Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Enrollment Ethical Deficit Syndrome

Enrollment Ethical Deficit Syndrome


Too many colleges, universities and career colleges suffer form an indolent illness known as enrollment ethics deficit. It is a syndrome that caused by an ethical deficiency and misunderstanding of admissions and retention. This ethical deficit leads to a hallucinatory state in which schools hear voices about higher callings and winnowing that justify aberrant behavior toward students and their success.


The syndrome seems to interfere with the ethical pathways between recruitment promises of concern, help, graduation and a parasitical drive to let the students die off once they have paid tuition and external support is in place. A common symptom is the patient’s belief that it is correct to watch students waste away, disappear or die off through attrition. This often leads to the allied retention and institutional budget deficit syndrome called institutional lepcrotosis in which patients wonder why parts of the college seem to be drying up and need to be cut.


From a health perspective for our schools, our students and our collective future, this is a very dangerous syndrome. The etiology of the syndrome seems to comes from the traditional “look to the left-look to the right” and “wheat from the chaff “delusions prevalent when college was not a gateway drug to success. It was not good medicine then. Now it is a prescription for fiscal and social anemia.


The onset of the syndrome comes from a calloused belief that we do not owe students everything we promise them when we recruit and admit them. One hallmark of the syndrome is an indifference to the simple fact that when a college, university or career college accepts a student as well as his or her money, the institution is making a contract with the student. The core of the contract is the exchange of money for services leading to graduation. That’s what students are really paying for. To graduate and get a job. It may not be what patients want to hear but it is the truth just as you knew you were in college to get the degree you needed for your job.


The prognosis for the syndrome goes like this. Enrollment ethics deficit syndrome leads to institutional lepcrotic parasitis in which the college or university loses money as enrollment slowly waste away. This leads to the drying up of resources needed to accomplish goals and mission. In turn, some of the institutional organs begin to shrivel, usually starting with library budget, hiring and benefits. If the fiscal leprosy is not contained, it spreads affecting otherwise healthy institutions. Any flab is burned off quickly. Then it spreads to the appendages and programs are curtailed and cut. Class sections are lopped off too increasing the ethical issues since the real patients are paying for sections. Four-year schools become six and more years with increasing attrition rates. Some institutions are so ill that they start to enroll students that can neither succeed nor pay easily. This increases the disease’s spread until the body is riddled with weakness. Some institutions even die.


Prognosis and Possible Curative Steps

Enrollment ethical deficiency syndrome is dangerous but ingrained in the environment. It has become an indigenous disease that has affected even good people. They begin to overlook the root cause of the disease and enter into a parasitic relationship with it. They accept the idea that attrition is okay, even good for the institution as long as we can feed the illness with more and more fresh hosts. Recruit more and more students who will drop out we can try to stall the necrotic effect.


But that will not work. The only way to defeat the disease is recognize it and not feed it. Recruit students who can succeed or make sure we give the students we recruit all the services, assistance and attention they need to succeed. Do not let short-term revenue hurt the students’ or the institutions’ long-term. Moreover, if schools did as much to retain students as enroll them, there would not be many money issues.


Colleges and universities in the United States lose over $4 billion a year from attrition. Individual schools thousands and million. These figures do not include external support such as state subsidies. Nor do the billions show how much students who leave have lost in their savings, debt and future earnings. A treatment for enrollment ethical deficit syndrome would have significant value to institutions and students.


A Case Study

Here is part of the chart of one deficit syndrome case. What follows are actual statements a patient made so the names are changed to protect the aberrant. The patient is a dean of students of undisclosed age with 15 years exposure to infection sites in higher education. He is currently not undergoing therapy at a small university though he does see doctors in a graduate program.


During an attempt at initial treatment for enrollment ethical enrollment deficit the patient stated:

This is addressed to all, not necessarily just to Mr. X. But to Mr. X’s points, certainly we can't keep all students. After all, 100% retention is easy--don't charge any tuition, and hand out As. Of course, I'm exaggerating--I agree 100% retention is probably not desirable is the point. But I would love to hear a compelling argument as to why 50% to 70% retention is desirable… I admit I will be hard to convince because

a) I do think we can help students get ready for college without limiting others' learning.

b) Sending students elsewhere is exactly what's happening, and why the language has been changing over the years--the words "retention" and "attrition" are now heard alongside other phrases, perhaps soon will be replaced by these other phrases--such as "student swirls," "supporting student mobility," etc.

c) It may sometimes be the right thing to do--but not automatically and not always.
d) Just as I doubt I will hear a compelling argument that 50 to 70 retention is desirable, I doubt I will hear a compelling argument that there's something wrong with actually helping students get ready for college. For the students who come to us first, what's wrong with helping them get ready for college?

In this we see some common delusions of the ethically-challenged. The first is that free or low tuition will make students stay at a college. The second that high grades will keep students. Both of these are quite incorrect. Old folk beliefs that have caused much infection in the past that in turn metastasized into invasive attrition and loss of tuition and futures for students. High grades are not going to keep students in a school they feel is not worth the time and money of going. They are there to get career strength and intellectual/training health. Free? Can actually lower value.


This case also discloses another of the insidious symptoms the disease creates- enrollment ethics euphemorcosis. When this level of the illness takes hold, the patients will create euphemisms to avoid facing the reality of the illness and their lack of ethics. They substitute words or phrases for the true symptoms in an attempt to make the reality go away. Here we see the substitution of "student swirls," "supporting student mobility," etc for drop out, leave, flee, quit, give up, fail, renounce. curse and go, stop payment, attrit (which in itself was an early sign of euphemorcosis).


Another symptom is the acceptance of 50-70% attrition as acceptable and normal. This 50-70% attrition concept is a certain indicator of enrollment ethics deficit syndrome leading to lepcrotic parasitis. Moreover, getting students we accept into college ready for college a stated in c…? Clearly advanced case here. We should let students into your school so we can get them ready for college by having then leave?


Etiology and Potential Treatment of the Syndrome

Why do we recruit and enroll students? Because their tuition and fees pay for the institution’s operations including salaries, benefits and fringes like release time and research. There are students who get scholarships but the money for these come from endowments or operational funds to get these students to come to school and fill the class. And scholarships are used to close the deal.


Most every college recruits to fill a class and the budget. Students are promised that in exchange for your money the school will supply all that was promised during recruitment plus all the services needed to graduate. When we sell students on the school and then let them in we are saying to them that we believe you can be successful. Success equals graduating. Exchange of money for services equals a contract.


If we accept a student knowing that he or she may come from a high school or life that may not have prepared as we might wish, we must also accept responsibility to provide all the services and help the student may need to get to graduation. If we accept students with the idea that we know they can’t make it to graduation but we will give them the opportunity to pay us money while we know he or she will likely fail, that is unethical enrollment.


It would be as wrong as if Bernie Madoff took money from an investor knowing the person would not get the rewards promised in the sales pitch. If Madoff sold someone on his services with the image of moving to a higher level of income knowing that this would likely not happen, that would have been wrong. Sure Madoff may have needed the money to pay for things to keep his operation going but I believe we would all agree it would be unethical, maybe even illegal to do so. That would be like enrolling students knowing that 50% would drop out but not letting them know about it or even worse, planning to have them lose their investment. Good thing Bernie nor colleges would ever do that.


Oh, he did defraud clients? And some colleges have that dreaded unethical enrollment deficit syndrome enrolling students they know will fail and even plan their failure into the budget for the year?


Enrollment ethical deficiency syndrome is dangerous but ingrained in the environment. It has become an indigenous disease that has affected even good people. They begin overlook the root cause of the disease and enter into a parasitic relationship with it. They accept the idea that attrition is okay, even good for the institution as long as we can feed the illness more and more bodies. Recruit more and more students who will drop out we can try to stall the necrotic effect.


But that will not work. The only way to defeat the disease is recognize it and not feed it.


Either do not accept weak students into our schools, get them prepared before we accept them or give them the skills they need so they will stay? If we do not starve the syndrome out, it will continue to eat away at budgets, students, society, culture and the very ethics and behavior we claim to value to so much in an academic community.




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2 comments:

Jack Maney said...

"Why do we recruit and enroll students? Because their tuition and fees pay for the institution’s operations including salaries, benefits and fringes like release time and research."

Again, this is absolutely wrong. At many--if not most--public universities, tuition is only one part of monies received. Hell, at many institutions, tuition doesn't even come close to covering operational costs.

Neal Raisman - AcademicMAPS said...

Ahhhh Jack, you are somewhat correct. Tuition is only part of the revenue stream for public institutions. They also gain public support which is at some level geared to head count. The more initial students,the more support funds. Thanks for bringing that up.