Wednesday, October 15, 2008

10 Quick, Inexpensive Steps to Increase Retention

If you haven’t noticed, the economy has gone to hell. No hand basket though a HUGE government hand out. And as a result, many colleges will be there with their hands out looking for some more revenue. If you read any of the higher ed news you may be aware that we are not going to do well financially.

Our continuing faulty focus on admissions (“all problems can be solved by more students”) is going to be the “sub-prime mortgage of higher ed”. Enroll/sell the school as hard as you can to potential students who may not have the intellectual and emotional responsibility and drive to make the later classroom and financial payments. Cut the entry-level costs with financial aid packages that make it cheap enough to start school to hit admissions/ sales quotas to students who were previously interest free in your school. They may start but they likely will not be able to make payments down the road. Bundle enrollment goals any way you want, they will not have long term value for most schools.

Fewer people will be able to afford education. Enrollments are going to be shaky in all but maybe not so bad for community colleges due to their lower cost against a good education yielding a great ROI. New students will be tougher to acquire and the competition for them will be fierce. Selectivity will become even more of a variable that will depend on whether or not increased admission goals are or are not met. Not met…Got tuition money? Breathing? We select you!

This in turn will cause more problems on campus. More need for remedial/developmental work. Increased faculty aggravation leading to growing disdain for the administration and students. Most of the “selected” students will drop out anyhow so there will be a short term tuition increase if it is all collected ahead of classes. Or a growing cash flow and collections problem since when students leave owing money, they seldom have any desire to pay. DSO numbers will grow exponentially. And what is worse, since expenditures are predicated and encumbered on predicted first day fall term forward calculations of annual tuition, fees (and if public, state/community support) schools will be spending too much in semester/term one and panic/slash, cut/freeze/RIF/reduce/terminate/curtail starting in January.

Admissions and Pet Rocks

This above is the disastrous pet rock financial approach to funding the institution. If admissions sells and bills 100 pet rocks on Monday at $10 each. And on Tuesday the school spends $5.46 to process each of them. Then on Wednesday the school budgets and starts to spend the $4.54 profit/tuition money it plans to get from these 100. But on Thursday 72 have decided to return the pet rock. How many pet rocks were actually sold? How much money does the college now have to actually spend?


Yes, the problem above is that the 84% (which is the percent of students who drop out due to poor customer service) students dropped out. Not that they started but they left. If they had stayed, there would have been 100 pet rocks sold. So it is just not the sales that matter. It is the retention of the buyers. Obtaining a new student costs money as in the scenario above, Retaining students which is the real secret to success costs nothing or very little.

To help kick start some thinking on retention. Here are

10 Steps You Can Start Today to Improve Retention

on Your Campus

  1. Use the 15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service. These are the basics for most all of it. Don’t just put them on the wall. Use them. Train to them and then assess how they are used. If you would like a copy, click here
  2. Everyday is day 1. Make everyday the first day of classes. Students decide to return each day so create the excitement and provide the help you gave students the first days of the term each and every day.
  3. Turn your school into Cheers University where everyone knows your name and everyone’s glad you came. Give everyone the greeting Norm gets and even make room for the Cliffie’s of the world.
  4. Smile and at least make believe you like students. It sooner or later becomes a reality. It may be hard to learn the right way to do it but smile damn you smile anyhow.
  5. Orient for success. Provide students skills they will need to succeed at the school. Spend the orientation time on money management, time management, study skills and getting focused on careers. If you need help, let me know. We have some modular curricula.
  6. Throw out lifelines. Make sure students know where and how to use help like counselors and advising. Don’t have your own, hire an external group to do it. We can recommend a couple that are good.
  7. Do or get a customer service audit of your campus and then make needed changes to improve. Not sure what to check out, click here.
  8. Listen to students and all employees. Not just faculty and administrators.
  9. Make customer service training and recognition a constant on the campus. If you don’t have the capabilities to do it yourself, hire someone. It is cheaper than losing students and/or employees.
  10. Attend seminars, speakers and read about academic customer service on campus then implement the ideas that fit. I recommend my new book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education of course. I’ll be doing some webinars on customer service. Contact me for details.

“We had hoped we’d improve our retention by 3% but with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%.” Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Farmington

“Neal led a retreat that initiated customer service and retention as a real focus for us and gave us a clear plan. Then he followed up with presentations and workshops that kicked us all into high gear. We recommend with no reservations; just success.” Susan Mesheau, Executive Director U First: Integrated Recruitment & Retention University of New Brunswick

“Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop at Lincoln Technical Institute. It served to re-center ideas in a great way. I perceived it to be a morale booster, breath of fresh air, and a burst of passion.” Shelly S, Lincoln Technical Institute

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention, enrollment 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.

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