Monday, October 09, 2017

Requiring Attendance and All the Attending Excuses Against It

For the life of me I do not understand the attitudes and rationale of so many faculty toward student attendance. All I need to do at most every retention study and workshop is review the
institution’s attendance policy with the audience and kaboom, the fight is on. Yes, I did say fight. Most faculty and some administrators immediately disagree with me. They yell out “what do mean we should not have an institutional attendance policy? We then insist that students "learn the most they can by attending every class and learning from you. Don’t you realize that required attendance is a major positive factor in keeping students in college leading to their graduation and institutional success. That required attendance will return a significant percentage increase in retention and revenue? What’s more….”

Every college and university should have a clear, consistent and emphatic attendance policy that states that being in class is so important that students must attend all classes. Important because students who do not attend classes are at greatest risk for dropping out. Important because students who miss classes are not gaining the value of the teacher’s instruction and thinking on the material. Important because the student also loses out on the very important teacher-student communication and relationship. Important also because it is the student and faculty interaction that is the reason we have faculty at a college or university. If students do not need to learn from in classes, the need for faculty disappears.                                           

Yet every time I raise the topic of requiring attendance, someone is bound to disagree AND speak out. (There are always people who disagree but remain quiet until later when they get animated and assertive among like-thinking people because that’s the academic passive-aggressive way we do things.) And when they disagree in a workshop for instance, they do so vehemently. Example, a week ago I was giving a workshop in retention and customer service at a large community college. I mentioned that the college had about a thirty percent four-year retention/graduation rate that would be significantly improved with a consistent and encompassing college-wide attendance policy. A policy that would make attendance mandatory. Immediately a faculty member passionately shook her head no and raised her     hand. I saw her and asked her what she wanted to say.

“Students are adults and they need to learn to be responsible for their own choices They need to learn there are consequences to their actions” she said as does someone at most every presentation and workshop I have ever given. This statement of course indicates the belief or assessment that students have not yet learned to be responsible so we should teach them that. By allowing them to be irresponsible!

By permitting them not to come to class and learn the material properly we allow them to become intellectually bankrupt on the subject. Then we let them prove their irresponsibility by putting material from class lectures on the exam knowing that if they did not attend class they cannot pass the exam. Sort of like letting someone have a mortgage they can’t possibly pay for and we know it but sell it to them anyhow. I suppose that’s sort of teaching them financial planning by going bankrupt? 

The students in our classes are not yet responsible or even learned enough to make many decisions. That’s why when we assign homework we give a date for it to be handed in. That we can eve be fairly firm on. “It is due on next Tuesday. If it is not in then, I will not accept it without a valid reason.”

Why is it so important to not trust them on turning in homework on time but it is okay to let them  not attend a class in which the homework assignment and material related to it are handed out or have been discussed? Am I the only one who sees a major contradiction here? Why not just trust them to hand it in on time? Or better yet, why not trust them to hand it in at all? Why isn’t homework an optional attendance sort of thing. “Hand it in if you think if you think it’s important? Or if you can pass the class without doing or handing in enrollment, fine?” Contradictions anyone?
Why do we even believe they are responsible enough to make the right decision to attend or not attend class? What is it about enrolling at a college or university that makes anyone believe these people are responsible or even sensible? This is especially so for freshman which by the way is who the faculty member who asked the question at the workshop taught.

The Tinkerbell Theory of Student Maturity 
It is the widespread academic belief in fairies that makes people in colleges believe their students are adults. it. You know, Tinkerbell, the maturity fairy of the Tinkerbell Theory.
The Tinkerbell Theory is most clearly elucidated in the belief colleges have that their students know how to be students. Actually, too many schools have a misguided belief in Peter Pan and fairy dust. They believe that somehow magic occurs on the stage in the local school auditorium at high school graduation. An immature high schooler starts across the stage. And with him or her walks all the attitudes, ways of thinking, and attitudes ingrained over 12 long years. These are the same very characteristics that made the soon-to-be high school graduate have to prove he or she was capable of succeeding in your college. Then, he or she stops and just as the high school principal hands him or her a diploma, a small, invisible maturity fairy flies overhead and sprinkles magic knowledge dust on the graduate. POOF!! You’re a college freshman! What was a latent college student suddenly sheds his or her immature ways and is suddenly metamorphosed into a mature college student ready and capable of meeting the demands and dictates of college!

And if for some odd reason the fairy dust did not complete the transformation, the next ten weeks of summer vacation complete the transformation. After all, that freshman is no longer a high schooler. He or she is a freshman at Neverland U and all our students know how to be students. After all, they are here at college.

But this is far from the truth. Peter Pan was fictional and so is the belief that incoming students are college students upon walking on campus. (The Power of Retention: More Customer Service in Higher Education; p. 157)
The Tinkerbell Theory also applies to upperclassmen  Perhaps not as obviously but it does apply to most of them. Simply because they have been attending your college does not make them mature or responsible. And we all know this. We even complain when they act irresponsibly.

For example, do students suddenly shut off their cell phones in class if they are juniors? Not unless they have been taught to do so. Do seniors not text during class? Only if taught they cannot do that in class. When a freshman returns to campus as a sophomore does he or she come to class on time? Even better, if he or she has passed Comp 1(and 2 if you demand it) is the student’s writing now mature and correct? Etc. Etc……. What else is fictional is that we teach them responsibility by letting them choose to be irresponsible; to go to class or not.

Physical maturity in no way equals mental maturity. Maturity is something that is learned and taught. We accept that as a given with young people for example. We teach them how to share, how they need to clean their room, brush their teeth, wash, bathe, look before crossing, do their homework … If we want children to become a religious, we teach them and even demand they go to church, temple, mosque… If we want them to play a musical instrument we make sure they attend classes and practice. And we do make them go to classes, if they are our children!!!!!

If It’s Good Enough for Your Kids…. . When people start the argument on class attendance, at some time I will ask that person or persons if they have children in college. Most every time at least one does. “Okay, Let’s assume you are paying only $10,000 a year for school. Only $10,000. Public-affiliated university. Your child completed a FAFSA waiver at school (which should be done at every school) so you can call to find out why Jennifer is concerned her grade in a class is not that good. You are told that Jennifer is not attending that class. What do you do?”

The faculty member invariably says something akin to “I’d tell her to get her butt in class, not skip classes and go for extra help!”

So if it is good enough and important enough for you to tell your child to go to class, why isn’t it equally good and important for other peoples’ children in your classes to have to attend? That’s when the “ahhhhhh” and “we fell into that” light bulb moment hits. But fear not, the light gets turned off quickly.

And then I respond “Why didn’t you just shrug your shoulders and say something like ‘well I guess that’s her just learning to become responsible?’ Or don’t you want your children to learn responsibility the very hard way you would let other peoples’ children learn responsibility. By dropping or flunking out and getting to work at some minimum wage job? Oh by the way, most every business does not teach responsibility by making showing up for work an option. When workers do not come to work, they learn about looking for another job. Interestingly enough, that is true at the colleges and universities at which we work too.”

Not Enough Time and I’m Not a Disciplinarian Excuses 
Okay but how does taking attendance make someone into any of the above? It doesn’t. It is like teaching itself. It is all in the way you do it. If one gets to know her students, attendance is easy. You can recognize who is or is not in class and check them off. If you don’t know them well enough, then you may not be doing a great job of connecting with them anyhow. Little says connecting and caring like “yes, whatsyourname” or “you in the blue blouse.”

It is easy and quick to simply go through the roll, call out their names and see who responds. That way you can check to see who is here and…Wow! Start to learn their names!!!

One could also assign some student to take the roll or pass the attendance sheet around. That is not as effective of course. Some students will work it out so they can skip and not learn from you. And you will not learn their names since it is a way to not get too acquainted with anyone in the class. And yes, I know you will say you get acquainted to many of the students in class in the process of teaching. Of course, you can’t get acquainted with those who don’t show up. And we all know the pile of research that indicates that a feeling of association with a faculty member is a very important retention and learning factor.

Just Not Enough Time to Take Attendance Roll 
I also get the excuse that there just is not enough time in the class to take attendance every day. The two or three minutes it might take will kill the ability to learn all the material. A way to make sure there is enough time is to just start the class on time. As I investigate retention issues and customer service for universities an colleges, I am always amazed at the high number of classes that simply do not get roiling until at least five minutes have gone by wasted. In many cases, the delay is caused by late students, late faculty members, faculty talking to students at the front of the class rather than office hours or after class or the faculty member and class not knowing how to come to a decorous academic order.

Staring class on time is also good teaching since it reinforces the need for students to be on time. The major reason new employee graduates from college lose jobs is they do not show up on time. So why not emphasize a life lesson by startling the class when it is supposed to start?

Taking or calling attendance is a way to call the class to some sort of order. It can be the signal that the academic world is about to intrude on the more relaxed and disorder of the non-academic world in which people can do as they please without regard for others and a faculty member. Calling the roll also signals that the faculty member is asking for decorum, academic decorum in the classroom. Calling the roll is a well recognized signal to students that a separation from the non-academic to the academic has taken place so get with the appropriate decorum.

Another excuse I hear is that faculty do not want to be made into those who cause students to get into trouble, to report on them. But then if that is a concern why give grades and report them? After all nothing can cause problems more than a low grade.

I Have Nothing to Offer 
A quite prevalent response to required attendance is that this is college, an academic environment in which we are teaching ideas, ways of thinking through specific course material and information to students to prepare them for life. We are trying to instill in them a process of inquiry that can lead to mature decisions later on. Okay. Fair enough but can students learn if they are not in class?

If students can learn as much when they are out of classes as they can from a faculty member in the class, the issue is not attendance at all but the value or lack of value the faculty member brings to the material and learning. If a student can learn the same amount of information or whatever just by reading the books, frankly that faculty member teaching the class is…well…not worth much. Maybe nothing. Maybe less than nothing since he or she is wasting student time and institutional resources.

Realize that when a professor tells students that they do not have to attend his lectures and they can pass by reading the assignments, doing the homework and taking tests, he is saying “There is no value to my lectures or classes. I, in fact, have nothing to offer you that you cannot get from a book.” This is a clear admission that I am useless as a teacher. I have no value for you. And in turn that diminishes each every faculty member teaching at the college or university. The fact that “there is room here for someone useless and I am paying for this worthless piece of the faculty” makes students wonder about other professors. And it does not mater if he or she is a brilliant researcher; not to the student in the class trying to get something of value out of it. 

Anyone who tells students directly or indirectly that attendance to hear and discuss the lectures is not required to pass the course is saying I have nothing of value to offer and should not be teaching.

The Required Courses Paradox
The “this is an academic environment” excuse leads directly to another popular reason why faculty oppose required attendance although I have yet to have anyone argue against required courses. Why do we require some courses? Because if we did not students would not take them. We believe these courses are fundamental to a good education and preparation for life in and after college. We require these courses but do not require students to attend them.

If we assign these courses as so important that all students must take them, we must also assure they are important enough to make students attend them.

Weak Administrators and Legal Ramifications 
The reason why some faculty oppose required attendance is they believe that the administration will not support them. They believe that if they are going to fail a student due to missing too many classes, the student or parent will go to a senior administrator who will tell the professor to work something out. Make it go away.

I have to concur that there are some administrators who would do just that. Often while waving what they claim is customer service. It is people like these that give customer service a bad name. What they say is customer service is not. It is just making the problem go away because I don’t feel like dealing with it or listening to an angry parent or student. Keep Academic Customer Service Principle 11 in mind:

11. The customer is not always right.
That’s why they come to college and take tests.
(If you’d like a copy of the 25 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service just click here and just ask)

Furthermore, these people can get away with asking you to make it go away or figure something out because there isn’t an institutional attendance policy that the weak kneed need to lean on. In the same way they can point to an institutional, state, federal or some other agency policy and tell a student or parent “I’d love to help you but my hands are tied because….” 

This can occur because there isn’t an institutional policy. With a patchwork of individual faculty class policies which hopefully are elucidated in the syllabus, it is much easier for a weak administrator to pass the buck. If one section of a course requires attendance for all lectures except for excused absences; another has no required attendance; and a third lets students miss three meetings, you can see how easy it would be for a weak administrator to manipulate the situation if a student in the no miss section had two unexcused absences and was flunking as a result. Moreover, just think how well some attorney will be able to present the inconsistencies to a jury when some family sues because junior flunked the course due to the two unexcused absences while other students never went to the same course, different section, and passed.

An institutional policy takes away the possible manipulation and even legal action in which a plaintiff could sue not just the school but you individually. It also would not allow an administrator to suggest, ask, imply, persuade a faculty member to possibly consider passing the student against the attendance policy in the section even if other students may have flunked for non-compliance with the attendance policy for the section.That could definitely lead to a lawsuit?

But these are the weak people-pleasing administrators. When I ask the senior administrators at the over 450 colleges and universities I have worked if they would support a faculty member who followed an institutional required attendance policy, every one of them state support for an institutional policy.

So now, why oppose an institutional policy? What is the value of a hodgepodge of non-policies? They do not help students. They open faculty up to disparagement and even legal sanctions. Whereas an institutional policy helps students, promotes learning and keeps faculty out of court.

An institutional attendance policy will increase retention, persistence and graduation rates at a school as much as 18%. That alone is a powerful reason to have such a policy. But it also means that more students will be in the classroom to learn more and that is core to any institutional mission and educational success.

If enrollment management is important, get copies of the best-selling books The Power of Retention and From Admissions to Graduation at The Administrators' Bookshelf.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Cost vs. Expectation Correlation in College Retention

A reader from Point Loma Nazarene University sent me an email that started this piece on school costs, expectations, retention rates and
customer service.

He wrote:
"I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and am currently reading your book, The Power of Retention. I have a question about the difference in responses of students in private versus public colleges and universities. Have you found that students who leave private universities do not leave for poor service as frequently as they do in public ones? Our retention rate is much higher than the ones in your examples."

No I don’t. In fact, customer service issues are a stronger reason for leaving a private college since there is usually more investment at stake. To start with, the higher cost of a private college or university over a publicly-affiliated college brings with it higher service return demands. There is an interesting correlation situation created by cost in reference to service provided. In all but the top schools, the higher the cost to attend, the higher the expectations. Or to be even more accurate, the greater the personal fiscal impact, the greater the expectations. If school costs are having a negative impact on a person’s budget, their expectations for the school will always be high.

It is the same as if you were going to an expensive restaurant versus a McDonalds. In a higher cost eatery or bistro.(don’t you love the way the name of the place often equals overpricing? Joe’s Diner versus Joseph’s Refectory? Also why so many colleges suddenly became universities….Same food just seems more impressive?) In the bistro where a burger, (excuse me) ground Angus steak costs $15.90 or more, one expects more meat, more quality and flavor and the burger or ground steak should be served with a side of pom frites (French fries would not do in a bistro), a side of vegetable perhaps, on nice dishes, cloth table cloth and really “your way.” The customer also expects some nice ambiance and surroundings. That guy on his cell phone on the table to the left is annoying because he is talking loud to make sure the listeners and the world hear him. But you sit on a comfortable chair, place a fresh cloth napkin on your lap and wait for a server to come to you. He or she takes your order and then presents the meal. If the burger is not cooked the way you want, you call the waiter over and expect a replacement to your satisfaction. You also expect that the waiter will be attentive to your needs as well as ask at least once if everything is okay? The waiter should be conscientious but not overly so. The bill is brought and with tax, the food and experience are $18 plus a $4 tip and an hour of your time

Now let’s say that in the bistro, the waiter was a bit slow to respond to your request for more water, or the burger was served cool; not hot but not cold enough to really complain. The frites were fine but there were just a few of them. And the vegetable side was slightly overdone broccoli. Was the burger and resta…uh bistro worth it?

At McDonalds, you stand in a line. Wait to shuffle to a counter where an underpaid young person waits for you to come to her. She asks for your order. You say what you want, stand and wait some more. A thin meat puck on a bun wrapped in paper and a small bag of thin fries is handed to you by the inattentive young person who simply may say “thank you” before turning to the next customer or friend behind the counter. You walk away; sit in a hard chair at a cold Formica-topped table wipe your hands with a small, paper napkin feeling just fine with the purchase. People around you are on cell phones, talking a bit loudly and there is a kid running around the place. The bill for the burger and fries - $4.96 and no need to tip.

Less than a third of the cost and likely a greater fulfillment level even if the burger and fries were actually not as good as at the Bistro. Why? Because the expectations were lower for McDonalds and they were fulfilled. The Bistro costs more so more is expected. The Bistro is expected not only to provide a good burger and fries but service equal to the cost as well as an ambiance to match. The noise at the Bistro is disturbing; at Mickey’D’s expected. The uncomfortable chairs, well what do you expect? It’s McDonalds. It is anticipated and there are lower expectations anyhow.

Of course, the expectation commands a great deal of the fulfillment of it. Even a very negative expectation in service can lead to fulfillment and full ROI such as at a restaurant like Durgin Park in Boston as explained in my book The Power of Retention. (C’mon, You should expect I will at least mention the book which is about to go into a third printing since the first two sold out!!)

So now to relate it to schools. A more expensive school produces greater expectations. If one is paying $35,000 a year, that student and family will expect a $35,000 experience. If they get poor service from people at the school and it feels more like “would you like fries with that course?” the feeling of return on investment fulfillment will be low. If a student can’t get required classes because the number of sections were cut, that’ll feel like “we’re out of burgers tonight even though we advertised them to you. We’ll have them again Fall of next year…” The response is simple “Hey we are paying $35,000 tuition a year. If I wanted to get a $5,000 experience, I’d go to Mickey D College down the road.”

If the university serves decent academic customer service and food like courses (which again is not just smiling and pretending to be nice though that does help) then the expectations might be met. Students will feel and calculate they are receiving return on their investments and complete the daily buying opportunities. They will go to classes and feel a part of the University.

Now to all that there is also difference in demand level based on the investment within a pricing band. A pricing band is a set of schools that are similar in what they offer within a similar price. Bands are often also governed by location since bands are flexible in whom they include. The bandings are often made by buyers much as they would consider another group of possible purchases by cost, i.e, 42 inch flat screen TV’s. from $700 to $1200. (Oh, right schools are not TV’s. Not a product that is decided by price and affordability….. And how did you decide what schools your child could look at? And you could afford?)

Schools within a price band are usually the ones that the customer compares one another. These are what we can afford and are located where the student and we have a comfort level while offering an Angus burger. The higher the cost of a school within a band, the higher the expectation of academic service and ROI of course. So, if a private college with a $35,000 tuition is in a pricing band of private schools ranging from $22,000 to $38,000 of more or less equal brand value, the investment in the $35,000 is thus considered to be higher than most, but less than others. So students and parents will expect ROI based on cost within band; better than some, less than others.

If a student chooses a lower level cost within the band the expectations will be lower for it. “It may not be quite as good as University A but we can afford it. The dorms are older, and it does not have as many major but it’ll give Janie a good education”. Expectations will be lower and the odds of meeting them will be higher.

Now should Janie have to drop all of the schools in the band and look at a public school or even a community college, the expectations drop of course but so does the probability of success. The expectations can be met surely but they have been dropped so low that they are not even really expectations as such. They are just acceptances. The immediate expectation of going to a private school has been replaced with an almost unpalatable alternative. So actually, the expectations are that the college will not be able to meet real needs and the original ROI. In the case of community colleges chosen as a low-cost alternative to a private school or even a public university, there is no way it can fully meet the expectations of a four-year degree. NO WAY! 

Students who originally decided they wanted the Bistro angus burger who have to get the McD’s will find it unpalatable. They will leave for the Bistro as soon as is possible. This partially explains why community colleges have such a low retention to completion rate.

There are indeed many cases in which students go to the community college which meets many parts of their multifaceted ROI such as getting their money’s worth within a caring and student-focused environment in which they feel welcome and a part. And there are numerous situations in which students find that the community college provides excellent teaching and learning which are of course central issues to a real educational ROI. They adapt to the McD’s of education and find that they are pleased and might even look forward to it keeping the Bistro burger for a later date. Some even find they don’t want the Bistro burger at all. In these cases, their expectations have shifted.

That said, schools that have a clear mission that is embedded in all they do such as a religiously-based school like Point Loma will often have a higher retention rate than one that is not focused. Point Loma Nazarene University being a religiously-based or focused college thus has an advantage in that its students sought it out for a faith-based reason as well as an educational one Their expectations of ROI are shifted a bit from financial to emotional and affective so the money issue lessens in favor of am I getting the spiritual and personal attachments I expected and need as well as the education? The singular and fulfillment of focus is helping Point Loma.

I recently did a customer service for retention audit at a very fine university that had lost its clear focus. It had moved from being one of the finest military-focused educationally universities to trying to accommodate too many focuses. Students came to the University because of the military corps culture. Both the military and civilian students selected this University because they either wanted to focus on military training and education or they felt that a school with an active military training program would be serious and safe. 
They were having retention issues starting in the sophomore year because of the loss of focus. Freshman cadets went through a training regimen that identified them and the University as the militarily-focused school they expected. Then after a full freshman year experience, the military dropped off enough to make too many students question the focus they had signed on for.

Our audit pointed out the perception that the University had strayed a bit as well as some other issues. Students did not feel as if they were getting the ROI they had paid for. The President of the University is a solid leader and has been issuing clear statements of focus and purpose that have been very well received by the corps of cadets and the non-military students. The message that maintaining excellent teaching and learning as it has over the years and attention to some other overt customer service issues are underway but we believe the most important finally will be the clarification of a unified and singular focus. That will retain many more students than in the past.

Finally, since Point Loma can boast of recognition in US News, it adds to the sense of value and ROI whether it is really there or not. Students and parents believe they are getting the ROI’s for the most part as a result of the external certification. For example, the 306 name brand schools have a higher retention rate than most other colleges not only because they can enroll those that fit their culture but also because students believe they will get the ROI and service based on the brand name. The difference between a Rolex and Timex. Each will tell time but people will invest more in the Rolex and believe its time is more accurate and thus worth the extra cost. The Timex will be accurate as well, but it is a Timex. But if the watch is a Timex and costs $25,000 it will not sell. This is due to a negative expectation. Timex belongs in a certain pricing band and if it wanders that far out of it, it cannot find a customer belief it is worth the price.

Finally, Point Loma and other schools that have a higher than average retention rate may be doing a good job of meeting student expectations and providing good academic customer service. That’ll of course increase retention rates. I was just on a university campus with an 86% retention rate. It is doing well considering some of its factors. It is well above the national six-year rate of 59% for four-year schools. It is doing some things really well to get there. But, we believe we can increase retention by attending to some customer service factors like how some offices work, scheduling set up, breaking done some silos, altering a couple HR processes, etc. Point Loma and other colleges and universities may well be in a similar position. Point Loma does exceed the national average in the past because of some of the factors mentioned above but it could still be many percentage points below what it could be.

So, start looking and thinking about what your university can do to increase its rate and meeting student expectations today. 

Get your copy of The Power of Retention referenced in this article today by clicking here. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mobile apps Can Provide Great Service to Students

I was eating lunch on a college campus the other day and watched as four students came and all sat down to lunch together at a table.  Now, this was not a monastic college but not one of them said
anything to another throughout their sitting together. Nor did they seem to acknowledge one another’s presence though it was clear they had chosen to sit together. They were all too busy looking down at their smart phones to engage one another.

It was amazing to see how they could scroll through the phone and even text with one hand while the other hand lifted food and miraculously found a mouthy to place it in.  I was saddened by the lack of communication with one another. It was equally frustrating to realize that students seem to be more engaged in their phones than anything else on campus.

But then it came to me. Why not use the phone as a college service device? Why not realize and accept that the phone has become more important to most students than for example the computer or conversation? That phones are not for talking on anymore but are for communicating in other ways such as texting and that email has been replaced by text? It dawned on me that rather than lament the dominance of phones and their capturing students’ attention, why not use the phones as a central point of service provision to students?

Mobile apps could be a very potent customer service delivery system as well as w ay to increase engagement with the school alongside great person-to-person customer service. Colleges could put a massive amount of information and access right in the hands of students who would be untethered to a computer or the campus. Considering that so many students have lives off campus and cannot always get to offices on campus, the ability to have access to services anywhere in the world was powerful concept. This would be especially great for commuters and community college students whose schedules often precluded being able to get to the campus to obtain services.

Moreover, providing a mobile app with as much information a student can use and want is also a sign from the college that it does care about making the student’s life at the college as easy as is possible and that leads to great service and engagement.

Why not harness the power of the phones attraction of students and use it as a main service provider on campus? This could, should be big. I thought about setting up a company to design mobile service apps for colleges but then realized I know nothing about mobile app development so I decided to do some research into mobile apps and college.

That led me to realize what I should have already known. This was such a good idea that it was already being done. There is a company named DubLabs that had already designed mobile apps for over 150 colleges and did so extremely well. The apps that they had developed met student needs and desires rather than those of the college or its IT department. Too often when a school decides to go mobile they try to develop it themselves and while this is helpful, it does not always mean it is useful to students. In fact, when investigating two mobile apps that were developed by the schools, students complained that they were “clunky” and “not very user friendly just like many website that were homemade.

I found that DubLabs had designed mobile apps providing service to large universities like University of California – LA mid-sized school like Bridgewater State University in MA and community colleges all over the country. And they had gotten very good reviews from students at the schools. They were able to put everything students needed and colleges wanted them to have in the hand of the student.  Their mobile apps gave students full information and control over their college lives from class schedules to lecture notes, grades, registration, ebills, add/drops, college forms, access to Blackboard , class cancellations, bus schedules and all else right in their back pockets that was easily accessible and immediate.  And the apps integrated with the college’s native IT system like People Soft.

Here is a list of what’s available to students on one example of a DubLabs mobile app.
·         There is a dashboard for notifications, assignments, grades, class discussions, news and video;
·         Access to the college ‘s Blackboard
·         The book store where students could search for courses, required and non-required texts and even college clothing;
·         Courses where all classes, and locations are available for immediate view with the ability to pin them to a mapping ability to locate the classrooms
·         Course announcements and assignments;
·         Media where students can watch class videos or whatever video pertains to them or their classes if posted;
·         A student’s final exam schedule;
·         A campus directory with active links to all college employees with contact information;
·         One click calling for emergencies or student services offices;
·         All grades;
·         Register from the phone;
·         Pay bills through the app;
·         The library website;
·         Employment opportunities with internships available;
·         Dining information with dining hours;
·         Real time bus schedules for students who commute;
·         A calendar with events and where students can enter their own events.

A study by a company named Rapid Insight found that a mobile app by DubLabs increased communication between the school and student enough so it attributed a 2% enrollment increase to the mobile app.  That translated into 133 more students retained and an additional 2.6 million available for the college's budget  That is nothing to sneer at.

This is all great information for a student to have and it also shows the college does care about students having the information to be able to manage their days and lives all in one hand.
So now when I see students staring down at their phones I can believe they are using their college mobile app rather than just wasting time and ignoring one another.

Since 1999, NRaisman & Associates as been helping over 450 universities and colleges increase their admissions, retention and enrollment as the international experts on academic customer service through its consulting, training and campus service excellence studies
It's time for you to increase retention and customer service on campus.Call today at 413.219.6939 or email me at GreatServiceMatters.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How To Make Irritating Students Less Irritating

I keep receiving reports that students seem more irritated,less patient, quicker to anger and less tolerant these days. That makes it tougher to
work with them and help them. Though we may all realize that a student’s anger and even insults are not personal, they sure feel it. This is especially so since students keep pointedly using that second person pronoun “you” as if it were a weapon since they believe you are the school when they speak or even may curse at you.

They see you as the representative of that cold, impersonal money-grubbing abstract “the college” that has caused some disaster in their otherwise imperfect life. They have not learned how to separate the particulars from the universal. And when they are talking to you, you are a true representative of the college. As such, you equal the entire collection of bricks, mortar, people, rules and offices that is the university. So, at that moment, in that encounter, the student believes you are responsible for any wrong done; especially is the wrong may have been committed by the office that underpays you.

Thus when he or she is snide, nasty or even shouts and curses at you, that action is not really at you but as you as a symbol of the college - unless you have done something to call for it. Yes it is irrational and even misplaced but it is real because the student is feeling some hurt or harm.

(The following is excerpted from The Power of Retention
Social critics and we in higher education have found the general lack of civility in our culture also exists on our campuses. This should be no surprise. The people who live in our Happy Bunny “It’s all about me” culture are our students and even some of our employees. They are our faculty, administrators and lo and behold, they are also us.
As Walt Kelly had his cartoon character Pogo put it so well back in the 60’s We have met the enemy and they are us. The people who attend and work at our schools are the exact same people in the exact same culture we think we have left behind when we enter the retreat for intellectual and academic pursuit we know as a college campus. But what we find is that what attitudes apply in the so-called real world outside of academia also apply on a college campus.

This reality can also explain differences in the ways we perceive and act toward one another. Our students come from a cultural group that has been immersed in a cynical, smart mouth me first attitude which has eliminated most of what older America grew up knowing as social civilities and courtesies. The Captain Kangaroo/Mister Rogers world of please, thank you and general polite regard for one another has been replaced by a hip-hop attitude that revels and condones a general rude incivility toward one another. Radio shock jocks use language and casually discuss topics on the radio some of our generation may well be taken aback by and even find anti-intellectual or uncivil. Language that might have been thought of as anti-social and rebellious is now everyday colloquial use in casual discussion even in classrooms and offices. Attitudes that would have been unacceptable and considered rude such as taking a phone call in class or napping during lectures have become the norm according to many faculty members.
Our parents and their parents and theirs all the way back to Young Socrates in the Platonic dialogues had difficulty understanding and accepting the current younger generation’s music, hair, language, attitudes, mores, actions. Each generation knew the student group was more out of control than the last.

Or as Paul Lind sang about it in Bye Bye Birdy

I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!
Who can understand anything they say?
They are so ridiculous and immature!
I don’t see why anybody wants ‘em!... Kids! They are just impossible to control!.... Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way way? Oh,what’s the matter with kids today?

Actually, there is a difference in kids today. More than in the past perhaps and that is causing some service clashes on campus. We, the boomer and yuppie generations taught them too well. We encouraged them to take the next step in being more rebellious, more anti-authority, discourteous, disrespectful and become self-centered, demanding.

In a large sense, we created the college students we encounter. Our generations rebelled against authority and carried that forward by replacing much of the processes of etiquette with a sense of privilege for the next generations. They were taught that they are as good as anyone else. You can be anything they wish to be. Don’t let anyone tell you no. Age is not necessarily an indicator that a person warrants politeness or respect. On the one hand, students were inculcated with a media and marketing liturgy of their importance in the quest for class-free equality. The motto of “don’t trust anyone over thirty” has continued though the age threshold has dropped to anyone older than oneself. We also turned them into cultural and consumer cynics as we taught them not to trust advertising, marketing or promotional media. Unfortunately for colleges that cynicism does extend to the marketing they do. As a result, we created the consumer mentality we not find so offensive when a student tells us “hey, I’m paying for your salary.”

Additionally, technology has allowed the members of the current college student generation to isolate themselves from the larger community thereby greatly reducing the many social and face-to-face interactions one needs to learn social and cultural mores, codes and folkways. The Educause Center for Applied Research reported in 2008 that 80.3 percent of college students report using social networking sites regularly, up from 72.3% in 2006. The social networking sites are also the most used of all sites on the web attracting the largest amount of the average 16 hours of web browsing and usage per week. The social networks of YouTube, My Space, Hi5, Facebook, Friendster, chat rooms, download pirating networks like The Pirate Bay and Mininova allow students to be in a community without any need to ever be with someone physically. These communities have different mores, traditions, codes as well as greater tolerance for negative or boorish behavior than the analog world of higher education found on the campuses of colleges, universities or even career colleges where behavioral codes can be a bit more lenient. Emails also permit the student generation to communicate with others without ever having to deal with in live, face-to-face interaction.

As a result, they learn social codes that can tolerate anti-social behavior such as flaming. Wikipedia defines flaming as
…the hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users. Flaming usually occurs in the social context of a discussion boardInternet Relay Chat (IRC) or even through e-mail. An Internet user typically generates a flame response to other posts or users posting on a site, and such a response is usually not constructive, does not clarify a discussion, and does not persuade others. Sometimes, flamers attempt to assert their authority, or establish a position of superiority over other users. Other times, a flamer is simply an individual who believes he or she carries the only valid opinion. This leads him or her to personally attack those who disagree.
Flaming is not always tolerated on all websites or networks but it is common enough to be found on most interactive or participatory sites. Moreover, people can feel quite at ease with full freedom to flame without concern for retaliation since they can hide behind a user name or the oft used moniker anonymous that does not directly identify them in analog life. As a result of this anonymity flaming, bullying and an assertive nastiness that would not be well tolerated in a real face-to-face social interaction can be common. Furthermore, a communication problem can arise for student communicators when after either participating in or reading enough flaming messages the aggressive and mostly anonymous communication behavior transfers into real life interactions. Students do not necessarily learn or acquire the socialization needed to learn in person inter-personal skills. This lack of social communication skill development certainly limits them with the normative variations in successful inter-generational interactions. This can account for some of the clashes found in working with uneducated communicators and even trying to assist them on campus. Students with weak communication skills just may not know how to communicate appropriately with campus community members of a different age and role.

Technology is only one contributing factor that has blurred the distinctions between what the sociologist Erving Goffman described so well as front and backstage performances in his classic book Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. (1967) Goffman describes the social world of communication events as happening as if they were on a performance stage of a society. He divides the stage into its two major locations of front stage and back stage. As in a play, front stage is where the actors perform their formal roles. They are aware they are being observed and judged by the audience so they play the proscribed part. In society, front stage performers are aware they are being observed and thus perform using socially and culturally proscribed roles and language acceptable to the role they are playing and to the audience listening to it. For example, when a faculty member steps before a class to lecture, he or she does so using tone, language, gestures and the such that would be far different than when he or she is explaining how the day went to a spouse. He or she would use a very different tone, language and performance values when telling a child the same information just told to the spouse. The performance would be appropriate to the role and audience.

Backstage communications occur when the actors are off stage, behind the curtains so they cannot be seen by the audience. They can be more of their so-called natural selves as opposed to playing a specific part in the play. Their language does not have to be that used in front of the audience for example. Granted they are as Goffman notes, playing the role of a person in a play but not on stage at the moment. As a result, they are under less pressure to perform in a particular approved manner or speak specific lines appropriate to their formal performance role. Behind the curtains, they can be more relaxed and speak and act in a more relaxed manner if they wish.

Front stage social roles place pressure on the people involved to perform their roles appropriate to the interaction of the situation, the audience and social norms. If a young person is talking with a priest for example, there are normally restraints placed on the use of language, tone and attitude. If the actors realize they are involved in a front stage performance. The interaction is one that most academics have come to believe should be similar to that of a student interacting with them. But if a person does not realize that he or she is in a front stage performance or has not learned normative social interaction behaviors called upon for the role, there will be a resultant clash between the expected and the actual.

For many students today, the separation between front and backstage has eroded. Students have not been taught the front stage social roles that many academics desire and expect. Whereas academics expect some level of respect for their positions and/or titles, students do not show much deference to either. For instance, just because someone has the designation of Doctor attached to the front of his or her name does not impress students much. Being a PhD does not place much front stage pressure to conform to behavioral models including an automatic show of respect for our educational labels. This is a learned indifference that we have some responsibility for by the way.

When educational attire went from suits, shirts and ties for men and dresses for female teachers, this shift in costume signaled a change in the way students were top address educators. The formal attire was a sign that the teachers were playing a formal role. It stated that we are dressed this way to signal to you that we are in our official front stage roles and you should be too. Just as a costume change in a play lets the audience knows that the character is in a different mood or role so the shift from formal to informal attire sent a message to the audience – students.

The change to more informal, more relaxed dress how one might away from the classroom backstage type of attire was a clear statement that the roles had shifted. The attempt to forge a less formal and more relaxed atmosphere worked. Perhaps too well because it also took away the pressures to perform in socially prescribed front stage roles and behaviors. That carried over to higher education in which the dress can be even more backstage than in K-12. Over time, the informal roles helped erase the academic lines between front and back stage roles. As a result, many of their communications with faculty and others on a campus are backstage behaviors which are similar to those they might use with friends. The college personnel might be using more front stage communication modes so there will inevitably be a clash which will be interpreted by the college member as a lack of respect when it is a lack of communication alignment.

If one realizes that what is occurring is a clash of front stage backstage expectations. It may become easier to deal with the clash. If one can understand the clash of communicating modes not as a statement of disrespect but what it really is - the variance in communication styles between generations. It should also be easier to predict the clash and it is hoped, not be taken aback by it nor simply believe the student is not being respectful and not deserving of one’s attention and help.

How to Cope and Overcome Irritated and Irritating Students
1. Smiling but do not overdo it. There are psychological and physical values to smiling at an irritated student. (Actually we should smile at everyone and even when there is no one there.) Smiling affects mirror neurons in the limbic system which is in the most primitive part of the brain. This is where the fight or flight response takes place. To keep it simple, when we smile, we tell another person that we do not plan to attack. The smile also turns mirror neurons on in the other person. They reflect the smile within the person to affect emotions that start to tell the person to relax and feel happier.

However when one person is angry and the other smiles too strongly, that can possibly trigger a negative response. An emotional reflection that “this other person is too happy while I am angry. Is that smile mocking me?” A fun if overdone example of this can be seen in a sequence from the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Steve Martin has been dropped off by a car rental company at a car that is not there. He has to walk back to the counter through snow, slush and moving airplanes. When he gets there, the receptionist is on the phone having an inane Thanksgiving dinner planning session with someone. The combination of the no car and then her breaking most every customer service rule by making Steve Martin wait while she giggles on inflames him. When she finally gets off the phone, she turns to martin with an exaggerated, phony smile on her face. She asks the usual but wrong question” Welcome to Marathon, May I help you?’ His response “You can start by wiping that f’---ing dumb ass smile off your f---ing rosy cheeks”.

A too energetic and/or faked smile will be like the proverbial red flag in front of an angry bull. It’ll just make the student charge. A smile is correct and called for but it needs to be an empathetic one. A simple, small smile that says “I see you’re upset and I WILL try to help.” The smile you would use with one of your children with a problem. Students are someone’s children and will respond to this smile.

2. Give and Name- Get a Name This is a technique that asks you to do exactly what it says. You provide an irritated student your name and ask her his or hers. “Hi. I’m ________. And you are?” When you exchange names you create a small community of people who know one another. That makes it less likely the irritation will be brought into the discussion. Remember, the student is not irritated at you but the institution. The anonymous amorphous “COLLEGE”. It is also harder for a student to be angry at someone her or she knows by name.

3. Apologize This is a lesson that we learned from people like Captain Kangaroo on TV as discussed in much greater length in the chapter How To’sGood Morning Captain” in The Power of Retention. Captain Kangaroo taught us to use manners and be polite. One of the things we could learn is how to simply say “I’m sorry”. If for example, he thought Bunny Rabbit had played yet another trick but he was wrong, he would simply say “I’m sorry I thought it was you Bunny Rabbit. I was wrong.”

A simple statement of apology to a student can go a long way even if you are not at fault. Even if you had nothing to do with the situation. Often what the student is looking for is to have someone recognize that he or she is upset and may not be to blame. To hear someone accept the situation with a simple apology rather than turfing him to the next office can work wonders.

The apology does not have to be an acceptance of error or wrong either. Greeting an irritated student with “I see you are upset. I’m sorry for whatever caused it. How may I help you?” Or “Gee, I’m sorry something has caused you to be upset…” or “I’m sorry if it’s something someone at the school did to get you upset….”

The irritated student will not be expecting someone to accept any level of possible accountability. By saying sorry, you sort of accept some accountability not for you but for the student’s being upset. You are not admitting guilt or a wrong has been committed if you say “sorry you have been made so upset”. But you will be recognizing the student is emotionally stressed and the apology will start to lower the stress levels and in turn the resultant anger.

Sometimes the student’s response will surprise you. It may range from “well thanks, but you didn’t do it” to “about d—n time someone realized I was upset. Than you.”

4. Compliments This might strike you as the most odd thing you’ve read but believe me it works. When a student is approaching you, your desk or window in an irritated state one thing you want to do is to interrupt the flow of adrenalin flowing through the body that reinforces the anger. The adrenalin affects the limbic system’s fight or flight decision. The hormone pushes blood into the muscles to prepare for a fight or flight. The next set of signals the limbic system receives will determine the decision.

So the objective is to interrupt and lower the stress level and thus the adrenalin flow. What can cause that to happen most readily is to introduce a pleasurable event into the situation. A simple pleasure? Receiving a compliment!

Yes it may seem contrived or phony but so what? You will need not to encounter angry students or your own adrenalin level increases, providing stress that makes your heart pump faster. Blood pressure rises. Other hormones like cortisol are released adding physical and psychological stress that can and will cause physical weakening and make you more susceptible to illness and other health problems. So if you need to give a fallacious compliment to keep you and the student healthier, do it.

Here’s an example. “Hi, I’m _____ Just want to say that I like your tee shirt, blouse, hair, glasses, jeans, backpack...” whatever seems to strike your eye quickly. Say it casually too so it will sound less contrived. Then as the student’s anger is interrupted you can even follow it up with a normal secondary question such as “Where did you get the tee, blouse, glasses….”

The student will most often just tell you where the tee was bought or even stop and think about it. This absolutely interrupts the flow of stress and anger and opens up a much more comfortable and congenial path for you to then ask how you may help.

These four techniques are tried and true. Try them and you might just feel that this job is worth the short hours and high pay.

If this makes sense to you, get the full book The Power of Retention by Dr. Neal Raisman from which part of this article is drawn.
Looking for a speaker for you school, contact Dr. Raisman today at