Monday, March 15, 2010

Groucho, Harpo and Chico University at Your Academic Customer Non-Service

Groucho, Harpo and Chico University at Your Academic Customer Non-Service

Can anyone explain to me, to students, families, employers or society how any of this is good educational practice, even close to acceptable academic customer service or good budgeting sense?

· Colleges and universities are cutting thousands of class sections students need

· Class sizes go up as high as 90 for required skill development composition classes

· Student services are eliminated or limited

· Adjunct faculty are cut but most full-time faculty do not add sections to their load to make up for the lost instruction

· Professional tutoring and academic counseling are reduced

· Fees are increased with no additional services added

· Degree programs are eliminated

· Public universities are reducing in-state slots for in-state students whose families pay taxes which go to support the colleges so they can recruit out-of-state students

· Departments are cutting courses students in other departments need to graduate

· Courses required in to graduate are only offered once a year and not enough sections for all the students who need the course

· Tuition and the shadow tuition of fees are increasing by large percentages

· Enrollment is being cut even at community colleges

· Employees who help students are being furloughed

· College presidents can earn over $1 million dollars while adjunct faculty make less than a Wal-Mart employee, get no benefits

· Just over 50% of all students complete a four-year degree in six years

· Less than 30% of all students ever complete a two-year degree

· For-profit-college graduate 59% and leave students with major debts to pay off

· Required composition courses being taught by non-degreed students.

Not by faculty but by students! Who may not be great writers themselves!!!!

None of the above should be anyone’s idea of what constitutes good educational decisions or practice. Yes, the claim is that these situations were created in response to the deep recession we are in. And yes, something needed to be done to balance the budgets at colleges and universities. We can all agree to these realities.

But that does not say we need to agree with the approaches used to try and balance the budgets. And the list above which is only a partial inventory of bad ideas and decisions is one which I hope no one feels constitutes appropriate responses. They are certainly, each and every one of them, a horrible example of academic customer service. In fact, these are a catalog of ways to make certain that an already embarrassingly low national six-year retention rate of just over 50% of all college students gets even lower. Again, note that this is a six year rate for students enrolled in four year programs.

Cutting Services for Student Success Classes and sections are one of the major “services and products” colleges generate for its customer base of students. So when they cut tens of thousands of sections and classes, they are reducing the basic services for which students are paying. It is as if you went to a movie and because the cost of renting the film went up, the theater was only showing three-fourths of the film. Anyone lining up at that theater?

Certainly there are courses at most every school that could be cut with little or no loss to the students and their learning. There are some real “winners” out there being offered that we can all live without. These are not necessarily the courses being cut. I’m not going to name any but those of us in higher ed know what I am talking about. These elective courses are the brain child of a faculty member who always wanted to teach this topic even if it no one else on the faculty would ever want their child taking it. And no, this is in no way a comment on anyone’s political hobby horse such as some conservative tea bagger, uhh tea party member. Some of the courses and sections being cut are ones that students need, really need to progress in their major or even graduate.

There are courses and sections that were important enough to be required and demanded every semester or term that are now only being offered once a year. This cuts the availability to the students by at least half. And if the number of sections is cut from say four a year to just one section in the Fall, this is a 75% reduction in services for this required course and to the students who must take it. Not that there is any reduction in tuition to go along with the class or sections cuts. To make things worse, advisors and students are too often not made aware of the cancellations so students have no way of knowing that they must sign up for the course at the only time offered. They miss the term or semester offering and are forced into yet another semester of study. This extra semester is not free either!

I would not every suggest that any college or university would cut its offerings requited to graduate without telling students just to extend their stay at the school. That would be a practice too similar to what Harvard Business School researchers Gail McGovern and Youngme Moon found for some businesses in their article Companies and the Customer Who Hate Them (June 2007). McGovern and Moon found that some banks, credit card and cell phone companies created situations that they knew would cause customers to make errors so they could then charge them penalties and make more money. It would be much too cynical to contemplate that colleges would knowingly cut sections and not make those decisions clear enough to advisors and students to force students into an additional year of tuition. Wouldn’t it? That is not the sort of thing colleges would do – knowingly. But it is still wrong. We advertise and sell a four-year experience so we should do all we can to provide the services like courses and advising needed to get through in four years.

To not do so is to create a situation like buying a defective bicycle. The ones you were shown when signing to buy a bike had two tires but to save on costs, the dealer has eliminated one of them. So if you want to ride it at all, you need to pay extra for the other tire. And, of yuh, the dealer forgot to tell you that your one wheel bike is only available in the winter when you were not planning to pick it up. So you forfeit the bike this year and will have to come back again whenever it is available next.

And services that serve students? Well, it was a choice between keeping researchers happy and meeting student needs so…Well, research are faculty and keeping faculty as happy as possible is important. Faculty are the ones that can vote no confidence after all. And what will unhappy students do? Leave. Just drop out. We’ll just increase recruitment goals.

Seven Steps to Salvation Every school has a mission statement that puts students foremost in the calling of the institution. It is de rigueur after all to put students first. But everyone knows the mission statement is just like the Seven Steps to Salvation. They are something to print up and point to but for god’s sake don’t hold anyone to them.

In fact, it often seems some of the least important people on campus are students (if one does not count the full-time staff which we all know we don’t count except when we give out the Staff Member of the Year Award…) On too many campuses, students seem to be just one rung up from adjunct faculty who are also rather expendable but absolutely necessary if the institution is to function. Proof? Well, how about reduced services such as professional tutoring, counseling, and advising; reductions in direct service offices such as registrar, bursar, financial aid, cashier, student activities, librarians, computer lab techs and the such; replacement of people who would assist students with on-line DIY technologies that often do not function well; fewer student affairs administrators and staff especially at night where some schools have over 50% of their student body in attendance.

It seems that at many too any universities, the students are seen as a major revenue source as well as a cost center rather than the primary reason for the institution’s existence.

This helps explain why numerous state-assisted colleges and universities see out-of-state students as a way to increase tuition revenue since they pay twice or even three times the tuition that in-state students pay. In-state students do not pay enough in direct tuition and fees it would seem if one forgets they are taxpayers and from taxpaying families in the state. So even though the school receives tax dollars per student or from a formula from state revenues plus capital funds for facilities grounds, new buildings and capital debt service from the state, the sons and daughters of the tax payers are being cut. Non-taxpaying out-of-staters who can pay more direct tuition but not other state assistance are targeted customers. Oh yes, the out-of-state students can compete with in-state student for school-based scholarships and aid. And if they get some, that does reduce their increased tuition costs and school revenue which should decrease their desirability but doesn’t.

Marx Brothers University These are all poor academic customer service decisions which are also not helping educational quality. These will all contribute to an increase in attrition in colleges and universities. More students will leave higher education as a result of them. We will be poorer as a nation, economy, society and culture from these negative service decisions made by colleges and universities. They should make us all sad for the losses they will incur.

But there is one cost cutting decision, one anti-service, anti-education course of action that is so overwhelming wide of the mark, a cost cutting measure that is so egregiously wrong, that it calls out for condemnation.

Every university has required courses that students make take and pass. They are required because their information or training is so important that a student should not be able to get a degree without having passed the course. Composition is one such required course. It is a required service course because writing is required in most every other class students take at a university as well as in life. Thus, it is a course that services other courses as well as providing a valuable life skill for students. Write poorly and students do not do as well as they could. Moreover, the ability to write “correctly” is viewed as a prerequisite for an educated person.

So with all that in mind, to save money the State University of California at Chico has put 90 freshman into one huge section of required composition. Learning to write is a task-intensive process that requires a great deal of personal attention and assistance from a professional teacher of composition. Okay, that is really poor service and learning especially considering that the national recommended class size for a freshman composition class is eighteen. So at Chico State, they exceeded that goal by a factor of 500%. That is bad but not the really bad part.

The class of 90 students has one faculty member in the classroom. Composition, a skill development course has become a lecture presentation. At Chico which deserves to be renamed Marx Brothers University to make sure Harpo and Groucho also get appropriately recognized in what seems like a school gone animal crackers, there are no degreed people teaching the actual hands-on skill section of required composition. No professional reviewing of the writing and helping each student learn her strengths, his weaknesses. The freshmen students in this service course, required so they can do well in the university itself as well as in society and career, has trusted the hands-on teaching to a group of non-degreed undergraduate students. Students themselves. Not as tutors. As the in-class faculty guiding the other students to learning to write. Undergraduate students themselves, not yet graduates, who presumably passed composition with a high enough grade to teach a required course– in a university.

This is a gross violation of educational policy as well as any claim to academic excellence and process. It is a dis-service to all the students required to take and pay for the required composition course. It also could be, and should be, a violation of regional accrediting standards, State educational department policy standards and what any faculty senate should allow or accept. It has been my experience that an accrediting agency such as Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a State educational department and a self-respecting faculty would not allow a person with just a bachelor’s degree to teach a class in a university; never mind non-degreed undergraduates. And teaching a required course necessary to future success in the university as well as career.

It should be mentioned that Chico did state in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article on the 90 student undergraduate taught courses that 5% more students passed than in the past. There was no mention if they learned to write better though which is really the issue. Considering that the complaints about the poor writing skills of college graduates are rather common from both employers and graduate faculty, passing a course taught by other undergraduates whose writing may be in question is not a solid indicator that learning has taken place.

Budget Cuts Do Not Excuse Yes, colleges, universities and community colleges are having budget problems. And yes, some changes need to be made but nothing as drastic and questionable as what is happening at Chico State and many, too many other schools. Colleges and universities are making some very anti-student/customer decisions because they view the budget too often as if it only had one solution to a drop in revenues – cutting or taking action such as significant tuition and fee hikes that will cause pain for students so they will write to legislators to demand more money.

This is not just wrong it is an unethical breaking of trust that has led to today’s society’s increasing lack of support for higher education administration. A recent Public Agenda report Squeeze Play 2010: Continues Public Anxiety on Cost, Harsher Judgments on How Colleges Are Run by Immerwahr, Johnson et all found that the public currently believes colleges and universities have enough money to operate and serve their sons and daughters. But are not doing so. People whose personal budgets have been cut to shreds do not have much compassion for constant tuition increases or college presidents whose salaries have climbed steadily even as individual incomes have moved backwards or been fully eliminated. Or for faculty who complain of heavy workloads of between zero to five classes a week, time to be home reading and doing research with summers off while the people who pay for the college struggle to make ends meet.

Colleges and universities have to start realizing that they need to focus not on what they care about for themselves as much as what the public cares about if they wish to regain public support and revenue. And the public is concerned that their sons, daughters, husband and wives can get the education needed to get and keep a job. They want full academic customer service which includes the courses they need, enough sections for them to be able to get the programs they need completed, qualified faculty in the classroom, the services they need when and where they need them and people that care about their success. They want to feel that they are at least as important as any research a faculty member is working on. That they are being treated as if they had value, integrity and importance. They want to feel that the institution is there for their success.

Colleges Lose BILLIONS in Attrition Interestingly enough if colleges and universities actually did focus more on student success most all of them would make long strides toward solving their budgetary shortfalls.

Not because the public would suddenly want to give them more money. That is not going to happen. The schools will help curtail budget cutting by focusing on student success because student achievement leads to increased revenue. Increasing revenue looks to a more positive view of the budgeting process and institutional success through increasing revenue to the bottom line. The more institutions provide academic customer services that meet student needs and demand as discussed earlier, the greater will be the number of students who will stay in school through graduation. The more a college increases student retention, the greater the positive revenue flow.

It is as easy as that. Increased student academic customer services leads greater student success which in turn will increase retention yielding greater institutional fiscal success. If a college gets $20,000 a year in tuition and improves its retention by 100 students that will lead to an additional $2 million. And 100 more students will stay in school, graduate and lead better lives; just as a university or college says it will help them do.

As a nation, the US loses over $4 BILLION a year from student attrition. So conversely, if the nation were to improve its attrition rate, it could save over $4 BILLION in lost tuition revenue. This would in turn pour rather significant amounts of dollars into individual college and university budgets. That would mean thousands of additional graduates a year too. Graduates who could be taught in classes much smaller than 90 and by quite possibly by qualified, professionals. This should lead to greater student success which we would see in higher graduation rates and a strengthened economy rather than bad loans, defaults and ruined credit and futures.

How could we increase student retention and success? We should begin by reversing some of the bad decisions already made. Start by engaging students better by instituting much better academic customer service for students. Consider that 84% of students quit school for customer service-related issues such as “colleges not caring about me” as shown by fewer sections, bulging class sizes, canceled sections, campuses needing upkeep or maintenance, and reduced services in general. Realize that the second major reason students leave a college is receiving poor direct service and treatment. When more services and the people who normally help students are cut, morale and basic customer service also drop. Students feel this and will leave as a result. After all, they do know they are customers even if we won’t admit or accept this fact and customers want to be treated well. Other reasons, mostly academic customer service issues are in the chart below.

Want to see how much your school is losing in attrition and thus could be gaining through increased customer service. Simple Customer Service Factor (CSF) formula here taken from The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education.

CSF1 = [(P X A= SL) X T]

In the formula, P represents the total school population; not just the starting fall freshman number. Most schools use the fall incoming freshmen number and that is an error. The assumption is that attrition occurs most in the first six weeks of the freshman year. That may be have some validity for the freshman year but the reality is that students are leaving colleges and universities in any one of the average six-plus years of a four-year degree and in the four-plus average years of a two-year degree. Students leave a school throughout their experience at the college…

In CSF1, A equals attrition. Again not just from freshman but an annualized attrition rate. And this rate is to include ALL students who leave for any reason. …

SL stands for students lost annually from total population and revenue production. And T equals annual tuition at the school.

So here is what showed up when we analyzed CSF1 for Mammon University. You may know it. Its motto is Omnes Por Pecunia. Anything for a Buck.

Its total population was 500 students.

Annualized attrition was at 39.6%

So SL (students lost annually) was 198.

Times an annual tuition of $13,000.

So, the formula becomes:

[(500 x 39.6% = 198) x $13,000] = a revenue loss of ($2,574,000).

All a college needs to do is plug its own numbers in and find out how much it is losing from attrition. The number will be rather surprising for most institutions. I should hope that colleges and universities would choose increasing academic customer service and added success for their students and themselves over poor decision-making and acting like The Marx Brothers were making their decisions.

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Neal is a pleasure to work with – his depth of knowledge and engaging, approachable style creates a strong connection with attendees. He goes beyond the typical, “show up, talk, and leave” experience that some professional speakers use. He “walks the talk” with his passion for customer service. We exchanged multiple emails prior to the event, with his focus being on meeting our needs, understanding our organization and creating a customized presentation. Neal also attended and actively participated in our evening-before team-building event, forging positive relationships with attendees – truly getting to know them. Personable, knowledgeable, down-to-earth and inspiring…. " Jean Wolfe, Training Manager, Davenport University

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