Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Making Your Campus Safer Starting Today

Objective Correlatives, Broken Windows and Customer Service: 10 Steps to Increase the Feeling and Reality of Security on Campus

The horrendous events at Virginia Tech have led to a number of inquiries on campus safety and retention going forward. There are no good answers for what happened. For the parents, families and the Virginia Tech community there will just be questions and anger. I know, unfortunately. We lost our 26 year-old son to meningitis just over a year ago. We deal with questions and anger over his death and so we know the emotions of the entire VTU community will be running very high. We also know that when others know of our loss, they worry more about their own children. The tragedy will affect every parent with a student on a campus. They will look at their own students and your campus with a very protective and wary eye.

So how can we reduce some of the vehemence over safety and security services that will be felt on every campus? An intensity that will be felt by every administrator and board member. Parents and the media are going to want to know how your school will make certain their child is safe on your campus. And keep in mind that articles like the Wall Street Journal’s October 2006 piece in the FBI Stats Show Many Colleges Understate Campus Crime will be likely kept in front of the media and public as they should be.

This is a time when a policy statement or reprinting brochures on campus safety on campus will not due. People will want action, visible signs that the school is taking steps to make the campus even more secure. If the campus is safe, great. But parents are going to want even more safety, assurance, and visible actions.

Safety as a Metaphor

Visible is an important word here. What comes into play is the concept of the objective correlative. The campus as a physical metaphor for the tone and atmosphere that defines a sense of security, safety and control. Since we all, and particularly our students, think metaphorically, buildings, grounds, bathrooms, interiors and all that is visible inside become metaphors, statements of meaning and values just as objects in a poem set the tone and add to perception of meaning.

Small things and small events can also add to the symbolism that adds up to the appreciation of students and parents that safety, security and protection are in place. That the campus and dorms are as safe as they can be.

So, and without cynicism, the appearances of safety are extremely important. The “Broken Window” approach that helped bring greater sense of security and some argue real safety increases to NYC in the 1990’s, will help here too. The theory was developed by Wilson and Kelling in 1982. It goes something like this. If someone breaks a window in a building and that first broken window in the building is not repaired, people will assume that no one cares about the building. Therefore it is okay to break more windows because no one seems to care. So more windows will be broken. Soon the building will have no windows. It is also likely doors will be busted in and more crime and havoc done to the building. But if the first window is fixed and re-fixed if needed, that action is a statement that we do care and window breaking will not be accepted. The appearance becomes a reality in peoples’ minds.

I was a skeptic of this approach at first when Police Chief Bill Bratton had the NYC police stop the homeless windshield washers from trying to earn a buck cleaning peoples’ car windows at traffic lights, enforcing public nuisance laws, public drinking, littering and so on. But it seems that the enforcement of these nuisance crimes created a metaphor for safety and enforcement for NYC. People believed the City and the NYPD cared. The feeling seemed to be “if they were attentive to small nuisance crimes that made me feel uneasy, they must be really be doing a solid job on real crime. People and tourists began to feel safer. They were not afraid to be out in the City. Tourism increased as did the public’s sense of security. And real crime did drop too. (There are arguments as to whether or not the “broken window and zero tolerance” were the factor but NYC did become recognized nationally as one of the safest cities anywhere.

When I was Chancellor at a college, we employed a version of the “broken window theory”. We had a rash of books, I Pods, purses, computers and other personal items being stolen from students and staff. People were becoming uneasy about their safety in buildings as a result. They also assumed the administration was not doing anything to make them more secure. Word was going out to the community that the school was not a safe one. Enrollment and retention were being hurt.

We were working on it but people didn’t realize it nor care. They just felt unsafe. We finally caught a book thief who gave us names of others he was working with. We called in the police to take them all out of the building in the lunch hour for maximum exposure. I also called a college meeting, canceled classes so students could come, and made some announcements on how and what we were doing to make sure they knew they were safe. We hired three more security people for the building, were changing all locks on doors, enforcing the locked door policy when a room was empty, would randomly check college ID cards and anyone without the card would be escorted off campus, putting in place a parking sticker registration and any car without a displayed sticker would be towed, increasing light bulb wattage in parking and perimeter lights and would not tolerate inappropriate language or behavior in classrooms, halls cafeteria, library, etc.

Faculty were asked to make sure attendance was taken, late students not admitted without prior notice, any student who left the class would not be allowed back in and marked absent, anyone sleeping in class was to be ejected, cell phones were to be off in class and if your's rang you would be asked to leave for the day and not come back in, computers were to be used for class purposes and not web surfing during class, and so on. And I personally assured faculty that I would support them in enforcing all this as long as they applied classroom decorum fairly, without prejudice and consistently,

Within days, surveys, comments and interviews showed the campus was a different place. Students were thankful for our steps. They felt more secure and happier at the school. They were most pleased with classroom decorum enforcement since it changed the learning environment. Students felt inappropriate classroom behavior was cheating them. They were learning less as bad behavior interrupted class and the professor. One student summed it up well. “Now we see you do give a damn about us and our learning and we care more about the school now too. I was outa here at the end of semester but I’ll stay now.”

Broken Window Theory on Campus

Considering the various constituencies and the politics on a campus, having the campus police/security enforce every rule will not necessarily work. For a few days, maybe even weeks, the community might accept greater enforcement, but that will end soon though the admonitions of administration’s “oppression of academic or other campus freedoms” will continue as a part of tradition. So what needs to be worked on is the objective correlatives that will be accepted and create a visible and real increased sense if security for students, parents and the community.

Ten Quick Yet Effective Security Steps

1. Have all employees learn how to say hello, smile and ask others how they are doing once they enter the “greeting zone.” As if they mean it. Also, teach them how to follow-up less than positive responses from others. This is important. The school must indicate it cares about each student to increase a collective sense of comfort through caring. This is also quite important for many reasons from identifying upset students to showing you care to learn what can be done to improve customer services and increase retention.

2. Stop petty theft on campus i.e. stolen books, I Pods, computers, purses, etc. This is for students and staff as well. There is apparently a great new product on the market to help on this too. A company named SafePlace www.safeplace-usa.com has personal safes for students and staff to keep their personal stuff in whether they are in a dorm or set-up like lockers for commuters. They seem to be very effective too as stated by the Long Island University Director of Residence Life and Residences,

Student reports of lost/stolen personal property have been eliminated and reimbursement costs to the University have been eliminated as well…dealing with issues of lost/stolen property in the residence halls has been substantially eliminated….Parents have been fully supportive of this product to secure their students’ belongings.
SafePlace can also make financial arrangements that can even create revenue for schools while increasing safety. And don't overlook the value of these small safes in offices so staff can secure their personal belongings.

3. Fix every broken light on campus and increase lighting in parking lots, pathways, halls and lobbies. Nothing generates a sense of fear than dark areas. Yes, I am fully aware that lighting wattage has been lowered to save money. Calculate the cost of the lighting against revenue lost from drops who feel unsafe on campus. Consider also the size of your evening college and the revenue it generates that IS lost when adults are nervous to park and walk. (Be glad to send a past article on lighting and retention I wrote just after 9/11. nealr@GreatServiceMatters.com)

4. Increase security patrols on foot and in cars. Park patrol cars not in service at the time in entrance areas to parking lots and other visible spots.
Make sure the halls are clean and uncluttered. Remove old posters, fliers and certainly anything ripped or scribbled over.

5. Either wash off or paint over any graffiti particularly in bathrooms. There is graffiti resistant paint that can help out in this area.

6. Consider having all staff and students wearing college id’s so it will be easy to determine if someone is not a member of the college community.

7. Do not ignore the safety needs and concerns of staff. They will be the ones to project a sense, a feeling as well as the metaphoric reality of safety and security on campus. If they are nervous or afraid their personal belongings may be stolen, they will surely project that to everyone around them.

8. Get out of the office, walk the campus and listen to students, staff and the community. Keep in mind that G-d gave us two ears but just one mouth for a reason. They will feel safer if you are out among them. Listening to them can also alleviate quite a bit of anxiety which often comes out of the feeling that the school does not care about them individually.

9. But also use the mouth G-d gave you. Email and fliers too. Let
the community know you care and are doing things to increase an already safe campus. Communicate changes and improvements.

10. Have a campus safety and comfort audit conducted. There may be things that are problematic that you and other community members may not notice. This is the worn rug theory in action. It goes like this. When we were buying a house, we often noticed that the rugs were worn down or out. But the seller's did not notice. Why not? We are animals of patterned, habitual behavior so they had walked the same paths in the house every day. Rugs wear out incrementally from constant foot traffic over the same area. But since it was incremental, a little every day, they did not notice the wear pattens that we could easily see. They overlooked the wear and missed the potentially problematic situation. After all, it had always looked the same to them. It might be worthwhile to bring in a new set of eyes to look for rug problems that you and others grow to just overlook because it developed over time and now looks like it was always like that

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Customer is Really...... What is Customer Service in College Really?

Which of the following is true?

  1. The customer is always right. True  False 

  1. If there is a question, referto number 1. True  False

It has been an inviolable adage found in most customer service books, that both number 1 and number two are correct. The customer is always right. It is therefore our role to all we can to please the customer; to make her feel we accept that she and her business are number 1 to the store or institution by fulfilling every wish if at all possible. To go the extra mile to make the customer happy. To indulge, pamper, spoil and if necessary, to even pander to each whim to assure the customer is satisfied and will come back. This has been the concept that has been central to Business 101 and been hung on posters and fliers in backrooms across the country almost since it was reportedly created in 1908 by French hotel owner César Ritz (1850-1918) when he stated 'Le client n'a jamais tort' - 'The customer is never wrong.” The current, more American usage was established by the Marshall Fields store in Chicago and then popularized by Harry Gordon Selfridge who left Fields to create London’s Selfridge’s department store in 1909.

It is this time honored concept that is so strongly at odds with many people on college campuses. Influential segments of the college community believe this idea that the customer is right imposes a construct of business on a very non-commercial institution – academia. A basic bastard of business which has money as its goal forced upon intellectual institutions with our ideals of intellectual pursuit and learning, in that order. Obviously not just a mismatch but an attempt to undermine the very nature of the academic environment and “corporatize the academy” as one faculty member told me prior to a workshop he refused to attend. Colleges and universities are not about money and revenue after all.

In fact, money corrupts the purity of the intellectual community, except when it comes to my office or department’s budget perhaps. Or my salary, benefit cost or equipment. But then the money is only needed to be able to provide education or services to others to make the institution stronger to be better able to meet its mission. And after all, we do not have customers. Students are not customers. They are….students. So I don’t pick 1 or 2.

But students do pay for an education so they must be customers and we should listen to business to make sure the revenue comes in. After all, without money coming in how are we to fund your budget, pay for salary and benefit increases and all the other things we need to meet the mission. So we need to consider that number 1 may have some merit. Perhaps we need an ad hoc committee to study…….

Lord save us all from even one more committee! Let’s just realize that in typical academic mode, the positions are all or nothing postures that are both wrong, and yet still right.

Consider that if you checked number 1 as correct, number 2 necessarily follows as acceptable. But if you chose number one as true. You are wrong to begin with. The customer is not always right. Yet, that does not make the faculty member who derided customer service as illegitimate in higher education right. Not at all for he is also wrong. Very palpably wrong at that. And in this case, your wrong and his wrong do not make the customer right.

The reality is that the customer is often wrong. Particularly in higher education. Just think of your last quiz. I am sure you found many students were wrong in many of their answers or guesses. That is the nature of a quiz or a test after all. Though we would hope that the customer would be always right and prove that he or she really understood the lectures, the readings and the assignments, such is not the reality of most classes and schools. Students, our customers, are often wrong. (Actually so is the term customer for our students but that will be discussed in another section).

The reality is that students are wrong by very their very nature as students. They come to college to learn what they do not know; to become more correct in their knowledge and abilities. They are in school to replace erroneous or uninformed notions with information and learning. In fact, if they already knew, if they had the skills prior to coming into school, they would not have to enroll. They would not become students, our clients and customers.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Taxonomical Issue 3 Can I Graduate? and What You Can do to Make the Answer YES

When a student finds resolution or answers to the first two questions in the taxonomy, he or she then has to face certain realities. Now is when taxonomy question 3 comes into play. “Can I graduate?”

During the can I get in and pay for it levels, there is an undying optimism. “Sure I can do okay here. I’ll just study harder and apply myself. This is college and I will buckle down and get to work.” Phrases well learned after being used after every high school break, midterms, finals, grades, and even a few botched tests. But the results are quite often the same as New Year’s resolutions – unused exercise equipment and unread text books.

Consider that most students have been told that “You won’t be able to get away with that in college.” Even if that is not necessarily true. You can often get away with much more. For example, attendance. Do you REQUIRE attendance? Likely not, so it is much easier for students to skip class and get on the road to failure. (In fact, not having an attendance policy is surely very poor customer service to students and faculty. But more on this later because it really is a big service issue.)

Students know their own adequacies and inadequacies. They know if they may have trouble. And since the goal of attending college is to graduate and get that certification, that ticket to a career, that degree, they will focus on whether or not they can make it. They will ask themselves “Can I graduate?” regularly.

They care about graduating. Just look at the joy on graduation day and all the folks they want to invite to see them walk across the stage and get that empty folder (Your degree will be mailed to you). That day is what most every other day is about for them. And if they ever get the feeling they may not be able to graduate from your school, they will leave it to find another they can graduate from.

You may not realize that because most schools don’t really focus on graduation. They, we, focus on enrolling them in the first place. What happens after that. Well that is up to the student. Sink or swim approach. You’re in college now. Schools spend so much time and money recruiting yet retention is not a big enough issue on most campuses.

I’ll bet your school is like that new pair of jeans or shoes you bought. You spent a long time searching for the right ones, tried it on, checked it out in the mirror, maybe even asked a fiend to add an opinion. Now that you got it home and worn the jeans or shoes, they have lost their importance. Shoes have gone unshined and the jeans washed whenever and folded up into a draw with others and you are now thinking about something new to go and seek out. The new almost always outweighs the interest in what we’ve got. That applies to the jeans, the shoes and surely to students at our schools.

Do you even have a director of retention whose job is to be responsible for retaining each and every student? If you have anything close to this, does he or she have a staff anywhere as large as the admissions staff? Your answers will quickly tell you if there is a commitment to retention or admissions.

Learn and Earn or Churn and Burn?

For most schools, life is a treadmill. Just keep running and lose calories? Not quite. More of churn admissions and burn enrollments. That’s our basic M.O. And it is a losing one too. Loss of students does equal loss of revenue, loss of morale, loss of integrity and loss of the chance to actually meet that mission statement so prominent in catalogues but not many other places I fear. Churn and burn is a loss not just for students but for schools. (If you’d like a copy of the article from University Business “Learn and Earn, not Churn and Burn”, just let me know at nealr@greatservicematters.com)

And graduation? Just a day to have a small committee arrange, get a speaker, pull out the academic robes and see if anyone else from the school shows up unless they have to.

But just because we don’t care all that much, does not take the concern away from students. This is especially true of neo-traditional students. Those students who used to e called non-traditional (adults, single parents, minorities, lower socio-economic students…) but have become sought after admits for schools to make their admission quotas. The neo-traditionals know that their cohorts graduate at much lower rates than the traditionals who came from better schools, families with an educational focus and money to at least obtain loans and be able to pay them off.

The March 23 Chronicle of Higher Education article "The Graduation Gap" states that

..students from low-income backgrounds are less likely to graduate from college than their wealthier peers. For college students from families with annual incomes of $25,000 or less, slightly one in four earns a bachelor’s degrees within six years…For students from families with annual incomes of $70,000 or more, that figure is 57% percent.

One in four. Wonder if students in the lower-income cohorts are concerned about their own chance to be in that 25%? You bet they are.

And the 57% from better economic backgrounds? Wonder if they…. Hey wait a minute! Only 57%. That means 43% of all students who start higher education do not get a degree? Do not graduate in six years? Sure some take longer but this means that a huge number of students just do not graduate. THEY DO NOT GRADUATE! NOT FROM YOUR SCHOOL? NOT FROM ANY SCHOOL?????

With those numbers in mind, do you start to see why question 3 is “Can I graduate?” And if the answer is “No” or Maybe not” can you also see that since graduation and the degree is why people attend and pay for college, students will quit or at least transfer to another school where they feel they may have a better chance to graduate?

If students do not believe you will help them answer their taxonomic question 3, you will lose them. Sink or swim is not a good retention or customer service position. Think and help them swim is a much better way to go for you and for them.

Focus on helping them succeed.

Not just in remedial courses freshman year but with help, assistance and attention to needs every year, every week and every day. They ask the question over and over again. Some every week, every day. Be there to help answer the question with assistance, with tutoring services that are important enough to make sure tutors know enough to really tutor. Students might be nice in class, but that does not necessarily make them good tutors.

I have a bet for anyone reading this. You name the stake. Here is the bet. I wager your school does not care enough about students graduating to either have enough tutors or to ever train them in how to tutor, to teach. If you do, let me hear about it. Consider also that most schools use "peer tutors" - a euphemism that means we use the cheapest labor we can find even if they may not know all that much more than the people they try to help. Peer tutors are other students, often from the same class! They may be bright enough in class but not smart enough to e able to find ways to explain and help the student in need. I mean let's face it, we have enough people with Ph D's in front of classes who do not know how to teach and they do have more education. Plus they have experienced more teaching so perhaps by some form of amoeba-like osmosis they picked up some techniques. But, why believe an under-educated peer/student with no teaching ability can do the trick for the weakest students. If tutoring is supposed to help retain students by supplying help to make them believe they can succeed, at least train the tutors. Give the students and the tutors a chance to be successful. Correspondingly, get some classroom professionals to do the tutoring and drop the peer idea. A rather small investment in professional tutors can reap very large revenue savings. One tutor at say $30,000 plus benefits who helps keep 20 students in school at 20 X tuition... You do the math.

Another Starting Place

Okay, so now where to start. Here it is. Give enough of a damn to require students actually attend all their classes. Make attendance obligatory. Make learning required. Drop the “right to fail” approach and replace it with a demand to succeed. And don’t wait until they are in “academic difficulty”. Waiting until they are in grade trouble is like watching a person who can’t swim go down three times and then trying to help when a good swimming lesson could have saved everyone some trouble.

Make students believe they can graduate and you will be there to help before the question becomes so prominent that the only true answer is “Don’t know.” If you wait, they will answer it for themselves, or you will and you will lose a student, they a chance at their dreams. And all of us the opportunity for our society to get stronger and better.