Thursday, December 10, 2009

7 Myths and 5 Realities of Retention

Today’s New York Times (12/10/09) has an article on a new and important study on page A 23. It focuses on the Public Agenda publication With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them. It exposes four myths under which our colleges and society currently work. The myths are

1) Most students go to college full time. If they leave without a degree it’s because they are bored with their classes and don’t want to work hard.

2) Most college students are supported by their parents and take advantage of a multitude of available loans, scholarships and savings plans.

3) Most students go through meticulous process of choosing their college from an array of alternatives.

4) Students who don’t graduate understand fully the value of a college degree and the consequences and trade-offs of leaving school without one.

These are all important myths to be debunked and they do a pretty good job of doing so.

They do miss two important myths that need to be examined as well

Myth 5) Students are young people who attend during the daytime.

Myth 6) There are actually almost always two colleges in one. There is the daytime school which gets the most attention, support and assistance through the staff, faculty and administrators. Then there is school two which is at night and has almost no attention support, or assistance. If the mass of students which can equal or even exceed daytime population is lucky, there is a part-time “evening director” who most often has a tentative attachment to the institution.

The ignorance of colleges and universities toward College Two is a topic for another discussion which will come soon. Just wanted to get it out there since most every stuffy of colleges fail to include College Two and its students.

The Report With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them looks at retention and some of the reasons students really leave college. It concludes that the top reason students drop out is the need to work and go to school. The money itself was a concern sure but the larger was find a way to balance work, family an external commitments and school demands. It also sees that the myths above are so prevalent in higher education that it is having trouble making a shift to retain more students. These are important issues to which I wish to add some thoughts from our research.

We concur with most all of the above. We add that 84% of drops occur because colleges are focused on the wrong issues for most students. The report says correctly that 75% of today’s students would be termed nontraditional. They don’t live in a dorm,. They don’t attend full-time; have family incomes above $35,000 and do not have families with college experience and/or support. Colleges are focused on the 25% that fit the “traditional student” image. But they are not even focused enough on them to be honest.

Colleges are not focused enough on students and their success. Okay, that is a generalization but one I will support so when you write and say my college is focused on students first, better have proof starting with a retention to graduation rate of 85% or better with at least 50% of the population non-traditional. And you’d better be able to show me the retention to graduation plan and the people who are hired to retain students as their primary and only focus. I’ll let you all slide on full-time versus adjunct/serfs and moist anything else but graduation rate.

The myths in the report have validity but there is another I need to add.

Myth 7: Students come to college to become better educated. NO. They come to get a job. Just like you and I did. They are there to get to graduation so they can get the diploma that certifies them to employers for a job. That’s it. That’s why they will even take required courses that really have no direct benefit nor are made to seem somehow relevant to them and their lives. They take it because they have to if they want to move ahead. They are realists and here are four of their realities for deciding if staying in college is worth it.


REALITY 1: they can perceive a real return on their investment

REALITY 2: they can envision the goal of a job from the college experience.

REALITY 3: they believe the school actually gives a damn about them including their situation.

REALITY 4: the school shows that they really do want to retain them in college.

REALITY 5: the college provides an equal output of emotion and concern for them as they do.

If the five realities are not met, students leave as shown by the chart below.

Money is of course important but our study of 1200 students who had left college showed that money and cost to attend isolated from the five realities is a small slice of the attrition pie. In fact, when we audit a college for academic customer service, we find that colleges that do employ the five realities find students at risk for financial reasons and then help them resolves the money issues whenever possible.

The most important thing colleges can do to retain students and to give a damn about keeping them. As we like to say Deal with the realities! You worked hard to get them; now work on keeping them.

As Hillary Pennington said it so well in segment in the NYT article that is at the head of this piece, we need to be aggressive in working to keep our customers. If they leave us, it’s not just dropping a service like leaving a cell phone company, it’s more like dropping a life, a future. And if you or anyone else at the college does not feel like something huge is lost when a student leaves, you’re in the wrong job.

If this made sense to you, consider obtaining a copy of my best selling new book on retention and academic customer service

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“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

1 comment:

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