Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guaranteed Education is Great Customer Service

Going through some old (and I mean OLD) files, I came across this Contract that was created while I was president at Rockland Community College
(NY). It was resisted by some faculty but we finally gained enough acceptance to move it through to the Board which jumped on it and a community shell shocked after a $12.8 million state and federal financial aid allowance loved it. (No, I didn't create the problem It was my job to resolve it, keep the college open and fiscally solvent. We did.)

The guarantee created confidence in our academic program and student focus.It was also the right thing to do. It also gained national recognition as a forward thinking approach to learning and jobs. Not sure what happened once I left in a protest over Board impropriety and ties to a politician who would soon go to jail after I left).

I still think it is a good, student-focused idea that could be adapted by any college and would go a long way to help the beleaguered reputations of community colleges in particular but also most four-year schools. they are all under f ire now for not having enough success in helping students complete and get jobs. 

There are some that say we cannot guarantee ;learning but under this contract we do all we can to assure that learning has taken place. It also causes grades to mean something other than showing up.

 Let me know if you think it still has benefits.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Academician Heal Thyself

Are most colleges businesses and not just the obviously for-profit ones either? All colleges sell their services (marketing and recruitment),have sales
staff (admissions), bill payable and collections (bursar), service providers (faculty) administrators and staff. They all do their best to provide services that their customers (students) want (electives) or must have (required courses). And they all try to make a profit (fund balance/surplus) or at least not to lose money of at all possible. They have employees and unions. Pay salaries and extend benefits And they do produce products (degrees) and sell services.

Maybe they are businesses; unique businesses but businesses just the same. Businesses like a medical practice perhaps with professionals serving the needs of their patients. Each tries to use professional services providers (doctors/professors) to better the lives of their clients. Each purports to higher missions than making money.  Each make patients/customers/ students pay for services but each is also paid for some of the services by outside groups like insurance and the government for medical practices and local, state and federal government for colleges. Each depends on a core of contracted professionals; doctors for the medical practice and faculty for colleges.

But there are also differences. Whereas medical practices are dedicated to doing all they can to save their customers, colleges seem to be rather indifferent to their customers’ success and longevity. Medical practices try to keep their customers alive and coming to the practice while colleges seem to thrive on having huge swathes of their clientele die off or leave. If a medical practice had a reputation of losing a third of its patients every year, it would be seen as questionably competent; a group to stay away from. Many colleges lose fifty percent of their students with some losing as many as 80% of a class and they are still enrolling future students. A medical practice with such a bad record would get cut off from government funds and close while colleges with terrible retention records often get grants to try and keep them going and failing.

Colleges have a rather strange relationship with their customers. And while we are at it, they are customers. Students exchange money for goods and services and that makes them customers by definition. Call them students if that makes it easier to swallow, call them the college’s clients if that makes one feel better but they are customers.

Colleges spend an inordinate amount of time and money to attract their customers  to get them to buy the college’s offerings, but then do so very little to retain them. They spend around $5460 to obtain every new customer and process him or her into the system but then neglect to capitalize on that investment by ignoring their needs and expectations. As a result, large percentages of their customer base leave the college each semester.

They exert a great deal of energy trying to get potential students to believe that the college cares about them but as soon as the student signs the application check and deposit, they just toss them into the deep end of the college and do all they can to make them sink. They treat all students with the same services as if they all were the same and too often we have found those services are lacking in quality and assistance. In fact, if one looks at how much money a college actually spends in student services needed to retain their customers, it would be shockingly low f there is any money set aside for retention services  at all..

What should be the primary activity of college –educating its students – treats all students as if they were the same learner. The lecture approach for example just sends out information as if all the students learn the same way. Everyone is given the same information and work whether or not his personal needs and learning protocols are receptive to them.  This is certainly different than medicine in which every treatment is personalized to the particular patient. College hands out information as if every patient needed the same medicine whether or not the need exists for that medicine. If a doctor gave out the same prescription to all he or she would be seen as incompetent. Colleges are seen as efficient when the same lecture is given to a class of 500 in an introductory course independent of whether learning actually takes place. 

But doctors work with fewer patients than does a professor lecturing to a class of one or two hundred even as few as 50. But doctors who work a clinic may easily see that many patients in a week and they all get some personal attention. The average professor has three classes of 20 or 60 students total so what is the excuse of not giving each student personal attention to make sure they all succeed? 

When a patient needs extra care, he is often sent to see a professional specialist. In college that might happen in writing when a student is sent to a writing lab but in other areas the student with extra need is often handed off to a peer tutor.  And we wonder why students with extra need fail so then. It is as if we have a patient with a serious problem being sent to a med student for specialized help. Why is that? Because the professor is considered too busy to deal with tutoring in most schools. And the more senior the professor and more renowned in her knowledge the less time she has for the primary purpose of college, making sure students succeed and graduate in many too many cases. 

When one boils it down, a major difference between a medical practice and a college is that in the practice each patient is individually important whereas in a college, a student is not. To “lose a patent” in a medical practice is considered a terrible thing. In college losing a student can just be sign that the college is academically rigorous. In the medical practice, when a patient is lost that often calls for a review of why that patient is gone. In most colleges if a student leaves, no one looks into why he or she left. It just is not that important. “We’ll go and recruit another”. A life may be damaged when a student leaves or flunks out but that is not of much concern to the college. A student life is just not that important.

In a medical practice, the administrators worry about patients who will sue for one reason or other. In college, administrators worry about faculty members complaining about one thing or another. As a result, medical practices do all they can to treat the patient’s ills and personal needs while colleges treat the needs and self-perceived injuries of the faculty more than the students.

Colleges need to become more like medical practices, businesses that focus on the needs of their patients, the customers first and foremost. They need to rethink their priorities and put students first and the services they need to each succeed focus upon what each student needs to succeed. Colleges need to put the student first and provide all the services they need to succeed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Colleges Need to be More Like Hospitals
Higher education is in a position that hospitals were in back in the 1980’s. There were more beds than patients. Costs were climbing upsetting  and worrying the public. And the federal government was starting to assert itself on how hospitals were run and making them prove they were successful.  The result was that hospitals some consolidated, some were closed and others just went out of business. They could not manage under the scrutiny and additional cots to operate. That could, and is happening in higher education as well. 

Hospitals are like colleges. They have an administration that is not trusted by the hospital community. Doctors who have a somewhat independent relationship to the hospital, being able to do as they please for the most part with their patients. Their allegiance is to their discipline more than to the hospital.  Hospitals also have indifferent staffs as well as some stellar performers And hospitals have patients sort of like colleges have students.

A major difference though is that in the hospital, people show great concern for the patients and try to save each one while colleges accept a student “death rate” around 50%, the national attrition rate. That is a significant difference. 

In the hospital treatment is centered around the immediate and personal needs of the patient while in colleges the students’ needs are often neglected. In hospitals if a patient needs help, she or she can get that assistance from a qualified professional. In a college if s student needs extra help they get to work with a peer tutor. How many of you would be comfortable with another patient taking care of you in the hospital?
In the hospital, each patient gets care that is appropriate for him or her needs. In college everyone is treated the same too often in classrooms where the professor just drones out with the same information and teaching for everyone whether  they get the material or not.

Another difference is that the hospitals try to admit people who can benefit from the treatment they provide. If a person is not a good candidate for hospital care, he or she does not get in while at many, too many schools, they let in anyone whether or not they can benefit from the stay at the college.

Hospitals also try to save every one of the patients they have. If a patient is “crashing” they have a team that comes quickly to triage the patient and try to keep them alive. While if a student is crashing at most schools, the college lets him or another flunk. It is seldom that the professor (the doctor) will commit himself to triage the student and do all he can to save that student in the class. Hospitals even have a special ward for patients who are in the gravest chance of dying. It is the ICU while in schools may not even let a student know if he or she is in danger of failing a course or flunking out.

Oddly enough hospitals that lose too many patients are looked down upon while schools that “cull out”  large numbers of students are considered to have high standards. Hospitals that save patients  are considered tops in their areas while schools that do all they can to save students are… Well, they are rare.

We need to act more like hospitals and care about each and every student we admit. Every one of them needs to be saved and kept healthy. It is not enough to admit them. We must provide all the professional services and care they need to succeed or like hospitals, we will be scrutinized even further and many will not survive that.

There is a lot we can learn from hospitals especially the clear focus on each and every patient. They know it is not enough to admit a patient. They have to do all they can to save them too. They also know something that we have not really learned. It takes a great deal of information and data to properly care for a patient/student.

Every test and exam is posted for all doctors to see and in many cases now for the patients to also see, For example, I go to the Ohio State University hospital system for my medical care. Every time I have a blood test, every result is posted on a system they call My Chart. It tells me the result; whether or not that is normal or not and what each test means, I am fully informed. If I have an appointment coming up or need to schedule one, the system sends me an email letting me know. It is in contact with me at all times.

And I can use it to contact my doctors to get more details or help. All I need to do is scroll down and enter an email to a doctor and he or she gets it. And, they respond. Moreover, when I went to the Cleveland Clinic it was able to pull up my entire chart on-line and see all my doctors’ notes and exam results. It was fully informed on me as a patient. It had my record so transfer into their system was simple. I did not have to repeat tests at all.

Schools need to build or obtain systems like this to allow students full access to their records and notes. They need a system as hospitals have to notify him when he needs to do something now to stay healthy. This is a customer service which is needed now to save more students. And in turn, keep more schools from having to shut down or consolidate services as hospitals did in the 80’s

by Dr. Neal Raisman, author of the best selling book The Power of Retention.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Colleges Do Not Care Enough About Students

After working with colleges and universities in various academic, administrative and consulting capacities, I have come to a disturbing thought
. Most colleges and universities really do not care about their students. They of course say they do but they do not show it. Individuals on the campus may well care but the institution – not so much I fear.

Colleges care about themselves and their well-being but not so much about that of their students. They are more concerned with their reputations and standing than the success of students and their welfare. Students are not the end focus of too many colleges. They are a means to an end. That end being the success of the institutions,

Colleges are now more like corporations focused on the bottom line and attainment rather than in creating great products. They care about their own preservation and perks more than those of their customers, their students and their families.

Take for example the issue of sexual assault and rape on campuses. There are currently 76 schools being investigated by the US Department of Education for non-compliance with title IX  for not responding to rape allegations on campus. And very many more could be investigated for not taking rape seriously enough. For example, when a fraternity was found guilty of a gang rape at John Hopkins, the fraternity was suspended for a year but no expulsions or arrests were made.

When a student reports an assault on campus, she is often ignored or her complaint is shuffled to the bottom of the deck to avoid bad publicity at the school. If a rape is reported most schools do not take the most appropriate step and turn the case over to the police. No, they try to handle the issue internally so the disclosure does not get out and taint the school’s image. Most normally, a charge of rape is investigated by a college committee that places institutional image above the student’s well-being. There have been too many cases in which a sexual assault or a rape has been either denigrated or even dismissed with a minor sanction than what the criminal system demands. The victim is left traumatized and feeling guilty from the outcome. The school’s image is more important than a student getting justice.

Or just look at the appalling percentage of students who actually graduate from a college. Just over 50% of students who start at a college actually receive a diploma from that school. And it isn’t because they flunk out. The number of students who flunk out is insignificant in comparison to the number that leave because they believe the school does not care about them enough to help them succeed through basic services such as academic assistance. Colleges do all they can to recruit students with promises of personal attention and help when needed but they are seldom supplied in the quality and quantity promised in the marketing. For example, most colleges use peer tutoring rather than have faculty provide the extra assistance. The undereducated leading the less educated too often.

Why? Because student success is too often not as important as faculty and administrative happiness at too many schools. To make full-time faculty tutor students would be to take them away from doing research or sitting on their tenured laurels. That would lead to complaints making the administrators have to deal with so faculty are not pushed to provide the basic service of extra help and/or tutoring to students in need. Student success is just not as important as a calm faculty.

The whole issue of college’s selecting students who can succeed at the school is a basic myth by the way. There are certainly the 300 name brand schools which can and are selective but the other three thousand plus do not care about admitting students who they know can succeed at the school. Students are admitted if they can pay tuition and fees. Sure some students get scholarships to help pay for school but each one of them is seen as a revenue point for the school. In many cases, the partial scholarships are just a “loss leader” to get the bulk of the tuition and fees  from the student. A scholarship of $5,000 for a $30,000 school is just part of the recruitment package to get students to enroll. The schools have figured out how much they need to provide as an incentive to get the enrollment just like a car company giving “away” $1,000 off the price of the car to get the buyer into the sale. They know they’ll make it up on extras such as fees, housing, books and other costs. The scholarships are a planned part of the sales package to attract students and fill a recruitment quota even if that student is wrong for the school in many, too many cases.

Why?  Students bring in the money through tuition, federal assistance and state reimbursements that the school needs to do what it wants whether that be provide release time for faculty, pay a football coach millions or however else it spends the per student headcount money that comes in. Numbers count but the individual students too often do not.

Simply put many too many  colleges will accept anyone who can pay all or at least part of tuition when the school is not meeting its enrollment numbers. They do this knowing that a great many of those they admit will not succeed and will need to be replaced, but they will help pay the bills for the semester they are there. This is crass commercialism similar to recruiting 5’4” me to a basketball camp. The success of the student is just is not as important as the revenues of the institution.

Other examples of not caring about students can be seen in how schools operate. For example, most schools have evening classes yet the operational offices all close down for the day by 5:00. Students cannot get their needs attended to. This is done fully knowing that most of the evening students are non-traditional students coming from a nine-to five job . These people cannot get to campus during the day but there are no or very few provisions made for them to get their school business done after 5:00.

Just look at the parking on a campus and you can tell who is least important. At most schools there are reserved lots for administrators and faculty close to the buildings. Student parking lots are furthest from the classrooms and are very often inadequate in the number of places available. What message does that send? One that says the faculty and administrators are more important than the reason the school exists, the school’s customers, its students.

Classes are not scheduled around the needs of students but the desires of faculty and institutional priorities. Faculty decide when they want to teach a course not when it is best for the students who need to take them but when they prefer to teach.. Often students have to choose between required courses scheduled at the same time rather than being able to take the both of them if they were scheduled with student needs taken into account. Most often if the school decides that there are not enough students for a course to be allowed to go even after students have signed up for it, students will find out in the week or even days before classes start. The students are left short of the courses they had already signed up for and scheduled their lives around. They have arranged their work hours, babysitting and  schedules around the hours they had signed up for but at the last moment the school puts its own priorities in place over those of the students they have contracted with. The class is cancelled and most normally the student is left high and dry without a course needed to move forward to graduation because the school decided at the last moment that there were only with students in the class so that is not enough.

These are but a few examples of how colleges do not care about students. There are many more and I am sure you can name some on your campus too. These are all customer service issues that need to be addressed. Academic customer service which is not coddling students but making certain they receive the services and attention they need to succeed.

If this makes sense to you, you should get a copy of the new best seller

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Is Free Community College Tuition Really a Good Idea?

President Obama has made a bold proposal when he wants to have community college tuition free for all but is it really in everyone’s best interest? Really?

Consider that the community college completion rate is around 34% nationally. That means that 66% of students start but do not complete. That means that at this time 2,804,305 started community college in the fall but 1,794,755 of them will not achieve a degree. Now on the good side that means that close to a million students will achieve a degree and that is good of course but fare too many do not complete their program. And some of the 1,794,755 will transfer before getting a degree but the  numbers are still  bad on graduation.

Most community colleges have not yet found the solutions to attrition at such high levels. Granted some of it is from students who just are not really prepared for college study. They will simply walk away or flunk out. That’s just the facts of it. But hundreds of thousands of others will not complete. That is a sad fact too. 

The tuition proposal only takes care of one part of the cost of attending community college. It does not cover fees, books, daycare, transportation and other associated costs. Considering that a great many of the poorest students get their tuition already covered by Pell and other grants such as state programs, there is no great benefit to them with the President’s program. I fear that by increasing the size of the pool all that will be accomplished is to increase the number of students who will fail in their attempts to succeed. This will leave them in a worse situation that they were in before. They will have expended their savings on fees, books and associated educational costs and end up defeated until the problem of attrition is taken care of in community colleges. . 

The tuition free education would kick in after Pell money pays for what it can cover. For most students, the Pell money is taken up by tuition so there is no full benefit for them. If the free tuition was not including Pell, then there could be some befit by freeing up the Pell money to pay for associated costs other than tuition.

Before universal tuition is offered there are core issues that need to be taken care of and where the money could be better spent.

One of the reasons that there is high attrition in community colleges is that there just are not enough coaches and counselors to meet with all the students who need them. There are not enough retention programs either. Programs such as at Hostos Community College in the Bronx have developed programs that are successful through making sure that every student in the program gets to see or hear from a counselor/coach at least once a week. That creates ways to keep the student realizing that the school does care about them as well as solve problems that do arise. This program has an extremely high success rate and could be emulated with the right amount of money made available. Counselors and coaches would be a better use of the money for start.

Another reason for attrition is that community college students are often hesitant and tentative students. It does not take much to turn them off from school and we have found that colleges seem to do all they can to turn them off. In general, they provide very bad customer service to the most needful of the services. These services are the coaching mentioned above for example and just basic customer service such as treating students kindly and being helpful. It has been an eye opener for us as we work with schools to see how many allow absolutely weak to poor to abominable treatment of students by the school. Just talk to most students about how they have been treated in offices and the resulting complaints are overwhelming. Yes, there are some schools that care and we have worked with most of them to increase their retention but there are thousands of others that haven’t a clue as to how to treat students as if they mattered more than their tuition.

And that is another reason why free tuition is not necessarily a good idea. Many too many colleges will take free tuition as a sign that they can raise their tuition and bring in more money. Yes, they need more money but it should not be from increasing tuition. It should be from retaining the students who are already attending and paying tuition. If the community colleges could keep more of their students, they would retain more tuition and revenue. They are losing 64% of it a year as it is now. To offer free tuition will just encourage schools to raise tuition and not do anything about retention.

President Obama certainly wants to help more people get a college education but this may not be the way to do it.

If this article makes sense to you, get a copy of the latest book by Dr. Neal Raisman From Admissions to Graduation: Increasing Success Through Academic Customer Service