhere else we know of, but can help solve problems. They can change a class section, take payments, explain regulations, even order books and perform counseling for students in need. They are a model for others.

If this article made sense to you, you will want to consider bringing NRaisman & Associates to your campus for training, a presentation or a campus customer service study to increase academic customer service, enrollment and retention. Contact me today at nealr@GreatServiceMatters.com or call at 413.219.6939.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Make Day 1 Last All Year to Retain Students

Students are starting to arrive on campus. 
And most every college will be doing all it
can to make the arrival day welcome big and hearty. Presidents will walk around greeting students and parents. A few may even help carry something in. Administrators are on hand doing the same. At some schools, faculty are around to help out too. And of course, student ambassadors are everywhere helping, pointing, guiding and smiling to try and make the move in easier and friendly. Great start. Sort of like drop-off day at summer camp feeling.

Too bad it is like Tom Lehrer’s line in his song National Brotherhood Week. It’s only for a week so have no fear. Be grateful it doesn’t last all year. If he were singing about move-in, it would be Thank god it only lasts a day and not all year as it should!

Yup, as the last parents drive away, their tears drying, it all ends. The president goes back to his or her office. Administrators too. Now faculty will be available for classes and help when needed, we hope. The student ambassadors wash their polo or tee shirts and put them in a bureau to be pulled out at the next organized move in or orientation day. But the excitement and happy welcome end.

Dumb move.

The days after move-in day are some of the most important there are to build retention. They are the days the real anxiety builds. When the real work of college starts for students. When they need the most help. Where is building….? Where do I go to….? Who is the one to see for…..? How do I…..? My laptop needs and where ….? Do I need to….? And so and on.

But this is when we have decided to let the news students sink or swim; if they can figure out where the pool is on campus and how to get a locker. And what do I need to bring to use it and what are the hours and….and…. The jolly helpful crew is only out there on the day we have labeled move-in. That is the easiest day of all. It is just schlepping in stuff, material stuff. Now when the new students need to set up the psychological stuff, we are not there to help enough. And it is the emotional concerns that will be coming into play when the reality of I am here and where is that and will I fit in and like this place and did I choose the right place. I feel so all alone and I’m sharing a room with some people I don’t know and one is really strange and I’ll have to dress and undress in front of strangers and ….starts to disrupt the new students.

This is when a little irritation such showing up late for the first class at 8:00 am can become the first step on dropping out because I didn’t know how to get to the humanities lecture hall building and the signs don’t help because they just give me names of the buildings so the professor used me as an object lesson about never coming late to his class. And I so felt like a jerk and wanted to just get out of there. And then I wasn’t on his class list so he sent me to the registrars and where that is was a real mystery and there was no one who I could ask to help me out so I waited until later and missed the whole class. I am not sure I made the right choice. I feel so screwed up here.

And all was needed were some of those same administrators and ambassadors, and yes the president, out and about with tee shirts that say “ASK ME AND I’LL HELP” to assist new students. The administrators and the president really do not have any work more important than helping students. Yes, that is right. Students are their business. Their core business. They need to be seen and recognized as a positive friendly force. The ambassadors will be upper-class students, so they will not be dumb enough to schedule anything too early in the morning. Besides, all one needs to do is make a schedule so the campus is covered.

There should be someone at the entrance/exit of every dorm; at every parking lot walkway and at every intersection on campus with some in front of various administration buildings to let new students know if they are at the right place.
On the first two days of classes, there should be a full effort with everyone out there to help students. This way you’ll be sure to get both the Monday-Wednesday and the Tuesday-Thursday class schedules.

After the first two days, the ambassadors should still be at intersections and paths from the parking lots just to handle any issues or questions that might come up during the first two weeks. After that, set up a Q+A area in the main student building or a main lobby to continue helping any students and any visitors.

And to help you smile and learn some more chemistry, here is a link to Tom Lehrer’s Elements Song. It is certainly worth it and will make you smile.

Kissing the Year Off Right

And here’s an idea for the first days of classes that will make that first day a sweeter and memorable occasion. It is taken from an ancient Jewish tradition for students on their first day of studying. The day the youngster is to go off to school for the first time, the parents take a prayer book and drop honey on it. It is given to the student who then licks the honey off symbolizing the sweetness of learning.

If possible, have faculty do the following in class, but if not have student ambassadors or others greet students at the doors to classes. They greet the new students with a welcome and give each a Hershey’s Kiss or other small candy to start the year right. It sounds corny and it is. But it is also very effective in creating that set of feelings that this school is a (excuse me) sweet place. I have never heard from any school that did this that students were anything than very happy for that early morning kiss.


If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction, retention, and your bottom line.
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth

If you want more information on NRaisman Associates or  learn more about what you can do to improve customer service

excellence on campus to increase student satisfaction, get in touch with us info@GreatServiceMatters.com / 413.219.6939 and get a copy of our new book From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth Through Academic Customer Service

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Enrollment Does Not End on the First Day of School

I just spoke to the VP for Enrollment Management at a large university. She informed me that enrollment looked slightly down from projections done in the Spring “now that the enrollment period is over”.

OVER? Enrollment is over? Is she nuts? Are the other seven out of ten administrators I spoke to who had similar thoughts also crazed? Is there some academic Alzheimer’s out there that affects the brains of college and university administrators when it comes to enrollment?

Enrollment is not over. It is barely underway as the second unique event of a multi-year process. Enrollment is not a singular event. It doesn’t end when a student signs an application, sends in a deposit and shows up on the start of classes day. It is a process as shown in the chart below. It is a continuum that starts with marketing and pauses at graduation. The real work of enrollment we call retention is just really beginning.

It’s the pet rock thing again. If admissions sells 100 pet rocks on Monday and 98 are returned on Wednesday, how many pet rocks were sold? Just 2!

So here is the process in its 8 steps as shown in the chart above. BTW, click on it and it will open larger in another window. Or so I was told.

  1. Marketing on-going
  2. Application - unique event
  3. Decision on-going
  4. Stitch In on-going
  5. Show unique event
  6. Retention on-going
  7. Graduation unique event
  8. Alumnus on-going leading to another retention process called fundraising.

The process starts and continues with marketing throughout the entire enrollment process. Marketing does not have to be the expensive activity of external advertising purchase but it does need to be as vigorous after the sale as before. Students need to be sold on their choice of your school every day. And if possible, every minute of the day. Students can make a buying decision “should I stay or leave?”- every day, every class, every encounter with people, the campus or even a mention of the school. 

Internal marketing can be as obvious as events, athletics, newspapers, newsletters slipped under doors or hung in bathrooms. The campus or building objective correlatives are also potential marketing statements that will influence buying decisions. Clean, safe campuses , walkways, good signs and even bathrooms are important.

POCmarks are also decision and buying points. If students encounter good customer service at the POCmarks, they are reinforced in their decision to stay – to self-retain. If they encounter weak, indifferent or poor academic customer service, well, that can end the enrollment process.

Repeat this mantra for success and greater happiness. Enrollment ends at graduation. Enrollment ends at graduation. Enrollment ends at graduation.
My work is just underway; not over. My work is just underway; not over.
I will retain students. I will retain students.

NRaisman& Associates has been helping over 450 colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada and Europe improve retention and enrollment through academic customer service since 1999. 

If you would like to increase retention  on your campus, contact us today at info@GreatServiceMatters.com or 413.219.6939.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

If The College Don't Fit, Don't Admit: Dresses and Admissions

Retention can be understood in part by buying a dress. When a woman buys a dress she wants
something that will be a good fit. She also wants to be attractive, for her to look good in it and for it to be worth the cost of the dress in her mind. Like buying that dress, the final decision to buy or not is not an intellectual conclusion It is an emotional one. It is a decision that is supposed to make you happy. (Unless you’re a bridesmaid and have to spend a lot of money on what is almost always a bad looking, ill-fitting and costly ugly choice. But in the analogy that is the same as having to choose a school which is a runner up and not the top choice.) If the choice does not make you feel as if it is a good fit which means it is does not provide an emotional, affective and financial (time, money and effort) return of investment, then the dress is one that is discarded or returned. For a school, that means a student leaves it hanging in his or her historical closet and walks away from it.

This is an emotional not intellectual decision. The initial shopping can and will often be an rational one. I need a dress. I want it to be a certain color, size, hem length, style, price range and even brand. So I begin by looking for dresses that fit that initial logical set of considerations. Dresses that do not fit into the intelligent framework are not considered, at least at first.  For a school these considerations are often level of selectivity. location, size, majors, and name value. Those that do not fit into the schema are not looked at.

Then the purchaser goes to the store to look at dresses that could work and to try them on. The schools visit, tour and even stay over. This will eliminate some contenders but the decision to continue to consider is now an emotional one. What dress fits well? What dress looks right on me? What shade of the color I want is really the right shade? Does the length look right for me? Does wearing it make me feel good? Attractive?  More appealing? Does it make my butt look big?

The same is true of schools now under consideration? Did visiting or applying to it make me feel good about myself. Will it make me look smarter? More fit for the job I want? Does it make my brain look big? These are not intellectual issues but purely emotional ones that go to the core issue of “is the dress/school a good fit for me?”

The salesperson in the store will of course try to make the buyer believe the dress is a great fit, makes the buyer look wonderful and by the way, you look just right in that dress. Cash of charge?” In a similar way, the admissions office of some schools try to make the school a good fit by tailoring the image to the students’ desires. In fact, some intelligent schools even use CRM to totally tailor the school to the specific shape of the student’s interest. These schools will even have current students who are similar to the prospective student email or call to reinforce the feeling of a good fit just like a salesperson in a store may call over another salesperson to give her “opinion” on how the dress looks. If there are any issues, the buyer is assured that the situation can be altered to fit better. They are after the sale so they do all they can to convince the student that this is the right school and fit so apply here now.

The decision is made.  The dress or school is bought and brought home. But if that initial sale and fit become questioned there is a problem. If the dress is worn and in the actual wearing it feels too big, or tight or the color is wrong or the neckline off, hem too short or long or the color is not complimenting the original feelings about it.  In other words it is not a good fit finally.. The purchase either gets discarded (dropout) or returned (transfer).  The buyer feels she was oversold quite often and loses faith in the store. She decides not to go back so the store loses future sales as well as the school loses revenue it would have gained from the student who leaves.

So what determines a good fit? Will I get an emotional, financial and affective return on my purchase? These three roi’s will determine if it is finally a good fit. Now it has to be granted that there are times when the label of the dress, the name of the school will override the balancing of the three returns on investments. Sometimes  a person buys a dress primarily because the label is a designer brand and that name alone will make the person fit into the dress even if it is not a really good fit in and of itself. And because the name and the cost are high, the person will likely continue to wear the dress even if it is tight for example. It is so effectively satisfying to say “the dress? Oh, well it is a NAME BRAND”. Or “I go to XXXX”

But there is an additional factor in the decision to buy. The way the store treats the customer. If the employee of the store or the college is not courteous, does not provide good customer service, makes you feel unworthy or sells too hard and gets caught at it there is an automatic decision that this is not a good fit. The potential dress buyer or student leaves quickly. Equally negative is indifference to the customer. That is also a form of bad service.

And don’t be fooled by the cost of the dress or school and the student’s ability to by either. If someone feels the fit is there, wants the dress of school enough he or she will do what is necessary to get that dress if they feel they need it. For example, that ugly bridesmaid dress discussed earlier, the buyer will get it even if it is much more expensive than it should be because the need for it is there. The dress may be ugly but it is a definite fit for the need. The school may not be all the student wanted but if it where he or she can get a major leading to a life goal, the student will by it even if it is expensive. There are credit cards and student loans for that purpose.

But if the fit is not there, believe it or not it is better to do what you can to dissuade the person from buying the school unless it is a choice or a necessity. Because if you sell the school and the fit is wrong, you have wasted your energy, will lose money and a customer who will tell at least twelve others that the buying experience was very disappointing. Don’t go there.

To paraphrase Johnny Cochran “If the dress don’t fit; don’t admit.” 

If this makes sense and increasing admissions and retention are important to you, contact us to learn how we can help you increase both at nealr@greatservicematters.com or call 413.219.6939.
Look us up at www.GreatServiceMatters.com

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Zeno's Paradox, I Love Lucy and Admissions

By some definitions, higher education is truly crazed. Places of self-defeating
insanity. For example, an educational leader I know loved to tell others that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing that has failed over and
over again and expecting different results.” He, like most every other higher education administrator really may have believed that so he, and they, repeated it every time it seemed to fit. But, when things demanded a solution such as increasing revenue, he actually did the same things that failed over and over again. For example, he believed that increased admission numbers would solve all the problems when they did not every year. Every year he would set higher and higher admission numbers even if the recruitment team could not reach the goals. He did not see that as insanity but as using tried and true administrative and academic approaches to solve problems – even if the solutions were ones that had failed or resulted in long-term disaster.  

He is not alone at all. Most schools believe that by bringing in more and more students they can solve their revenue problems. And possibly that would be correct except for the fact that most of those new students are coming in the front door and leaving through the back door. Bringing in more students will not help in the long run if there is not a strong retention plan being implemented to keep students in the school through graduation.

Considering that oft quoted definition, the situation universities and colleges and  find themselves in now and how they are going about trying to work their way to solutions through increasing enrollment goals, not population it can be concluded that higher education is insane.

The problems are really not all new. Costs are exceeding revenue. Demands are outpacing the ability to fund them Tuition, fees and expenses have surpassed available resources for many families. Internal costs continue to rise faster than revenue can be raised to meet them. Capital deferments and outstanding debt grows. Budgets are being tightened. Competition for traditional, non- and neo-traditional students has never been greater. Technology needed to stay current increases in cost and amount. 
The solutions are also not new. They haven’t worked in the past really but well let’s use them again. The major way that universities, colleges and career schools seek to solve the problems is tried and untrue – increase enrollment by increasing new student numbers and build new buildings, climbing walls, and the suchto attract new students. Yet, more students yield and increase in the demands for services, sections and often tutorial assistance. All require additional expenditures which are usually not provided so the new enrollees turn into attrition numbers. Or even if the services, additional sections and people are provided, students leave anyhow so even more students must be recruited to take their place and add more to the overall population.
But, this Lucy at the conveyor belt approach to a solution simply shows how insane academia is as the solution itself sooner or later breaks down and takes quite a lot with it including people and success. Lucy is given the job to box candies as they come down on the conveyor belt. She does this fairly well but then the owners want to increase the number of boxed candies. The belt speeds up to push her to speed up but that causes more and more candy to fall off the belt. The owners do not see the insanity behind their decision and just keep demanding more and more boxed candies until all the candy is falling off the belt and Lucy just gives up. Every piece of candy that falls of the track is not just a lost sale but lost investment in the creating of the candy. The lost candy not only mean that the day’s production has been hurt. It also means the long term ability to meet projections and the buyers’ needs are not met which can cause a longer term negative effect on sales and client retention.

This is similar to what happens with college admissions when given a higher enrollment goal almost always with the same staff and time.

When admission offices are pushed to speed up the conveyor belt of enrollment goals, the people in them respond with a combination of enthusiasm and dread just like sales people in any business. And make no mistake, recruitment and admissions are sales. The enthusiasm is from the belief that “we can now show them what we can do. Hit our numbers and be rewarded for doing so.” The dread comes from the reality that the competition is strong, the market saturated, the product not that different from any competitor and “I am going to have to work even harder and longer if I am to succeed most often with not much more resources.” As well as a recognition that population for most schools is really an embodiment of one of Zeno’s paradoxes that will just yield them even more work and increased demand.

The Greek philosopher Zeno devised a paradox that illuminates the paradox of achieving population goals through admissions for most schools. Achilles and a tortoise are running a race. Achilles assumes he will win so he gives the tortoise a head start. But Achilles finds he can never catch up. Before Achilles can surpass the tortoise, he must get to point A, where the tortoise started the race. But when he gets there, the tortoise has moved to point B. When Achilles gets to point B, the tortoise has gone to point C, and so on. As a result, Achilles can never catch the tortoise even though he may get closer and closer because the Tortoise will always stay at least one point ahead. The only way Achilles can catch up is if the tortoise stays still at one of the points achieved.

For colleges and universities, the tortoise is student population which is controlled not just by admissions but equally, no more so, by retention. Retention is a constant, steady and eventually winning strategy that is the only real way for admissions to ever catch up to demand. And to carry the analogy one fabled step forward, it is the tortoise, not the hare that finally will win the race. That is the race for population, graduation and mission success.

Moreover, when the school has the admissions people speed up the line, they can only do so at most schools by digging deeper into the available pool of recruits. They take students that should not be admitted to make their numbers. But like Lucy at the conveyor belt, many of the candies will simply fall off the belt and crash to the floor.  Too many of these students will do the same. They will come along the college’s conveyor belt and get pushed off or drop off on their own.

The school may hit its admission objectives but it will not make its enrollment goal if a retention plan is not in motion and working. the colloege finally will lose more students and revenue from the students it should not have taken to begin with. Students who do not fit the school, who should not have been admitted in the first place drop out. Sure maybe a few can actually succeed and we point to them to say we are doing the right thing. Providing access to students who may not have been normally admitted but were and succeeded. But what about the large percentage that simply do not make it?

By letting them in and then having them flunk out or drop out we have done them a grave disservice. We have made them believe they could do it and then proved they could not. We have crushed their sense of value. And we took their money! We took their savings and financial aid to attend the college so we could make our numbers objective even if we dashed the students’ objective of succeeding in college. We have been unethical and immoral and knew we were doing this. We knew many would drop out or get pushed it and we did it just to reach into their pockets so we could get in more money. What does this say about the state of higher education?

If we realize that we also lost money because it costs us to recruit and process every one of the students we accept and then leave, we may not be making all that much money off them after all. And what we made is just pushing off some decisions that will have to be made because they are not staying. All we have done actually is create a funnel that leaks out students rather than a square of retention that holds in all the students and their revenue too.

It would be far better to understand that admissions only really succeeds if we can break the churn and burn approach and focus on recruiting students who will stay. Speeding up admissions has failed over and over. yet we call on admissions to get more students who drop out leaving the school, in a precarious position. that is the definition of insanity.

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction, retention and your bottom line
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth

If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our best selling book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Ed.