Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lessons From For-Profits - Increasing Enrollment Success through Buying Committees

One lesson that not-for-profits (NFP) can learn from proprietary colleges is in the admissions area. In for-profit (FP) admissions, there is greater attention paid to welcoming the entire buying committee than in NFPs. In fact, the NFPs usually do not even know what in the world is meant by the buying committee so there should be no surprise that they do not focus on it.

By the way, ever wonder what the core difference is between a good not-for-profit college and a for-profit college is? The NFPs call money left in the budget surplus or fund balance while the FPs call it what it is, profit. A good college is a good college. And a bad college is a bad college no matter if it is NFP or for profit. And a bad proprietary college can be NFP. That is the fiscal condition that even some bad for profit schools find themselves in but not by either charter or accounting system. By not providing students what they need to succeed and ignoring basics like the buying committee.

Buying Committees

So then what is the buying committee? The committee is all the people who will be involved in the actual decision to put money down and pay for tuition at a college or university. This usually includes parents for a “traditionally aged” student and spouse for an adult. These are the people who will be directly involved in the decision to purchase. Without their agreement, their consent, their buy-in, there will not be a purchase.

FPC’s do all they can to get the buying committee involved from the beginning. They will strongly suggest to a potential candidate that he or she bring a parent or spouse to an admission’s interview. With the full, or fuller buying committee involved from the beginning, the odds increase significantly that a student will enroll if favorably impressed. NFP’s normally work on the student without any committee members. This can be an error since it then requires the student to make the sale. He or she might not have answers to the questions that might arise.

If for any reason or any question left unanswered the parent or spouse is not fully supportive, the enrollment is often lost. Or if the support is lukewarm the first problem that arises becomes a causal factor for dropping out.

For example, say it is an adult student who has decided to enroll even though her husband is not fully supportive or may not have even been involved in the decision to attend. Keep in mind that having a wife in school will require more work, effort and usually belt tightening from the spouse. Let’s say the algebra homework is getting a bit tough. The wife mentions it to the husband who was not part of the buying committee and thus did not buy into her attending college. “I am just not getting this math. It’s just a bit too tough for me. Been a while. And I gotta study history for a quiz tomorrow. Be up late and then I got to work early.”

His response could easily be “I was afraid this would happen. I told you that you aren’t a kid anymore. College would be good but maybe now isn’t the time.”

But if he had been part of the buying committee and they decided to make the academic purchase together, he would have formed a commitment as well. He would then try to encourage rather than discourage.

So how to build a buying committee? The following are steps we implemented at some colleges that succeeded more as a result.

Four Actions to Assure Buying Committee Support

One, make everyone who could be involved in the decision to attend the college and pay money feel involved from the start.

When getting information from a potential student prior to a campus visit, get the names of anyone who could be part of the buying committee. Then make sure they all receive an invitation. A formal invitation card like for an event would be best. Have them printed ahead of time with a picture of the college, a logo or something interesting on the front. Then set up a program in the computer so they can be personalized with recipient’s name, the name of the potential student and information needed to attend the campus visit or interview. When a campus representative calls to confirm the upcoming visit, also call for the parents or spouse to give them the same courtesy.

Two, make certain part of the interview/on-campus meeting or tour focuses on the buying committee issues.

Whoever is going to help make the decision to pay money, and a lot of it, has questions. Those questions may vary from those of the potential student and must be addressed. Create a lost of potential questions a parent or spouse may have, or better, have had in the past. Make certain that they are addressed. If the buying committee member does not ask any of them, help them out by asking. “Okay, any questions about applying for financial aid?” Questions about the time commitment that he/she is going to be making?” It is also a very good idea to create a buying committee FAQ brochure to answer questions and do so in a way that helps minimize concern and potential negatives as we have done for colleges.

Three, enroll the buying committee as well as the student.

When the student is accepted, send a letter of acceptance to the buying committee members as well. The reality is that you have enrolled not one person but at least one more and possibly many others – spouse, parents, guardians helping out and anyone who has cosigned a loan. They deserve congratulations on helping the student achieve his/her future as well as recognizing their commitment to the future success of the student.

Four, give buying committee members a formal link they can use to contact the school.

Consider that the academic buying decision is an every day, every class, every home work assignment and every study for a test occurrence. Students make the decision to buy or not buy the college all the time. They may not share that consideration with the school but with members of the buying committee. If there is an issue that the committee member needs help to solve, or information required to help the student remain in the purchasing line to classes, make sure they know where to get that information or help. Provide a web-based link that will provide up-to-date information that parents and others should know. Things like the calendar, exam dates, tutoring information, counseling information and so on. Anything that anyone might want to know about should be available on the web with a searchable FAQ and interrelation database. There should also be a person who will liaise with parents, spouses, partners, friends, etc. Give them an email address and telephone number so they can simply pick up the phone and find out what they must.

The members of the buying committee can be very important to both the initial decision to come to your college or university and the decision to stay in college. They certainly are important to any decision to leave it. Give them all you can to make them feel as if they are an active positive participant in the on-going decision to graduate. The result will be more retention and student success. It often also leads to an additional enrollment. From a buying committee member.

If we can help your college or university with strengthening its admission's/sales functions through training on issues such as buying committees, please get in touch. Just click here and let us know We are quickly filling up our dates for school opening convocations and workshops in August and September as well as customer service week (Oct 6-10). We would like to be able to help you too so please contact us ASAP for a date. info@GreatServiceMatters.com

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research training and 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.www.GreatServiceMatters.com 413.219.6939 info@GreatServiceMatters.com

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