Thursday, July 29, 2010

Customer Service Guaranteed Retention Increase 5: Tikkun Olam - Mentor Each Student

customer service in college, academic customer service, retention, attrition, student success, 
Students need to feel they are engaged to and with the college. They need to have their social structure and support systems rebuilt while attending college so they have someone to lean on or go to in times of stress or need. They can go to fellow students for some information such as what professor to never take; what classes will fulfill requirements; which administrator cares about students and will try to help out ; etc. But there are many times when another student can’t help out or provide the support needed in the situation. These are the times when they might have asked a parent what to do but the parents do not understand the system and the school. So, they need a sort of collegiate parent figure – a mentor.

There is a reality rites des passage about college. It really does not come with a user’s manual though the FAQ’s recommended to help end the shuffle could fill the need. College is a strange environment that prior knowledge and experience including orientation do not prepare one for. There are new rules to learn.  Traditions and morés to absorb. A whole new way of life and a new lace to try and find one’s way around. In fact, college is a strange place not only because it is new and unique but because it seems to put all new students through a rite de passage involved in just finding one’s way around, finding a parking spot in time to get to class or just getting from one place to another on time. It is almost as if universities in particular put new students though a geographical hazing by having them find their way around campus without the use of helpful signs.  Signage on most campuses ranges from weak to non-existent.

There are administrative and procedural challenges and tests that are added on too just to see if a new student is really college material. In most schools for example, there is the rite/test of “find the advisor” which is part of the registration ritual. Students need to sign up for courses of course but to do so they must have them signed off from her academic advisor. But since it is the summer prior to the start of  classes, the advisors are quite often no9t on campus. The advisor might have office hours but since classes have not begun, the hours are neither posted nor the advisor in the office for the unposted hours. So the student has to work to find someone willing to sign off on the schedule unless of course she finds out from another student shuffled around the campus that the way to end the test is to just sign the registration form for the advisor. First, no one at registration checks for an actual signature nor would know the actual one if he saw it. Two, the advisor usually does not know what should actually be taken as well as another student who already passed this test and learned from experience. Or three, the advisor is found or another takes some pity on the student and signs off for the assigned advisor.

These processes do not help further the engagements between student and school. In fact, they initiate rifts between the two. The student begins to find that the school is not showing the engagement and caring that was promised and that he or she is “on my own”.  But this need not be the situation if the college engaged students with mentors. A mentoring system could also increase retention by approximately 84% of the total number of students who were mentored.

Most colleges assign a new student an academic advisor thinking that academics are important as they are, but not to the decision to leave. They forget about the major reason why students leave – the human element of attrition. But mentors can strengthen that attachment, the engagement at least at the beginning of the experience.  Mentors need not be drawn from the academic sector alone by the way. In fact, many students report that though faculty are a primary source of direct contact, many others report that they have found relationships in interactions with others who have reached out to them such as staff and administrators. With some training, everyone, from the president on up at the college can be a mentor if he or she is willing. This includes not just full time employees and faculty but adjuncts As well. It would be a very inexpensive investment to pay adjuncts for another fewer hours  of mentoring some students Keep in mind that students do not draw distinctions between full and adjunct faculty.

And every person at the school should be willing to become a mentor to students. Students are what everyone is there for after all. In fact, it is in helping students that members of the campus community really meet their goals. Helping the college reach its mission by helping students succeed and stay in school  provides most people at a college their reason for being and working at the school.  Moreover, a student completed by AcademicMAPS found that people work at a college not for the high pay and short hours but for the chance to be part of something bigger than they are; a chance to contribute to the school, its students and a better future for everyone.

Tikun Olam
This is a version of a Jewish belief called Tikun Olam - to save the world. Tikun Olam realizes that every person is a world unto him or herself.  So to save a person, to make a person better is to better, to save the world. And that is what people in a college or university do. They strengthen each and every student, each and every world and in so doing, the people who work in a college have many opportunities to save worlds and make our world better as they do so. By engaging students as mentors, they are also engaging in tikun olam which gives their lives greater meaning and value. By doing so, they also better their own worlds as well as the institution itself.

For example, a university with a population of 2,575 students and 300 employees with an attrition rate of 81.1% that has its employees mentor 300 students has an opportunity to save between 300 to 252 student worlds. That could increase their retention rate by up to 14% which could also add $1,387,445 to the budget. And if employees were willing to mentor up to 8 students each, it could be possible to add to the retention rate by a factor of 67% which would be an amazing turnaround.

It is necessary of course to realize that not everyone is capable of reaching out to students in an appropriate manner to mentor students even with training which everyone should have before they do mentor. With this realization, it will be important to focus the mentoring effort on those who will most benefit. This calls for some realistic recognitions that can be guided by grades. Students who earn A’s have likely either already found an engagement in the school or will survive on their own.  Students who are failing will likely have a long road back and may not be “savable”. Thus the effort should focus first on students falling between the B- to D+ range for greatest retention payoff.

The author of the above article is Dr. Neal A. Raisman the leading researcher, consultant and presenter on academic customer service. His firm AcademicMAPS provides colleges, universities and schools as well as the business that wish to work with them. The audits, training, workshops and presentation they provide have assisted over 300 colleges, universities and career schools in the US, Canada and Europe improve and increase student success and retention to graduate more alumni.

His latest book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education is the 
best-selling book on collegiate customer service and retention and is available from The Administrator's Bookshelf.

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