Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gordon Gee's Bowtie and the Ties That Will Bind Them into Returning

Right now as I write and you read, one of your students considering whether or not to return to your school. Away from the place and noisy dorm or daily commute. With old friends from high school who go to other schools. In an extremely familiar bedroom. The bed that welcomed her every night. The mattress broken in to accept body shape just perfectly. Breakfast on the table. No assignments to do or skip. No quizzes other than old friends with only one question “what to do tonight?” The only test is “Do I want to go back to that place?”

And right now you have an opportunity to help provide an answer to that question and retain some students who might answer that question with a quiet “no”.

Stop for a second and think about images and feelings that unite the statements above. Familiarity. Comfort. Home. Friends. Attachment. All images of fitting in. Of belonging. .

This is a time when student’s determine if he or she “fits in” at your school. “Do I feel as if I have a place at the bar?” (That’s an allusion to Principle 1 of the15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service.(For a copy, click here and request.)

Sure the students have been dealing with that all along but now, the deliberation intensifies. Has the student made friends or just acquaintances? Roomies or roommates? Where do I feel as if I fit in? Am I appreciated there? Wanted there?

That’s the key here. “Do I feel like people at my school want me there? Have they shown anything that indicates I am at least an valued or important person to them?”

Feeling Important - a key customer service concept.
Have you shown your students they are important to you? The actual goal is to make every student feel as if he or she is the most important person at the college. That no other student is as significant and they all are essential. This may indeed be one of the key concepts of success.

Okay. How do we do that? I will provide two ways. One longer term and the other immediate.

The longer term will build the sense of meaningful community at the school.

The second will, and I guarantee this, will save some students from deciding to quit or transfer during Holiday Break.

A Longer term Way of Building Students’ Sense of Importance
I used to wonder why Gordon Gee was worth over a million dollars a year to Vanderbilt and why Ohio State University was so thrilled he returned. It seemed to me (and actually still does) that no college president, EVEN ME (though I might be willing to consider it), is worth a million dollars a year. Not even $900,000. $800K. And keep going. It just seems excessive when others at the school are losing jobs to budget cuts and adjuncts are living in their cars. Are such high salaries really warranted, or earned? Sure it is a tough job. But it is the same tough job at more or less money. Money does not make the job any easier but it sure as hell does make some people feel as if they are worth all that money. As if they somehow are a campus treasure and should be treated as such. Others would do the job for less because they believe in the calling, president as a vocation. The others? President as Louis XIV. We read about them in the Chronicle and on-line even at places like Oral Roberts U where one would think there would be a higher calling than excessive expenditures.

Okay. President Gordon Gee. What he does is create community at the school and the community. He gets out and about the campus. Makes certain he is seen and contacted by students. He waves to students and others on campus and makes certain he is visible in the general community. And to be certain he is noticed, he has branded himself with a bow tie. Yes. A bow tie. He always wears a bow tie that he ties himself. And what’s more, he lets everyone know about the bow tie. (I used to wear bright, vivid ties that made people see them and comment on them and thus recognize me by the ties quite often. Never made that kind of money though.)

That is an important part of the bow tie. Not that Dr. Gee wears it but he makes sure everyone knows he wears it. That bow tie helps make him even more visible. When people see a bow tie-wearing man on the OSU campus, they almost always associate it with Gordon Gee. And when that man wearing the bow tie waves at you or smiles your way or says hello, you have been greeted by the President of the University. Even if it isn’t him sometimes but the effect is the same. (He could even set up some kind of bow tie squad of Gee-look-alikes and have them walk around wearing bow ties and waving. People would think he is everywhere!)

“The President waved at ME. I am important.”

“He’s out there among us. We must be important.”

Gee makes students, and others feel they are appreciated and noticed on campus from the top of the University. And if he cares, everyone else must….The whole university cares. And it is a very large one too. One that can, and must for many students, feel too large and impersonal. But a wave from that guy with the bow tie can make it seem small, cozy and personal. Gee has a way similar to Bill Clinton that makes whomever he is with feel or smiling at feel as if they are important. And that is key to retention. Making students, and all member of the campus community feel they are valued.=

Get Out of Your Office and Get on Campus
I am not saying you need to wear a bow tie. No, not necessarily. What I am saying is that to boost retention if you are a president, you need to be visible and known to students. Get out of the office and on campus. And what is true for the president is equally true for everyone else. Getting out of the office and saying hello to students should be a part of the job. Be out on campus, being seen, greeting students, saying hello and talking with the college community EVERYDAY AND EVERYWAY. Go to the cafeteria. Get a cup of coffee and join a group of students. Let them know who you are and simply ask them how it’s going or some such broad “I care” question. Pass out your business cards. Do what Dean Schaar did. Imagine what the campus atmosphere would be like if everyone in the school spent part of his or her day saying hello, talking to students and getting to know them and them you?

“But,” The president of the school (and others) says “they’ll call me and I’m busy. I won’t get my work done. I’ve got to figure out how to fix the budget for the rest of the year.” Two things here. Not much is more important than retaining students. Just ask schools in trouble or for that matter, what’s second term/semester enrollment look lie? Budget going to hold? Oh, attrition higher than projected? Catch any irony here anyone?

I will bet that any school that had its people out getting out and getting known will increase retention and reduce student/staff problems, stress and complaints. Anyone who wishes to take me up on this bet or learn how it can be done, click here and let me know. I’ll do what I can to help without any cost to you to help get it done as my Chrismachanukwansakah present to you.

Guaranteed Short Term Success
Obtain a list of all students who are on the cusp. (Born in the rising sign of anxiety and not sure about returning and the dropping out of school sign for all the astrologer types out there). Oh where to get the list?

Just go to your retention office….Don’t have one. Not good but you can email your retention officer and ask for…. No retention officer? Retention not an issue on your campus I guess. No drops? Alright, well then at least contact your student services office…Ahhhm downsized that a bit? Students not important on your campus? Then what the heck is?

Well, somehow get a list of students who are on the edge. Low grades. Late registration. No registration. Money not down for second semester. Advisors report they have been talking about leaving. And so on. Follow the instructions in the article Greatest Gift of All - Saving Enrollment. And then add to that.

For those students you couldn’t reach, send them a personal note. Use small engraved cards that one might use to invite someone to an affair. They can be obtained quickly at one of many office supply stores or you can even make them yourself. But the engraved, raised lettering of your name and title make for a more impressive impact.

All you need to handwrite inside is a short message such as

Missed you when I called. I do hope I will see you on campus nest semesters. It is students such as yourself that make this college what it is and give it and my work meaning. We depend on you. If I can help don’t hesitate to contact me. In fact, here is my direct email address. Hope to hear from you.
Or something hyperbolic like that. These statements work. They reach to emotion not intellect. It is emotion functioning at a limbic flee or fight level that makes the decision so appeal to it.

Students will respond. And when they show the card to their parents as most of them will if the parent didn’t already open it to see what was in it, the parents will become your allies in pushing the student to return. They will appreciate that you are intereste3d in their son or daughter. That is exactly what they wish to now right now. The card will also make the parents like you and the school whether you make close to a million or don’t even wear a bow tie.

And what’s more. You will be keeping a student on track to meet his or her goals. Plus you will feel better about what you do and the school. Just as writing this piece for you has snapped me out of my personal funk. That is an even greater set of rewards.

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits; workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. AcademicMAPS prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 413.219.6939

Monday, December 10, 2007

Q+A - Handling Faculty who Destroy Enrollment

How have you handled an instructor that habitually starts a semester with 25 students and ends up with 7?

This question came up after a 11/12/07 Magna video seminar on Boosting Enrollment and Retention through Customer Service. The question also came up during the seminar but time did not permit for a longer response. So here is a more complete consideration of the question. The response and the full seminar can be obtained through Magna if you wish.)

The situation can be a tricky one considering interpretations (usually by weak teachers) that academic freedom can mean that some faculty can be insufferable bastards to students, colleagues and certainly administrators. Moreover, faculty too often will take an approach that they may really dislike a colleague, they must protect his or her right to be miserable. To do otherwise might be taken as not collegial, not academic, not my job. BTW, this is not necessarily different among administrators whose job it is to deal with any and every person who treats students and colleagues poorly. Administrators do not always accept the responsibility. It is everyone’s’ job to demand civility and initial respect toward one and all and especially for our clients, the students.

Customer Service Principle 8 makes it clear that so called “collegiality” which is an excuse for not getting involved is not the correct approach when students are hurt.

8. Just because someone else did a dis-service or harm

does not relieve you of correcting the injury.

We have a responsibility to be a part of the correction no matter if we are faculty, administration or staff. But since the question was posed by an administrator, I will provide the appropriate point of view and action.

Assuming the instructor is tenured and you have a union to contend with
Begin by consulting the instructor’s evaluations from students, current and past. Sure he or she will not have many now or in most class sections because 18 have already quit from most every class. But the remaining seven may have some hints or even outright direction. Keep in mind however that the remaining students might be so intimidated that their written comments could be compromised. Though the studies since John Centra in the 80’s show that if students feel secure in their anonymity, their evaluations can be quite valid.

Look for any comments that might help clarify and if necessary build the case for scaring students off or treating them so poorly that they leave. Compare the evaluations to other faculty teaching the same course or who have taught the course in the past.

Compile the past history of drops for this professor in this and all courses. Compare the drop patterns of this professor to those of others who have taught the same course or courses to make determine if the drop pattern is an anomaly for the professor or in comparison to colleagues. What needs to be established is if there is a significant variance from the norm for this instructor in this section. It may be found that this professor has retention problems in all his or her classes. That’s an even bigger problem. If there is a pattern that helps build your case for change.

I make an assumption here based on my studies and experience that this is a required course such as composition in which the fewer students, the less grading and work. I did have to handle a similar situation when i was Dean of Liberal Arts at a college. The professor was threatening the students with low grades just to lower his workload.

Keep in mind that the instructor will likely use the old dodge of “I happen to have high standards and the students left because they …”

  1. couldn’t cut it;
  2. didn’t want to do the work;
  3. were afraid of low grades
  4. were imbeciles who did not recognize my greatness
  5. should not have been in the class in the first place
  6. not college material and the admission people do a crappy job
  7. need to weed out those who shouldn’t be here
  8. I am too good for them and they just could not keep up
  9. all of the above.
  10. And , I am really a self-centered ass who never should have gone into teaching but I thought it would be easy which it isn’t and I do not wish to work that hard so maybe I will just become an administrator like you who does nothing but east bob-bons all day, or so I believe and besides, I am active in the union and always act in a disagreeable manner in faculty and other meetings just because I can.”

You should also interview students who dropped from the class and past classes to hear from them why they left. BTW, you must keep an open mind during the inquiry. It may just be a huge coincidence….. All eighteen may just have had their hours changes at work each and every semester or term. (Okay so those sorts of coincidences are like the disappearance of Sweeny Todd customers and the appearance of oddly tasting meat cakes in a time of a meat shortage. Good musical by the way and it may have some solutions to how to rid oneself of teachers who scare off students with poor to horrible customer service.) The students who dropped can help you understand and if called for, build your case.

Work with the Union
The union will need to defend this professor even if they agree he or she is a disgrace to the faculty and hurts people. That is their job and are required to defend. They also may wish to see the person fall into a deep hole in the ground and be assigned to late registration at Hades U for eternity but it is their legal and ethical responsibility to defend the individual. This is an issue that more people need to understand. Unions can also be reasonable if confronted with evidence so they have some wiggle room but may not feel at all comfortable being public with their agreement. Behind the scenes, another story so do all you can to explain the situation and provide them data. Keep in kind also that the union folks are also colleagues of the professor and may also be rather disgusted by his behavior but cannot indicate that in public. They can support your position and help persuade the professor that it is in his best interests to work with you on a solution though.

To take action with possible union support., as I was able to do when a Dean, you will need to be able to show that students left because the instructor is:

  1. a mean S.O.B. who should not be in a classroom
  2. a miserable teacher
  3. disrespectful of students
  4. has poor to horrible people skills
  5. forgets the students are human and clients of the school
  6. deliberately scaring students to decrease the workload
  7. embarrassing the faculty
  8. all of the above.

Consult the contract on the issues of professional training, on unprofessional conduct and progressive discipline. Make certain what the contract allows for in altering professional and pedagogical behavior and /or disciplining the professor. Check your interpretation with the HR person to avoid legal action through a mis-application of contract language.

When the case is built, consult with the union or whatever grievance system you have. Provide them the information you have collected to establish that the instructor needs assistance to change his or her ways. Let them know that changes must be made through progressive discipline (if called for in the contract, past practice or an HR person who wants to keep you and the school from being sued).

Next, after providing progressive discipline, meet with the instructor (and union or grievance) rep and present the situation, the supporting materials and the choices. By the way, always have another administrator with you as a witness to the conversation in case it is needed later. Present the situation, the potential actions and the possible solution. With a little luck, the professor will buy into the solution. If not, and you can make the assignment, assign him or her to the course of action developed and monitor progress.

A course of action should have been developed and put in writing depending on why the numbers dropped so drastically and what contractual remedies are allowed. If it is that he or she has poor teaching skills, then it may be possible to assign the professor to substitute some coursework on pedagogy for some of the teaching load or in addition to the normal teaching load. (Some of it depends on how much you wish to reform and keep the person.) If the instructor is just being an SOB, then it must be made clear that this behavior is not acceptable and perhaps a course in interpersonal communication or counseling is called for. Or perhaps this is the start of progressive discipline that could lead to re-assignment or even dismissal.

Should it be that the teacher does not realize that students are clients and deserve being valued and treated with respect and value, send him or her to one of my training sessions or sign him or her up for personal coaching with me. Okay, maybe I was drumming up business but it is a consideration. I can recommend other coaches who work with me too. At least, have them learn from someone about academic customer service and learn how to practice it.

If the person is not tenured, it makes the above much easier. If you wish to keep the professor, provide a simple choice. Accept the course of action, resign or be let go. If the person is not someone you have reason to want to keep, notify whom you must and do not renew a contract.

Granted, this is a bit general. It does not focus on any particular situation and real situations can often be much stickier and complicated. So, if you or anyone else has any additional questions, clarifications and help on an individual situation, get in touch by clicking here. I’ll do what I can to help. If you wish to add or propose other courses of action, please write in and we will post them

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits; workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. AcademicMAPS prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 413.219.6939

Monday, November 26, 2007

Strengthening the Arms. Legs and Organs of the Collegiate Body

Orwell’s proposition ten in Animal Farm with Snowball’s amendment, “All animals are created equal – but some are more equal than others” is alive and well today. Probably right at your campus!

As a customer service consultant, I have found the following to be rules of behavior at most every college and university.

The people who do the most primary customer service contact work
  • get the least amount of training at the school
  • get the lowest pay although great responsibility
  • need the most resources to do their work often get the fewest resources
  • as well as the least adequate, often oldest equipment.
  • are key to the institution’s success get the least recognition for their work,
  • are the ones who also receive the smallest amount of concern for their happiness.

They also have a primary responsibility for customer service, enrollment and retention. They are often the ones who have first contact with students as well as the most recurring interactions outside of the classroom. They are also the people who serve everyone else at the institution and therefore are among the most important people at the school.

We are talking about the staff. The people who come to the college every day, greet and meet students, take care of their primary needs from registration and billing to eating and sleeping. The people who solve or cause student happiness and/or distress. The people who can make or break an institution’s enrollment and retention numbers. The people whose love or hate of their jobs will make your job a delight or living hell.

Staff at colleges are in a arduous role. They are among the hardest working people at the college and, except for adjunct faculty, the lowest paid. Faculty have numerous rights, privileges and perks that should make them feel valued, but too often make too many them act imperious to the staff. Faculty and some administrators can see the college and the staff as if they were there for them. Since so many administrators come from the faculty, they too often have not learned how to work well with staff.

And yet, the staff are most often overlooked or simply taken for granted at colleges and universities. Granted, it may be true that the faculty are “the heart of the college” as I have been told many times. But without the arms, legs and vital organs of the staff, the heart is a dead, lifeless piece of offal within the body of the school.

Overworked, underpaid and under-recognized staff have always been those who do the work to make others’ lives easier. The are the front line service providers to students as well. They are also the ones who keep the institution moving. Try a couple days without them and see what happens. Not a pretty sight. They end up doing the same essential work day after day for which they gain little status or real recognition. That can easily become tedious and unrewarding.

A depressed staff leads inevitably to weak, apathetic, even poor customer service. Yet, most colleges do little to either formally or informally recognize and show staff members that they are valued as individuals and professionals. Certainly some colleges have a program to “recognize” a staff member or two for contributions over many years. Maybe a special parking space for a week or a plaque at pre-graduation ceremonies. but these do not address the day-to-day feelings of inequality in recognition, perks and pay that lead to staff malaise.

Customer service audits I have done for colleges found that a great many customer service issues have their have roots in staff malaise. People who feel unappreciated, over worked and on the periphery of an organization do not feel a part of it. It has been found that staff do feel frustrated, unrecognized and discouraged that their hard work goes unacknowledged while others who they feel do far less, claim the glory and recognition.

Colleges need to establish a partner relationship with staff, their significant internal customers. One of the critical aspects of establishing a partnership relationship is including everyone on the team in the flow of information. In academia this is extremely important since the coin of the realm is information. Generally, staff are not included in the information flow and are thus left outside of the partnership. They are not seen in their singularly important role with students. In most every case, staff members who answer telephones, greet people at desks, man the registration and bursars windows, etc. are the real point of contact between student and college. Yet, they are so often the last to know about changes in college policies, curricula, and other information that affects their interactions with students.

Okay, how to get staff in the loop. Start with involving them on college committees – and not as secretaries. Staff often know the college better than anyone else. Their work touches every aspect, every form, and every policy, just about everything at the college. They have a massive amount of real information and advice to bring to the table. For example, at one college, it was taking so long to register a student that many were simply walking out the door. When I called higher level administrators together, they suggested they would study it and get back. In other words, they did not have an answer.

So I assembled a group of staff people who worked in the enrollment/registration process. Within an hour we had identified poorly written and redundant forms and activities, forms and instructions, unnecessary information being requested, poor staff assignment practices that slowed things down and conflicting rules and directives. We had also decided what we needed to keep, what could go and rewrote directions. The time and frustration of the registration process was cut by 34% starting the next day. Staff began to feel as if they really were a part of the college with something to contribute. Customer service also improved overnight.

Simple lesson. Staff are people with extreme value and ability.

They need to be recognized for what they do – and do well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How Many Students Does It Take to Put in a Class?

The Real Cost of Class Sections

Imagine for a moment that you were in charge of an affair for hundreds of people. You made arrangements with the caterers months ago. They had given you a list of food you could choose from. You chose it. Put down a deposit. Sent out invitations so people could attend. Chose all the necessary accouterments and all the arrangements. Took off a few days from work to be able to attend. Bought the guest books. Prepared fully. Then a few days before the affair, the caterer called and said that it was canceled because there were not enough guests to make it worthwhile. Sorry! Would you be upset? Likely so. Mad enough to spit and quit! Never use that caterer again.

Your school is that caterer most every semester, quarter and/or term when we cancel classes after registering students into them.

One of the greatest dis-services we provide students is during the scheduling of classes. Well, actually the non or re-scheduling of classes. Even more accurately, the canceling of classes during the last week or two prior to the start of classes.

We in higher education show absolutely no real concern for our students and the serfs we employ as adjuncts (more on this another time and how it effects service) when we decide to cancel a section late in the game. And we do this so very often. We have a very bad habit of waiting until the last week or two then determining that there aren’t enough students in section 8 so “off with its head! Cancel it. Screw up the lives and schedules of the students’ who registered for section 8. So what if they registered months ago and planned their lives and schedules (academic and personal) around the promised section. So what if they planned their work around the sections they chose and we let them believe they would have right up until now. If they have to choose between work and non-intellectual stuff like food and paying for tuition, they should realize what comes first! Our convenience and poor planning!! And if they don’t like it they should just quit their job and……. What’s that? They did quit. Not the job. School. Well, we were right to cancel their section. They really aren’t dedicated to learning enough to change their entire schedule, their life, job, arrangements with others, and all the things we were equally pissed about when we were students.”

Right! Just because we made an offer to them which they accepted and put down money for, that doesn’t mean we have a real contract because this is not the real world. Oh no. Don’t start with me on that. It isn’t. In the real world when you make an offer that is accepted and money passes hands, paperwork is filed that is an actionable contract. And in the real world, the one who breaks the contract is liable often for real money, or at least for some penalty. But in our world, it is the client who feels the pain and we wonder why they are angry and dropping out to go to another restaurant…uhhh school.

Most of the time, colleges and universities decide to cut a section for “fiscal reasons.” They believe there aren’t enough students in the section to make it fiscally reasonable. Colleges and universities just cut back on the number of course sections offered and then cull out sections with small numbers to save on the budget. They think that if they do not teach a low enrollment section, they will save money. Not really so as we’ll discuss below. Not simply because the calculations are wrong but because losing a student because of a cut section is just poor money management.

How many Students Does it Take to
Keep the Lights On?
Plus a definition of adjuncts

“Ten. Eight or nine is a maybe to keep the light on but only if the faculty member is full-time.”

For some reason, perhaps academic tradition, colleges and universities often use the number 10 as the required number of students enrolled in a section by a certain date to let a class go forward. That in itself befuddles fiscal and staffing realities.

Consider that the average number of adjuncts (i.e. part time indentured servants who get very low pay and no benefits. At least Wal-Mart gives its serfs a staff discount and $4 generic drugs and you don’t need advanced degrees to work there…) teaching course sections in the average college or university has risen to somewhere between 50% to 64% and could be more if figured by individual departments. That’s the number of adjuncts by the way, not the percentage of courses taught by them. That number is not available but could run as high as 75% considering some will teach as many sections as one section below full-time teaching loads, reductions in loads and such. And though I do not have but anecdotal information, it seems most of the introductory courses and required courses not taught by the newly hired junior, non-tenured, full-time faculty are taught either by adjuncts or T.A’s, i.e. part-time grad students who get tuition reduction and sometimes some pay too. So the odds are quite good that a course section especially required or introductory courses will be taught by a low-paid adjunct or T.A. How low paid? As low as possible. When $3,400 a section is like a princely sum. At $3,400 a section, an adjunct teaching 3 sections can make as much as $10,200 a semester!! Times two semesters that’s as much as $20,400 a year. There are hotel maids that don’t make that much though they do get tips which adjuncts don’t.

Now, I don’t mention the high pay of adjuncts alongside of the employment demands of advanced degrees for which many adjuncts are still paying off loans strictly for political reasons. No, that would be wrong! (Well, maybe not.) I bring this forward as part of a larger customer service point about the fiscal truths about canceling sections and pushing students to think very negatively about your college or actually quit. By the way, there have been many students who believe last minute class cancellations and bad advising are two methods used by schools to make them go additional semesters so they can make more tuition money. That’s absurd. We aren’t quite bright enough to do that as part of a business model. And I actually believe we do have more ethics and morals than to do that. We just do not have the right business thinking.

The Real Cost of Sections

All the above is to also question whether or not students are receiving the most important customer service of good teachers who are dedicated to their learning and available to assist them when they need help. Maybe not. But 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 "2006-07 College Costs: Keep Rising Prices in Perspective" the average tuition costs were as follows:

Four-year private $22,218
Four-year public $5,836
Two-year public $2,272.

Now let’s assume that the average student takes 4 courses. So the four-year private student pays $5,554.50 per course; four-year public $1459 per course and two-year public $558 per course in tuition. 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 paying field even, we’ll just figure tuition.

Now, consider that the better 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 6 students in the section to break even; a four-year public college or university would call for 2.3 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. You can of course really figure the particular break-even at your institution as follows:

RPC = Tuition per student (revenue per student percourse) 4

Cost of instructor per section = NUMBER OF STUDENTS

If a school can break even in the teaching of a course, it should always offer the section. As a customer service to students and as a retention service to itself. A canceled section loses students due their accurate perception of customer non-service and indifference to their needs by the school. The student realizes he or she is not really important to the school. The college loses because students will drop out when courses are not available. Though universities may think they save money when they cancel an under subscribed section, when one looks at the formulas above that belief is often proven untrue. The institution may very well either break even or make some money. Yes, we all know that most colleges are not into it to make money but a fund balance never hurts. And those that are for-profit, why lose revenue and EBITA?

Why cancel sections students need to progress to graduation and lose students we all need to make revenue to run the college? Especially when there is lost? Except when you cancel sections for no good reason.

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits; workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. AcademicMAPS prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 413.219.6939

Comment: The above formula shows very little understanding of how colleges collect apportionment, at least how many public institutions are paid. For example, two-year public institutions in California don't collect tuition (they collect fees) for themselves, but send this revenue to the state. They are, in turn, paid per full-time equivalent student. This complicates the cost/revenue formula considerably. Also, student fees collected amount to $20/unit, amounting to $60 per course for the average 6 unit class. Not that this is typical, but the CA community college system is the largest in the country.

Comment: This comment came in but for some reason did not post. So I placed it in so people could read it. The comment is interesting but I must disagree with the first line since the writer shows how the formula to figure cost per class does work in California too. All one does it take the revenue per student from the State plus fees and use that as the tuition amount. In fact, for some schools the numbers are a bit off because I only used tuition and they get tuition and state support.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

10 Steps To Better Customer Service You Can Start Today

As part of the marketing for a video web seminar Boosting Enrollment and Retention Through Customer Service on November 12 ,,2007 I did for Magna Publications, they sent me the following 3 questions. They are fairly common and I thought the answers might be helpful as well as the list of 10 Things You Can Start Today to Improve Customer Service on Your Campus. (I have been told copies of the seminar on dvd are available from Magna.)

1. About how many of the 150 colleges that you’ve worked with have struggled to provide adequate customer service?
2. Is providing customer service on a college campus different from providing customer service at a mall or in a corporation?
3. Can you give us one example of something every campus could do to improve its customer service?

Here is my response along with the Ten Steps You Can Start Today to Improve Customer Service on Your Campus. I’ll be writing on each in the next week or two.

My Summary Response

Of the 151 schools, colleges and universities I have worked with since 1999, approximately 150 have struggled with customer service. The other school just gave up and decided that losing enrollment and employees was inevitable. For them it was. They did not care about customer service.

Students not Customers - More like Patients

The struggle begins with the very idea of customer service for most colleges. The term is one that academic communities feel is wrong for them. “Students aren’t customers after all” is a phrase I hear quite often. And there may be some truth to that since students are not customers but more like our clients. Clients are actually different from customers. A customer is an individual who is interested in making a purchase and then moving on. A client is seeking improvement and enhancement or repair so they can move on. Sort of like when a patient sees a doctor. And in education we are really in the role of doctor (PhD or not). Our students are our patients/clients coming to us to improve their intellectual and occupational health.

And like some doctors who view their patients as cases and income, some schools see students as people who need to be taught so they can receive the revenue they need to be able to do what they really care about. These schools struggle not only with customer service but with retention, revenue and fund raising. The indifferent, supercilious, doctor ends up spending too much time and money on both malpractice suits and attracting new patients. Schools do too. Colleges and universities that struggle rather than embrace academic customer services spend a major amount of time and money recruiting replacement students and employees as well as the “morale malaise” rather than meting the mission and goals of the institution.

Mickey U?
There are some schools that try to engage the campus in customer service as defined by Disney, Enterprise, Starbucks, or another corporate entity. They are finally and most unfortunately doomed to disappointment. This is because though they can make some good service and courtesy adjustments the reality is that though some of our characters could pass for Goofy, Donald or even Mickey or Cinderella, a college is finally a different sort of Futureland. Academia may indeed be a wonderland but not one in which our clients just come for a week of fun and rides or a store in which students are just interested in buying a pair of shoes and leaving.

A retail store or hospitality service provider serves its customers for a short period of time and for a limited purpose. At a Disney for instance, a customer is there to get away from reality and just enjoy oneself for a day to a week. Their goals are narrow and simple. Make me smile. Make me forget work, reality and my cares. Help me escape my life.

A student attends a college for almost opposite reasons. The goals are broad and long-term. They include engaging reality and learning about it. They are in a university or school to embrace a goal of career, a place in the real world. Students seek not to be made to smile and be happy all the time but to be challenged with ideas and intellectual stress that might cause angst and discomfort that will allow them to engage the world. Sure they wish to enjoy their years of study and customer service like smiling and providing good directions can help. But finally it is the preparation for the world outside of academia that is the real client service we provide. And our client service needs to be directed to that goal and our higher education world.

Academic Customer Service
As for retail customer service, attending a college is not at all like buying a pair of jeans. When someone buys jeans, he or she has a singular objective to accomplish. Get a pair of jeans and leave. One does not buy a zipper, pick out denim, choose buttons, stitch or hem style and level of pre-wear then take it all home to put it together. No. You go to a store, look at what is provided, choose a pair, pay for them and leave. It is easy to be nice to a person who is just picking out a pair of jeans, bringing it to your register and leaving. “Thank you very much. Have a nice day”. In college, students have to construct the jeans themselves and have to interact with many people and office to get all the pieces needed. Each course is a part of the final pair. Each course is purchased separately over a period of many years. Every day, every class becomes a buying decision. Should I go to classes today? Do I want to buy Algebra today or just skip it? And it is the student’s job to stitch all the course material together to create a final education and future.

10 Steps You Can Start Today to Improve Customer Service on Your Campus
Here are a few things every campus can do to improve its customer service very quickly.

  1. Use the 15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service. Don’t just put them on the wall. Use them. If you would like a copy, click here
  2. Everyday is day 1. Make everyday the first day of classes, a new decision day for students.
  3. Turn your school into Cheers University where everyone knows your name and everyone’s glad you came.
  4. Smile and at least make believe you like students. It sooner or later becomes a reality.
  5. Orient for success. Provide students skills they will need to succeed at the school.
  6. Throw out lifelines. Make sure students know where and how to use help like counselors and advising. Don’t have your own, hire an external group like Student Resource Services to do it.
  7. Do or get a customer service audit of your campus and then make needed changes to improve.
  8. Listen to students and all employees. Not just faculty and administrators.
  9. Make customer service training and recognition a constant on the campus. If you don’t have the capabilities to do it yourself, hire someone. It is cheaper than losing students and/or employees.
  10. Attend seminars, speakers and read about academic customer service on campus then implement the ideas that fit. like Boosting Enrollment and Retention Through Customer Service on 11/12.
AcademicMAPS is pleased to provide the information, research reports and techniques for improving customer service, retention and enrollment through this blog. AcademicMAPS also provides colleges and universities speakers, training, campus audits, customer service surveys, and facilitators to improve the success of schools. Just ask us about what we can and will do for you. or 413.219.6939

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hierarchy of Student Decision Making Step 5- Will I Like it?

This is the final installment on the Hierarchy of Student Decision Making.
Introduction How they Choose click here
Installment 2- Can I Get In?
click here.
Installment 3 - Can I Afford it?
click here
Installment 4 - Can I Graduate? click here
Installment 5 -Can I Get a Job click here

The Hierarchy of Student Decision-Making Step 5

Will I Like It?

When the four other hierarchical steps/decisions are satisfied in one or another way, the final enroll/stay question comes into play. This is a question that is less practical perhaps but becomes the primary concern for students once issues 1-4 are resolved. This decision question - Will I like it?

Colleges and universities almost always make the answer a rather simplistic statement of a fairly complex issue. Most schools boil the enjoy issue down to one of two words – satisfaction and/or enjoyment. And they then implement these through activities the institution provides such as events or spectator sports. The belief is that if students enjoy things, they will be satisfied. But what one person likes or enjoys may not be what another does. What a school does in the belief that “they will enjoy it” often, nah, usually misses the mark by a wide margin.

Is the student satisfied? As it was put so well so many years ago by the Rolling Stones “I can’t get no satisfaction” no matter what I try. Part of the reason is that no one knows what satisfaction really is. And when found, it is quite fleeting. What is satisfying to one is not necessarily satisfying to another. Could it be pleasure? But pleasure too seems so momentary and hedonistic. Like eating a good meal or even making love. When it is being eaten or being made it may be pleasurable but when done… It’s over. Satisfaction? Fleeting at best. Not what one wants to base a service program on but so many will settle for it because it sounds right and there are even surveys that can “measure” it. So maybe satisfaction is a good indicator of….

But to give it its due, satisfaction is an important concept in customer service. We even have it in one of the 15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service. (Click here to request a copy) It’s number 12

12. Satisfaction is not enough and never the goal.

Why not?

I’ll give a personal example. I travel a great deal as I work with schools, colleges, universities and businesses that wish to improve their customer service and success. When I returned home after a ten day trip out, my wife who is a great cook made a fantastic meal. It was an Asian delight. Hot and sour soup. Green onion pancakes. Fried dumplings. Peking pancakes with meat topping and a vegetable stir fry. This was a meal that she had really putchkeyed over; cutting the vegetables, filling the dumplings, sautéing the meat, rolling out the dough and just putting a great deal of work, preparation and emotion into it.

At the end of the meal with the sink full of pots and pans that would need attention, she asked me “How was it? I smiled and said “quite satisfying”.

I have been eating out a bit more than I used to now. (BTW, this is an imagined experience that would be true if it ever happened. Even though I was a college president, even I am not that dumb)

Shouldn’t satisfaction be more long lasting than a great meal anyhow? Well, maybe it really is happiness which we know even less about?

In his book Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment (Henry Holt and Company; 2005) Gregory Berns writes:

Seeking satisfaction is distinct from chasing pleasure. Satisfaction is an emotion that captures the uniquely human need to impart meaning to one’s activities. When you are satisfied, you have found meaning, which I think we all agree is more enduring than pleasure or even happiness…(p.244)

Most schools believe that intercollegiate athletics are a draw; something that will retain students since they enjoy watching sports. But the studies do not support this in most schools. For the football and basketball powerhouses, there is some entertainment value certainly but when one drops below the top tier, the stands are often empty.

Let Them Eat Football
Living in Columbus, OH, it is clear that OSU football is the center of life. When there is a home game, the city is fully animated. It would appear that students love going to a football game. Look at how the Horseshoe fills up completely every game with mostly non-students. Football tickets are for the non-student population. Football is not for the students. It is for the alumni, donors, significant supporters and administrators. In fact, when OSU was playing Florida for the national championship, only 1000 of the 16,000 OSU tickets were set aside for students. Only band members were assured a ticket. The team may have built school pride I suppose but that eroded a bit after the loss. Moreover, there was no satisfaction at all with the team’s performance and loss in the championship. And the retention numbers were not affected. Football is not a true customer service for students or the campus community as the recent testimony before the Knight Commission indicates.

Sports can indeed add to the school’s image and help with recruitment. For instance, when I was Associate Provost at the University of Cincinnati, the basketball team made it into the Final Four. The University president, Joe Steger, said we could cut the marketing budget for the next year. The sport’s success would attract more applications. And he was correct. But it did not have any effect on the retention at the University. When I was the Chancellor of a three-campus career college, I increased the number of intercollegiate sports teams from 4 to 13. Why? Because students wanted to play collegiate sports. It increased enrollment by over 140 students a year. Athletics helped our intake enrollment but did not help us with retaining population in general just as the Bearcats in the Final Four did not help UC retention. Activities like athletics do not add to retention unless the students are on the team, the band, a cheerleader or somehow involved with the team or activity.

The Engaging Feeling of Activity
There is that word activity again. And it is worth stating many times for that is the key to student’s liking or not liking, enjoying or not enjoying their collegiate experience. It is the level of engagement a student feels that really counts, but not as defined by the NSSE which looks at academic engagement alone.

Whether a student will like being at a school and likely stay has to do with how well the individual feels the institution actively engages him or her. Actively here means involving him or her in the institution is a way that makes the student feel valued and significant. That engagement that makes someone feel valuable can be as basic and as very powerful as our Good Academic Customer Service Principle 1


“where everybody knows your name
and they’re awfully glad you came”

Just recall the Cheers TV show for a moment. People who came into the bar were made to feel as if they mattered; as if they had value. The simple act of welcoming Norm by calling out his name made him feel valued and important in the bar. Maybe nowhere else but there, he was NORM! The same is true for students. A school may not have everyone line up and shout out students’ names as they enter a building of course for two reasons. First, most people would feel dumb and awkward doing that. And two, we generally do not learn the names so we would get them wrong. The wrong name. Not a great welcome.

But it would be possible to at least recognize each student and employee/colleague. Not every character on Cheers received the Norm greeting but they all did get a “Hi” or Hello”, ‘Good to see yuh” and the such. Every student can and should be given a “Hi or Good Morning. How are you today?” as we pass them in the halls or on the campus. And then we should actually listen for the response and even react to it. (This is discussed in greater depth.) This simple activity creates engagement and leads to a person feeling a part of the university no matter what size it is. The more hellos from those identified with the college or university, the greater the active imprinting on the student. The result is that students become happier to be at the college and that improves their sense of liking it. They feel a valued part and thus are greatly inclined to stay where they feel appreciated and respected.

Those Who Can Engage - Do
As I have studied all levels and types of schools, another key retention factor comes through. Students who are actually active in the school through activities such as work-study, part-time jobs, band, athletics, newspaper, frats and sororities, volunteering, and clubs tend to like the college more than those who don’t. They are happier. These are all activities that provide the hello as well as an obligation and giving something. The responsibility is important since it ties the student to the activity and the activity to the school. It makes the activity important and in so doing makes the student more important. Even if the part-time job is sweeping a hall, that hall becomes “my hall.”

In fact, providing students part-time jobs to make tuition money is a better way to spend dollars than even scholarships. Scholarships may attract the student at first and help answer hierarchy concern 2 Can I afford it, but the beneficial effect of a scholarship is short-lived. Once in, it is passé. If a school gave some scholarship in the form of part-time work, and even better, part-time work that could relate to major, that investment is one in retention and happiness. Imagine a chem. major helping in a lab. A soc major assisting a sociology prof and so on. These activities would connect the students to the school much more than an initial handout.

In Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) (Hartcourt:2007) Tavris and Aronson discuss the virtuous circles that can create a spiral that starts with a deed that helps another or an organization and increases another’s attachment to the person or organization.

When people do a good deed…they will come to see the beneficiary of their generosity in a warmer light. Their cognition that they went out of their way to do a favor for this person is dissonant with any negative feelings they might have had about him. In effect, after doing the favor, they ask themselves: “Why would I do something nice for a jerk? Therefore , he’s not as big a jerk as I thought he was – as a matter of fact, he is a pretty nice guy who deserves a break.” (p.28)

Students who work at or participate in the university will also feel the institution is a positive place to be.

The truth of this can be seen and heard in what Jeffrey Docking, President of Adrian College in Michigan did to increase enrollment at the school. He added activities such as band, athletics and other co-curricular activities that would attract and retain students. Pres. Docking also did give every activity an enrollment goal which made it important for the coaches for instance to create a Cheers atmosphere in the Division III, no scholarships college. Without scholarships, the coaches had to use personal attachment and customer service to attract students so they could meet their goals. The result, a 91% increase in freshman enrollment that also translated into retention.

While some feared academic standards would suffer, the effect has been the opposite. The freshman class has a higher academic profile, and the percentage of freshmen who returned to second semester jumped from 77 to 93 -- the highest retention rate in the school's history.

Adrian is providing students the opportunity to engage in something they enjoy and the college at the same time. They get something out of playing sports, being in the band, writing the newspaper and so on. They invest in these activities. These activities also engage them in service to the activity and school thus increasing their ties to the college.

So, there is one customer service that colleges can provide the students that will also increase retention and happiness. That is the service of being active in the school and being able to serve it.