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.

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