Sunday, March 25, 2007

Taxonomical Issue 2 _Can I Afford It?

Issue 2. Can I afford it?

Once the primary concern of can I get in is satisfied, an immediate issue come flying forward. Can I pay for this? Though it will seen m at times that some students seem to think that college should be an extension of high school which was free, most will realize that it costs money to go to school.

Often students who are looking to go to a school will actually not encounter the reality of paying for college until they know if they are admitted. They will have a n idea of costs since most will have looked at schools by some sense of cost banding. A cost band is a grouping in their minds such as high, medium and low costs schools in relation to self-conceived economic means and social connections For example, a student from an affluent neighborhood may assume that any of the top Name Brand schools will be affordable because they live in that affluent area and everyone else seems to be applying to Ivies or name brands. So they apply to schools in an affordable “cost band” that others would see as way out of their reach. At the same time, there is a psychological band that is applied to costs as well. The student from the affluent area would not place a community college into their band for instance since that would carry to high an esteem cost. So the bands are a combination of perceived financial and social cost.

I have found it interesting that in the “can I get in stage” actual costs are secondary to gaining acceptance. The hope springs eternal and “first get in and then we’ll figure it out” attitude is prevalent until acceptance. When the letter comes in welcoming a student to the school, then issue 2 takes complete importance. Reality suddenly comes in the door with the welcoming package. What often doesn’t come with the package is enough help and assistance with financial aid.

Yes, most schools send out some details about financial aid and what the family must do but the information usually confuses the hell out of the potential student and parents. Most all of them do not know what to do really.

COMPLETE THE FAFSA ONLINE. To most people these three words are tantamount to “here is your do it yourself proctoscope kit”. I have never found anyone who has ever found completing the FAFSA either easy or enjoyable. Parents hate them and the college should realize this. I am amazed at how many parents do all they can to not complete the FAFSA, either on line or in hardcopy. It reminds them of doing their taxes for one. Other just do not believe they should have to give the government this information. Still yet others just hate forms.

All they need is one excuse not to complete it and they will leave it “for later” or just never get it done. For instance, I have discovered over the years that there is one bit of information that too often provides parents a perfect excuse not to comp0lete and send it in. And that one bit of information is one that you should make sure is right there for them because it affects you directly. It is the college code number. For some reason, we hide these numbers from students and their families.

Try this, go to your financial aid office and see if the code is posted in an unobstructed, easily noticeable location, or in a somewhat prominent spot or for that matter, anywhere. Odds are pretty good it is not. Yet, without that code, students cannot complete their FAFSA. And if they cannot or do not complete it, who is ultimately hurt? Sure the student, but the school too. Without the financial aid the student might get, he or she is not coming there. All the time, effort and money spent to recruit that student is just lost, as is the chance to provide that student the best education he or she could get anywhere. The faculty loses the chance to fulfill its mission to educate that student.

So get the college code out there. Post it in the office. Print it on the forms. Make sure it can be obtained easily on the financial aid section of the website. Also, help people with the form. Provide counselors who actually call to potential students to offer their aid in completing the form. Create an on-line tutorial for parents to use as they try and complete the form. Offer hybrid workshops that will take a group of parents from the start of the form through to the end. Hybrid? On line and by conference call. Also, provide them at the school. Invite parents in to complete their forms with hands-on assistance.

Make sure you help students and their families answer the question Can I afford it? If they do not believe they can, they won’t EVEN IF THEY COULD.

Do you have a payment plan? A way for normal people to make payments for school over a period of time? Most people get paid weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly yet we want it all at one time. Lump sum. No other major investment people make calls for all the money up front. A house – a mortgage. A car- five year loan. Even a doctor’s bill can be charged and paid out over time. College? No always so.

The hardest thing for people to do in paying a college is to save it all up to make a single payment. Life often gets in the way. Yet, if they can plan for regular payments, college can be affordable.

Many students can afford school but not all at once so provide a payment plan that allows them to be able to pay for school over a semester or year or even longer if possible. There are many ways to do this. Twenty percent down and then monthly payments. Run an in-house plan or let a professional like FACTS Management do it for you. FACTS by the way provides a superior level of customer service for students. Charge for the service or not. There are many ways to do it but do it.

If you cannot make college affordable or at least within reach of affordability, students cannot and will not come to school.

And by the way, financial aid people need to be service-oriented. Most of them are great people, who get worn down by upset students who think that they should get all the money they want. "What do you mean I can't have my money? I applied for it yesterday." But to often colleges do not invest enough time, care and recognition in who they have answering that second question Can I afford it? Colleges hire people for these areas for their financial background or because they were too mean to work for the DMV.

Hire service-oriented people who want to help students and not just make sure all the numbers are in the right column. Get people who care and teach them how to help students get all the money to which they are entitled and qualify for.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Reverse Alchemy Turning Gold into Leaden Enrollment Numbers

Some colleges have discovered the secret to reverse alchemy. These colleges take the golden success of recruiters, marketers, advertisers and enrollment managers and turn it into leaden failure. They turn the gold into lead with some of the worst customer service found anywhere. They are able to take enthusiastic, motivated students whose only goal is to enroll and attend the college and transform them into people who cannot wait to get away from the college.

In fact, twelve percent of enrollments are lost once a student steps onto your campus to enroll and or attend classes. That’s right. Students who have come to your college or university with every intention of being a matriculated student, a precious FTE, are turned away by experiences on your campus as they try to complete the enrollment process. Before they complete the process you lose 12% of your potential enrollment by what is done to them as they are trying to enroll.

And once they do manage to enroll, the college continues its reverse alchemy by tarnishing students with customer service that will forever stain the student’s feelings about the college. What’s worse, these students share their blemished experiences with at least six others just to make sure that the recruiting job remains stressful and demanding.

Colleges are able to work their alchemy from the moment students step onto the campus right through to their stomping out the door mumbling their own incantations, never to return.

An example from Embrace the Oxymoron: Customer Service in Higher Education.(LRP Publications 2002); the first and only book to address the issue of customer service in colleges. This actually occurred just as it appears here.

“A young woman had arrived on campus with her parents. She was all set to enroll at the college. This was obviously a moment of family solidarity and pride at the daughter going to college. She had made up her mind. She would attend this school. The young woman and her parents found their way to the admission’s office. They obtained an application form after waiting in line for over nine minutes. They sat down and the young woman completed the form. She walked up to the “Welcome Desk” and handed it to an unsmiling clerk who sat behind the counter. Then she returned to sit with her parents and wait to see a counselor to choose courses. As a new student, she was required to get an admission’s counselor’s signature before she could register for courses.

After sitting for five minutes, the parents said they would take a walk around the campus while she waited. They returned 35 minutes later, walked up to their daughter. "All set Hon? Let's go."

She informed her parents that she had not seen a counselor yet and was still waiting. The father was appalled and marched right up to the admissions desk. "My daughter has been waiting here for over half-an-hour to see somebody. What’s the deal? Why hasn't she been waited on yet?"

The woman seated behind the desk coldly stared at him, purposefully waiting about 20 seconds (a period of time that would seem like another half hour to an irate customer) before she spoke. Then she said, "There are other people here too. Your daughter is not the only one trying to see a counselor who’s busy doing things. They have other things they have to do besides seeing students. Your daughter's turn will be as soon as her turn comes. There are a few people before her."

"Not anymore," the father said as he motioned to his wife and daughter. "Let's go. You don’t want to go here. For what they charge, they should be jumping to help you."

With that, they left the college.

She did not enroll there.

She went somewhere else.

15 Principles

There are appropriate “incantations” against reverse alchemy. These are the 15 Principles of Good Customer Service. If you’d like to get a free copy, just let me know.

In this case, the following the principles were violated.




“where everybody knows your name

and they’re awfully glad you came”

2. All members of the community must be given courteous,

concerned and prompt attention to their needs and value.

3. Students come before personal or college-focused goals.

Students really are more important than you or I are.

Following the 15 principles can lead to enrollment alchemy that is golden. If the college, or in this case, the admissions desk people, had followed principles, the young woman would have enrolled. She and her parents would have been happy supporters of the college rather than angry ex-customers.

Review the principles with your college. Have workshops to discuss and implement them and you’ll see leaden frowns turn to the brilliance of golden happiness and enrollment/retention success.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Hierarchy of Student Need 1

Over the past two years, we have been interviewing students to listen and better understand what they seek from college. We also sought to hear what motivates them to make their decisions to choose a school or leave it.

There is much we learned from the 624 students. One of the things we came to understand is that there is a hierarchy of student need that guides some of their decision-making in choosing a school, then deciding to stay or leave. These take the form of five questions they consider when looking at a college.

  1. Can I get in?
  2. Can I afford it?
  3. Can I graduate?
  4. Can I get a job? (or get into a good grad school)
  5. Will I enjoy it?

In some ways the questions parallel the organization of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. They proceed from basic issues of necessity and immediacy to considerations of ROI, the future and even an issue of satisfaction. But, the question of a satisfying experience is the last issue for consideration by students. This placement suggests a parallel to Maslow’s self-actualization. It can only be an issue after the very practical survival issues are addressed.

So what does this say to us?

It says that students have a very practical view toward their college experience. And so customer service needs to focus on their concerns and how they see college. They see it, as we already know from the UCLA Freshman Attitudes study, the CIRP, as a means to an end. For students, that end is quite practical. A job. It also says that when we focus too much on trying to make students enjoy their experience, we are not serving them as well as we could.

Yes, they wish to enjoy their time at college but they cannot do that until we serve their other more pressing concerns – paying for it, getting what they need to graduate and finally, an assurance they can get a job or get into a good grad school on the way to a career from their college experience.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"IPod" Webs -Webs for the ME Generation

So how does one market to ME?

The I'll Manage my own Experience thank you very much Generation?

Well, to some extent, you don’t. Not in the old sense of marketing. Not using the old marketing 101, Madison Ave control the image approach. In fact, what needs to be done is to cede much of the control to the audience. Let the potential students manage the experience as they manage their own. Try and make the college a marketing IPod.

That can be done with some of the technology we have today. For example, your college’s web site. Without even looking at it right now I can assert that it is probably killing sales…I mean applications. Your web site was designed by the people at the school for the people at the school and not for potential students. The home page is all cluttered with stuff that make the internal community feel good about but does not respond to the needs or wants of the customer. That by the way is a classic definition of poor customer service. Not listening to the customer and then telling them what they can have and that’s it.

“Your Website Hoovers” (a verb)
Now I know, as you do, that the homepage was a compromise anyhow to try and keep people happy. And the marketing people felt they needed some control too so the Campus of Dreams image comes across because that is how they6 want to see their school. So we end up with the same bland homepage as every one else. In fact, it is so compromised that it could represent any college in America with just a change of the headline name. What is worse, it does not sell to the market.

And the internal pages!!!!!! They are often done by everyone. “Let’s not offend anyone so we will let each department create its own page to make sure it is happy.”

”What about the students? Do they have a say?”

“Huh? On the college’s website?”

Right. Why should they be involved? How about because it is a primary point of contact for them and potential students? Therefore it should speak to them and what they want. Moreover, remember this is a generation that wishes more control itself – not be controlled or given reheated, old marketing to eat or go hungry. They won’t go hungry though. They’ll go somewhere else.

IPod Websites
So Step 1. Ask students what they think of your web and how you could make it better for them. Not just the students you’ve got either. The students who might apply. Go to high schools and get some focus groups going, surveys or get someone to do it all for you with a national audience.


Then, step 2. GIVE UP CONTROL. How about providing an IPod homepage. A homepage that allows the visitor total control over what will be on it. That’s right. A homepage you don’t design but the visitor does. Just as a student decides what he or she wants to download onto an IPod, the student downloads what he wants on your college homepage thereby making it his own. It can be done.

CoreDataCenter (our technology partner) has been working with us to develop a webpage that has a cluster of graphic images with simple captions to allow visitors to assemble their webpage of your school. They get to select the information they want and not what the college wishes to give them (or actually itself). This places the control in the mouse of the visitor.

Granted they still get to choose from images and information that you may provide but you can also open up the image and information to students who can create videos and information for other students.


Not yet, but your students and I will be if you don’t place some trust in them. And in the fact that they can talk to your potential students much, much better than you can and will ever be able to. As for the danger and marketing potential, read the WIRED article “And Now a Word from Our Customers” by Frank Rose in the December 2006 issue. (BTW, if you aren’t reading WIRED, you are missing the boat that has already sailed. A must read for college marketers for certain and most everyone else too if you want to have an inkling what your students are doing, thinking and going to do and think.)

Okay, so here is how what is currently being called LeadWiseWebs™ works.

The potential student comes to your landing page. That was your boring, overly wordy homepage. Clicks on some areas that interest him or her like a graphic or picture of a diploma for academic programs, a dollar sign for tuition costs ,a mob picture for adjunct faculty, or a football helmet for administration decisions………That leads to some other graphic-based choices to click on. For instance, if she clicks on the diploma, that moves to a page of a group of graphics representing the majors. A briefcase for business, an apple for education, a jail cell for criminal justice, and so on. They in turn guide other choices like scholarship information (a hand giving you money maybe). So if a student clicks on the jail cell and also scholarships, only scholarships that relate to CJ majors show up. That eliminates the dreaded list of all the scholarships for left handed nursing majors from Podunk which only turn visitors off and wear them down since they have nothing to do with their interests.

The end result is that LeadWiseWebs™ generates the student’s homepage for the school with just what he or she wants. And since it is an offshoot of our already prize and enrollment-winning Leadwise™ personalized view book generator, everything can be fully personalized with the student’s own information like his name. Then the student can save that homepage and even change or update it later.

This would also be a fantastic portal creator tool too. Ever wonder why students don’t use the portal you created for their use? Because you created it actually for your use. To let students do what you wanted to let students do to make it easier for the school.

Did you know for example, that we found that students would rather have their grades mailed to them than have to go to your portal and get them. That’s why some of them never see their last semester grades and sign up for wrong courses.

But, let students generate the portal they want and they may actually use it.

The college can still maintain full control in the classroom if it wants to. It can also lose more students by doing that as I have written before but let’s face it; academia is a control-focused universe. But as long as we realize that finally it is the students who are in full control of his or her decision to enroll and stay, we will focus on them and work to provide them the customer service they need and deserve.