Thursday, July 08, 2010

Guaranteed Retention Increase 2 - Engage Students Through the Enrollment Process

academic customer service, student success, retention, enrollment, attrition, enrollment management, student services

Customer Service Guaranteed Retention Increase 2: Enrollment Ends at Graduation

Colleges and universities have traditionally viewed admissions and thus enrollment as something that take place before classes begin. The recruitment and enrollment processes are to get the students to come to the school after all, or so the thinking went. Once the students are there, it is no longer necessary to continue courting them. Nor is it at all really that important to work on retaining students. In fact, once they come to campus it is the job of the school and faculty in particular to separate the college students from the chaff.

Even during the period between acceptance and putting down the money through the first day of classes, there is usually only one event to show any level of appreciation and service after the sale. This is orientation when the admissions and some student services folk do what they can to show they are still trying to make sure the students show up at school. During the period after orientation, the most likely communication from a school will be some sort of official notice too often written in academicese (the arcane, jargon and abbreviation-laden language known only to the academic tribes that interact on campus preserves) or a bill or two or three. All a sure way of beginning the attrition process by letting the student know we no longer really care if you stay or not. But pay NOW!

It is extremely important that a school that cares about its revenue and thus ability to meet budget without significant cuts begin to realize that enrollment is a process that starts at first contact and only ends at graduation when the student signs up to be a member of the alumni organization. Colleges need to recognize that the enrollment process is one that never actually ends. Every day, every contact, every communication is part of a long engagement between the student and the institution. Thus students need to be resold the institution every day, every contact, every communication with any one or any part of the college or university.

Realize that what the student has bought and contracted for is the dream of success and a future that the school has sold to the student through the website, viewbooks, ads, recruiters catalogs, campus visit, etc. The school has said “if you accept my proposal to come here, I will do all I can to give you all I have promised.” And the student believes that, places his or her trust in the school, and said “yes, I will attend.” The relationship becomes one akin to an engagement between a couple to get married only in this engagement, the affianced must also by her own ring through tuition and fees.

The engagement moves to the next level at graduation. That is when the relationship alters forever and there is even a name change for the student. As the student crosses the stage, is given a diploma, he or she becomes Mr or Mrs. XYZ, graduate of College forevermore. A new stage of the relationship begins at that moment when the student becomes and alumnus but not always to the benefit of the school. In fact, a weak engagement culminating in graduation is often doomed and leads to a divorce that fundraisers suffer. If a student feels he or she was not well treated looking back on the engagement person, there will be no donations to the school. In fact, weak engagements while in school is a major reason why alumni giving is so low. A student may feel that there was too much invested in the relationship to back out now but when the request for donation is given, that’s the opportunity for a divorce.

As with all engagements, the success of the couple depends on mutual trust, faith, and the hard work of not betraying other by coming though on promises once the giddiness of the first week passes. If each partner comes through on promises and does what the other appropriately requires, the faith and trust essential to being successful will remain intact. For a college and student that means the college needs to do and provide what it promised (eg. personal attention, small classes, caring, classes needed to progress, assistance, a nurturing environment, etc). The student also must come through too with class attendance, completing assignments on time, making a sincere effort to learn, preparing for class, appropriate behavior, etc). Interestingly enough, it is for the school to work harder in this relationship for it is the one that made the sale, the promises yet, this is not often the case because academics believe enrollment ends once a student shows up.

Schools need to engage the students every day, every contact, every chance. They need to make certain that students feel they are important and valued. One simple way to begin is to have all college personal who answer the phone learn how to do it properly. It is not enough to say “XYX University. How can I help you” in a bored or even angry tone. It is necessary to answer the phone enthusiastically even when one is not feeling all that happy to answer the phone because the caller can hear the lack of enthusiasm and will not be happy by it. Some of this can be changed by having people smile before they answer the phone. Place mirrors with the words SMILE PLEASE on them above each phone. Have people look at the mirror and smile before answering the phone. And work to get everyone to smile while walking in the halls or on campus.

And if someone leaves a voice mail or an email, get back to them. Not at your leisure but within a n hour if at all possible and before the end of the day if there is no time at all to return calls. Little is more assured to generate anger than being ignored.

Communicate every time there is a chance with good news. The messages can be personalized by student name and major so when something happens relating to the major for example someone gets a job, students in that career track get a personalized email. Another quick and easy way to communicate inexpensively is to post information on the backs of bathroom stalls and over urinals. They will be read. People are always looking for something to read while....Well, when they are otherwise engaged.

Faculty need to have realistic and more than the bare minimum office hours to see students about classwork and whenever they wish to just say hello. Faculty members must post the hours and actually keep them. In a recent audit, we found only 46% for faculty posted office hours and the hours posted were the bare minimum as well as at quite awkward times for students. And, by the way, when a faculty member is supposed to be in the office, be there.
Advisers need to be up-to-date on curricular changes and major requirements. They also must be fully aware when courses are being offered and whether or not the course is offered each term or semester. Further, they should learn their advisees' names and something about each one other than their major. An adviser should be the person a student turns to for help and advice when a problem arises so it is important that a rapport be developed between the student and the adviser.

These are but a few ideas. There are many other academic customer services that can and will increase the sense of a positive engagement leading to greater retention in the range of an added four to six percent. But to work they all must be embedded in a culture that accepts that admissions is just the start to process of engagement that lasts at least until graduation. If a college accepts and acts upon that recognition , retention will increase.


The author of the article is Dr. Neal Raisman the president of AcademicMAPS, the leader in training, workshops and research on increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that seek to work with them.

We increase your success

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

“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, CA

“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, Faculty Member, Lincoln Technical Institute

“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-Fort Kent

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