Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quilt Making Increases Enrollment: The Stitch-In Process

In an earlier piece I wrote about the stitch-in process used at some career colleges. This is the process used by schools to make sure that their application yield actually turns into shows who start – students who show up for and take classes on day one. You see it matters not if a school gets hundreds of application if only 60% of the students actually start school. The pet rock thing again.

Enrollment does not end at an application!

As I talk to colleges and universities, I am always shaking my head at how many of them plan to accept low show rates. Today I was on the phone with an enrollment management official of a selective university who told me that the actual number of students who put down a deposit compared to those who showed and started this year was about 72%. That means that 28% of potential students did not complete the initial enrollment process and start school. The university was seeking an initial start number of 980 new freshmen last fall. They initially “selected” 1202 applications for admission assuming their traditional no show rate would repeat and they’d have their class. Might be off one or two but they could pull from the wait list. Didn’t work that way. Fewer students said they would actually be showing up on day one. They had been using this university as a “safety”.

Not to panic. Go to the wait list. Those who had been told they weren’t quite good enough to get admitted but if we panic, we will dip down into the losers, uhhh wait list and maybe select a few more chosen. They hit the wait list but many of those at the top of the list had already committed elsewhere and had scholarships to help out. So they dug deeper. When all was said and done they were only going to be two students short for the start. So they were only starting the year about $38,000 short on revenue from day one. OOOOPPPPS!

Granted, they had now accepted students they were not sure were quite good enough for the university. But, well, they needed the tuition revenue to pay the bills and weren’t they being nice giving the great unwashed a chance at their school? And there was a budget to be filled with revenue. Okay so some students wouldn’t make it but they would benefit by being allowed to interact with their betters and that would help them----somehow. And one or two would be diamonds in the rough, blossom and do well. We’ve all seen that movie.

The end result was that they now had a larger retention problem than they had in the past. There was more zirconium than diamond in the entering class. Even some of the possible diamonds that were selected had flaws that the diamond cutters of faculty, administration, staff and lack of advisors and tutors found and sorted out. They don’t like working on flawed jewels after all.

So I did some investigating into the university’s stitch-in process. It really did not have one. (Oh don’t gasp in false surprise. Your school likely does not have one either! So read on)

Once a student was accepted to the university, the marketing stopped and the processing began. Letters may have started with welcome to……. But that was it. Admission folk stopped contacting them. Encouragement to come to the school was traded for your tuition down payment is due by…. Dorm down payment is due by…. Full payment must be in by….. Pay for the meal plan…Complete the enclosed form which is very much like the one sent by another office yesterday but we aren’t using technology to save you duplication of effort and us money….We can’t find the form we didn’t send you so complete it again please…..

It made me recall the man who sat beside me on a flight saying he told his daughter to go to a small private college because it stayed in touch a bit after the initial acceptance letter. The others he said just didn’t show a concern that he felt would be there once his daughter started. “If they can’t care enough to complete the sale and build a relationship with the client early on, I just felt they wouldn’t be there for her if she had a problem.” Likely he was right.

Each Student a Quilt

If you look at a quilt, it is an amalgamation of tiny stitches. Each stitch has a purpose and value in either holding one piece of fabric to another or in creating the actual design. The stitches may be put into the quilt by a single person or by a number of snitchers in a quilting bee process. The bee can be when a group of snitchers come together in a room at a set time to work together. Or a bee can also occur when the quilt is left out and a person, or a couple people come to it and place their work into it when appropriate or they have time or reason to do so. A variant on the bee is a process in which a number of people agree on a theme or design and each makes her section by herself. Then everyone sends or brings the section to have it attached to everyone else’s sections to create the final quilt. That’s how the Aids Memorial Quilt was and continues to be made for instance.

So it can be one person who makes the quilt for each student or it can be a group of people. If one or even two people do all the stitching, making quilts is a lot of work. It is always easier and more productive if there is a team of quilters working on stitching. A team can get it done faster and with greater efficiency. This is also true of stitching in students to the school. The more people who work in the stitch-in process, the better odds are that students will be more firmly stitched into the school. By the way, I am talking about those who actually do the work of stitching; not a committee. And certainly not an academic committee. There is too much real work to be done and all committees usually do is meet, schedule more meetings and then ask for more time because they couldn’t agree.

Keep in mind that every quilting bee has side kibitzers who don’t sew the quilt but have one at home. They are only too happy to tell the real workers about the design, the length of stitches and how the quilt could be made better. They don’t sew anything but delay, dissent, distraction and so many design concepts that rather than an elegant finished product we all end up with swatches that at best will end up as a crazy quilt that will not help bring comfort to students. Keep in mind that kibitzers don’t do much but eat the snacks and coffee that should go to the workers.

If you want a process that will stitch in students, let those who work with the fabric every day design the quilt. Oh yes, you may will want to talk with those who will be given the quilt. Ask them what they would have wanted in the quilting they received prior to coming to the college or deciding not to come. Good research often comes from those who didn’t buy the product and shopped elsewhere.

But having a stitch-in bee does not necessarily create greater beauty and finish. To accomplish that a clear sense of design or reason for the quilt is required. There are many types of quilted textiles from placemats to baby blankets to king sized comforters. Each one has a specific reason for size, shape, thickness and design. A placemat won’t cover a bed while a king size comforter could smother a baby.

The most important aspect of making a quilt or a stitch-in process is its design to meet its purpose. Every quilt is different just as all schools are different. Yes, most all quilts do have similar elements – cloth, stitches, colors, traditional styles – and every school has similar pieces like classes, faculty, but every one is finally unique. It is important that the quilt you create to stitch-in your enrollments fits your school and your potential students.

Determine what your quilt needs to have in it to keep students coming to your school and what its structure, design and elements must be for your school.

There are some common elements that I have found in most all stitch-in processes so I give them to you as a starting point. For this we drop the metaphors, analogies and symbolic language. Here are some straight stitches.

Ten Key Elements to a Successful Stitch-in Process

  1. Design the process with a full knowledge and understanding of your school, its strengths, weaknesses and what makes students come or not show. Learn what works and does not work. Create a design that will meet the needs. Just don’t throw people or a brochure at it. Do it correctly.
  2. Call every new student accepted to the school within 24-48 hours. That’s when buyer’s remorse and second guessing can start. Stay in touch with the students. Contact them personally at least once a week. And not to bug them about what they need to do next to get their payment in on time.
  3. Keep a log of needed paperwork, forms etc that the student or family needs to complete and keep it up top date. If they need to obtain paperwork to complete the process, help them get it. That may not mean actually getting it for them though that never hurts but make sure they know where they can obtain it.
  4. Find out their interests such as career goals and keep them informed about what is happening in tat area in the school. If a graduate gets a job for instance, send that information out to all potential students who may be at all interested. A good way to do this is to use a system such as Leadwise like West Virginia State University is with its personal college planner system.
  5. Keep asking if there are any issues or concerns they, their parents or spouse might have that might get in the way of showing for classes. Then help solve them. If it is a commuting issue for instance, see if you can find another student in the area who could help out with a ride or car pooling or check the public transportation schedule and send the potential schedule to get to classes.
  6. Keep others who have a stake in the student showing up for classes involved and active, i.e. admissions, enrollment management and check in with other student processing offices such as registrar, bursar, financial aid, department chairs, etc on a regular basis to make sure students are getting done what they need to so they can start school.
  7. Keep getting good news and information about the school to the potential students (that’s what they are until they start classes.) If there is a school newspaper, email them copies. It may be worthwhile to create a digest of the paper for instance to help keep positive articles in front of the potential students. IF the school is mentioned positively in the media, get it out. If there are sports teams, debate teams, clubs doing things, let potential students know.
  8. Invite students to events on campus and create special events for them. An inexpensive Meet the ----- pizza party can go a long way for local students. Even if they can’t come, getting invited is good. Create on-line or teleconferenced events like Ask the President, Filling out FAFTA Help, open Q+A with faculty, department chairs other students in the major, meet the football team…..If you know there is an issue that many students face or have questions about, open it up and discuss it to resolve it as much as is possible.
  9. Do not forget the buying committee. You are enrolling the entire family. Parents and spouses need to be kept in the loop too. If they are going to be helicopter parents, provide them an early landing pad and they won’t fly in as often. Set up special teleconferences in the evening for parents and spouses sp they can see you realize and considered that they work but want to provide opportunities for them. Set up a parent/spouse website where they can get FAQs, ask questions, blog, get answers from the college, students and OTHER PARENTS WHO HAVE GONE THROUGH IT. Keep parents and spouses involved.
  10. And since this is very important, here’s number 1 again with a few more thoughts. Study your school, its culture and existing processes. See what works and what doesn’t in stitching potential students in to become real students as starts. Find out what attracts or repels potential applicants. Design the stitch-in process with a full knowledge and understanding of your school, its strengths, weaknesses and what makes students come or not show. Learn what works and does not work. Create a design that will meet the needs. Just don’t throw people or a brochure at it. Do it correctly.

If you need help with the design, implementation, assessment or any aspect of setting up a stitch in process, get in touch. I’ll be glad to help or recommend others who can. There are one or two external groups that can either set up a process or you or even do it for you. Outsourcing may be a good way to go to save money, time, and students. Remember Academic Customer Service Principle 14.

To every problem there is more than one solution

and they may be external rather than within academia.

Stitch-in is not only an early and important part of retention to fulfill the real enrollment process. Stitch-in can be the difference between a successful learning experience for students. It can also be an extremely important aspect of a successful and enjoyable teaching experience for your faculty and staff. Stitch-in can also be the difference between enrolling a class that meets your school’s needs for right fit, continuing revenue and enrollment success.

(If you’d like a copy of the Principles of Good Academic Customer Service, just ask and I’ll get them to you.)


AcademicMAPS is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and customer service solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them
We increase your success



“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

No comments: