Thursday, August 30, 2007

The First Step in the Hierarchy- Can I Get In?

This is part 2 of a 6 part discussion on the Hierarchy of Student Decision-Making

The first issue Can I Get In? is of course the most primary and pragmatic of the concerns. After all, if a student can’t gain acceptance to a school, all the other issues are moot. If they cannot be admitted they never have to worry at all about whether they can pay for it or if they will be able to graduate from the school. Not be admitted generally answers these questions by making them rather moot. Therefore, students put the most effort into choosing schools they believe they can gain entry into.

This does not mean they do not attempt to get into schools for which they know are long shots because if they do somehow get into a “selective college” they have still answered the question. In fact, if they are accepted into a school that was a “stretch” they feel better about their initial acceptance.

But they are also immediately thrown into an at-risk situation because they may believe they could be able to succeed and graduate, but the school may actually be less sure. Too many schools accept students who are marginal so they can assure they have the “right number” of students to start the year and revenue stream. These schools may partially delude themselves into believing they are providing a chance to the student but too very often the acceptance is to meet less altruistic goals. Keep in mind that colleges build what they believe may be the annual attrition percentage into the budget. If it is planned for then that is an “acceptable attrition number”. It may not be as acceptable to the students who either fail or decide that this college was not for them. But let’s keep in mind the budgetary needs of the school even if they could not be compatible with the financial condition of a marginal student.

As you might have guessed from the minor irony above, not only is selling the wrong school to the wrong student poor customer service, it is ethically challenged. Admitting students who really are marginal is neither fair to the students nor the school. Clearly the students who are accepted into the wrong school and drop out because of bad fit are cheated. The have wasted money, time and a more importantly, a large part of their self-confidence and emotional investment.

The school also loses. Sure, it loses money but it also is cheated out of its ability to fulfill a section of its mission. It has defaulted on its chance to improve on someone’s life and future. The college have lost the ability to make a difference in the future not just of a person but the society and culture.

So, perhaps schools should be certain that they use a variation of the primary question to assure they provide appropriate customer service to its clients, students and itself. That question that should be answered honestly.

  1. Should this student get in to begin with?

Is an enrollment that important? Should it be?

Keep in mind that a rather steady and strongly correct argument I have been making is that retention has power. Retain more students and the admission numbers can actually become less important. Retention reduces the need to replace drops which is a major factor in the admission’s quota. Simply put, if admissions does not have to replace as many emptied slots, they and the school will have fewer students required to come in.

For the beginning installment of Hierarchy of Student Decision-Making clck here

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Hierarchy Of Student Decisions Making- how they choose

Over the past two years, we have been interviewing students to listen and better understand what they seek from going to 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 618 students. One of the things we came to understand is that there is a five step hierarchy of student concerns that guides most of their decision-making in choosing a school, then deciding to stay or leave. These steps in the hierarchy are governed primarily by some logical decision-making. The emotional aspects of fit and all seemed to be there I am sure but it did not come up except as a last aspect of the decision hierarchy when the other four preceding, or more important steps were answered in their minds.

The hierarchy takes the form of five questions students (and parents) think about when considering a college, university or career school to attend. Can I get in? Can I afford it? Can I graduate? Can I get a job? and Will I like it?

In some ways the questions parallel the organization of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need which starts at physiological concerns such as breathing, eating, drinking, procreating – all issues that are basic to just staying alive. Also as with Maslow simply because a question or need is fulfilled at a point in time does not mean a student will not regress down the hierarchy to return to a lower-level need. This will almost always occur for example when tuition, fees, housing, meal tickets and so on come due for payment. The need to focus on Can I afford it comes back until the question is answered.

This diagram shows Maslow's hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid with the more primitive needs at the bottom.

As we can see in Maslow’s hierarchy, without being alive, none of the following higher level needs matter after all. If one is dead, it is hard to worry about anything else. And so it is with the Student Decision Hierarchy. They proceed from basic issues of “being alive in a decision process” such as getting accepted to the school. They then move from lower/basic considerations 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 category of “esteem” but maybe not yet self-actualization. Enjoying school can only be a concern after the very practical survival issues from gaining entrance to a job are addressed. After the basic and practical considerations are resolve allowing a student to worry about having a good time as a decision point.

So what does this say to us?

It says that students start from basic and practical considerations toward their college experience as a way to a means. Granted, not every single one perhaps. There are students who may go to college for the parties and the college experience or because their parents have told them they will go. Students in these groups may not deal with the issues of the hierarchy seriously but then they are usually not serious students and have a tendency to either do something academics refer to as flunk out or finally getting with the script. Those that are going to funk out because they really do not attend the college except to participate in its social life are seldom students we can affect positively no matter what we do. So we cannot focus too much effort on them but on the major cohorts of students who can be affected positively to stay at the school through customer service

To do so a significant part of customer service needs to focus on their hierarchical concerns and how they see college. They see it, as we already know from the annual CIRP UCLA Freshman Attitudes study as a means to an end, a job/career. For students, that end is quite practical just as the hierarchy shows the beginning decision-making is. At their core, students are practical about attending higher education. From start to finish, students go to college and will stay at a school if it can supply that objective of a job.

Sure they would like to enjoy the experience but they will endure if it means they can get that job. That is the major focus 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.

Yet, though students are practical and career-focused in the drive to attend and stay at a school what we find is that most schools spend most of their time , money and effort attempting to affect the highest-level, lowest need concern in the hierarchy – enjoying school. From the first day of orientation, “you’ll love it here” is the focus when perhaps focusing more on paying for school in the future, graduation and careers is a better investment. It may be that when we concentrate too much on trying to make students enjoy their experience, we are not serving them as well as we could. Nor are we necessarily helping retention as we will discuss in the next posting which continues the discussion on the Hierarchy of Student Decision-Making.

The Hierarchy of Student Decisions appears to me to be a bit blurred. It if looks the same to you, please contact me at and I will send you a clear JPEG of it. Course, I have been working all day at this laptop and my eyes may just be blurry and not the diagram.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The ROI of Retention part 3 CSFactor 3

A school loses an average of 12% of its potential enrollments as soon as a prospective student makes contact with it. Whether that contact be the website which was created by the tech designers of Sites That Hoover, by telephone, email, or make it onto campus, 12% of probable enrollments are lost with actual contact. And these are most often people who were seriously thinking of enrolling in the college.

They had found an enough interest in the school to explore it and consider applying or enrolling. But then they made contact. And that contact convinced them that they were no longer interested. That leads to

Customer Service Factor 3

[(AE x12%=EL) x tuition] = CSF3

IE - Initial actual Enrollment

12% is what is lost on initial contact

EL - is the Enrollment Lost and

T once again is the tuition.

So, continuing with Mammon U, (which has just written a formal complaint about US News and World Report for not including it in its top tier of colleges and universities which everyone at Mammon knows is an error and just makes education a commodity in the minds of the public which should care about purer motives while Mammon knows that a top ranking will improve its application flow and mean a more likely full class and reduced advertising expenditures and can actually consider raising tuition for more revenue because it can still attract a class at the higher cost from the increased ranking…..)

Mammon’s original enrollment is budgeted at 200 in the Fall. They aren’t there just yet so the admission’s folks are beating the bushes and going through every potential applicant they have. They are at 180 enrollments at this point so the CFO is concerned that the budget they created in June will not be met for the third year in a row. And the president is now reading the Chronicle starting with the career section. So if Mammon does not find the last 20 enrollments, CSF3 will be calculated like this.

CSF3 [(200 x 12%% = 24) x $13,000] = ($312,000).

The point that may hit you immediately if you are not an admissions or enrollment management person is the revenue loss of $312,000. That is a solid amount of lost revenue which may lead to starting the year with some budget, employee, equipment, maintenance or other cuts. That will usually catch most everyone’s attention. We all hate cuts.

But if you are in admission’s what you will be thinking now is “DARN (well maybe stronger than that) “Darn, we would not have just hit the 200 goal but we would have exceeded it by 4! We would be celebrating instead of commiserating”. The formula could have shown
[(200 +12%% =+224) x $13,000] = +$312,000.

Okay, So Now What?
So now the issue is what to do in the future to gain, rather than lose 12%. The list is unfortunately long for some schools but realize it all has to do with how the school presents itself and provides its services to potential customer/ clients/applicants on their first contacts with the school. Since the list is long, we will address parts of it in other postings. But for now, one of the first customer service turn-offs.

Websites and CSF3
Far too many of them simply vacuum. They do not provide viewers with what they want but with what we, a group of adults, out-of-contact with our potential students’ world and technology, think they should want. We load them up our web pages with words when the web is a visual medium. The words we use are those we are comfortable and generally have little meaning to those outside of academia. This is so since they are too often our academic-ese technical or vernacular language. The information we provide is how we would want to see our college and not how a potential student might wish to see it.

We make sure we load the web site up with things the staff and faculty ask for such as a link labeled FACULTY that if a viewer clicked on, he or she would be told it’s not for them. Foolish viewer. Thinking one might learn about the faculty from a tab labeled faculty.

We often even include the whole college catalog on our sites as if someone would want to try and read a long, turgid, ponderous, tedious, self-important document that even less than 5% of the college has ever read through. And they had to since they were assigned to do so on the catalog update committee. And what’s even more foolish is on the websites, the catalog do not even come with an active index. There is no search protocol to help users find what they are looking for. There may be the original index but fear not, the entries are not active links to take the reader to a specific section. Would not want to make the catalog accessible after all. By the way if you do want to have the catalog on the we site,at least use a program like Leadwise to make it accessible and personalized.

Even if we discount all the many, many, many words on a web page, the graphics and the layout of the pages immediately tell potential students “old skool technology.” BORING! The designs and layouts are old fashioned and the graphics used too often clichéd. There is little that conveys a message that this university is technologically exciting or even up to date. And the so-called “blog postings”, c’mon. Everyone realizes that they are either written by the PR office or by people so carefully chosen that they sound like advertising copy. They do not make the college sound up-to-date but manipulative. If you you want to use blogs, take a chance and let people say fully what they want to say.

I could go one quite a bit more but then I will sound to much like an entry on one of these web sites. Just one more issue. One that really ticks off potential students and viewers. Difficult or impossible navigation. This includes links that don’t work (and yes, I know I too have created and apologize for them). Links that take you to a page you cannot return from since there is no return link. Or links that say a reader can make contact or ask a question that take people to an “apply on-line” or fill in the request for an “admission’s person to contact you” form. That pushes the issue and makes the viewer feel once again, manipulated.

Sure the goal is to get the potential student contact admissions. But let them make the decision. Web users like to at least have a semblance of control over their use of a site. They want to be the ones to initiate the contact. So let them click on, contact admissions or apply on-line or some such link. Don’t manipulate. Even if they do complete the contact the college form that goes to admissions without their assent, the college is not getting anything more than a very weak inquiry. It is not a lead.

We will get to other negative CSF3 factors such as poor phone protocol, messages not returned, misleading or just plain ugly signage, parking problems, rude greeters and a few other issues in other postings. This one has gone on long enough.