Monday, September 20, 2010

If We Don't Learn From the Hearings Part 2 - Causing Their Own Problems

Part 2 of a 3 part article. To read part 1, click here.

The Human/Inhumane Reasons for the Hearings
Human and inhumane issues are the cause for 96% (yes, I reviewed  a year’s worth of complaints and this is the percentage) of bad press, web-based complaints, internet and twitter  postings and person-to-person Malthuisan angry accusations that grow into “facts” that make it to the ears of State and Federal staffers. If one looks back at the reasons for large settlements to the federal government or to individuals it will be seen that two major categories of poor treatment and customer service arise. One is in the way we treat students. The other the way we treat employees. Since I have written extensively on academic customer service to students I will be brief here and focus on poor customer service for employees.

Creating Angry Students
The most common complaints that arise from students and go to the media and into congressional records is misrepresentation of programs, careers and costs. To attract students for example, advertisements run on TV promising “careers in criminal justice” and showing a police officer in action making it appear that graduates of the program at the school will become police officers. Not what the program does and the result is angry students and graduates. Many students drop out when they discover that they will still have to go to a police academy to become a police officer and that they are qualified for…… The students walk away, tells at least twelve others who tell twelve more and so on until it gets to the press, state and federal officials and leads to propose regulations.

Another extremely common scenario has to do with financial aid and funding. Here is a clip from an on-line complaint site as a quick example. There are hundreds more.  

I went to the school and found the education to be Jr. College like. I was tricked and told not to go to any of the surrounding community colleges or universities, only to find out that the instructors were going to the same very colleges where they steered us away from. Some of the instructors were still in training and would ask the students for help. An instructor even explained that he would get a bonus after we all do good, and times are hard so he would "help" us.
I left the school before 30 days and was told that I could come back to continue where I left off at. Than I began to receive calls from collection agencies demanding money, even though I had a student loan. The so called hands on education was not hands on. We ended up doing work over the computer, which means that we would teach our selves at least one full course. The recruiters lied about receiving commission or incentives for their work. I was told that there was no money out of the pocket! The school has custom published books to save money! They advertise way to often! Teachers complain of being under paid and ward off good friends from becoming entangled in SCHOOL’S mess. I owe money and I wasted time.

Weak to poor teachers is a common complaint but the one that pushes people to call their representatives is the false representation of financial aid and costs leading to higher bills than anticipated followed by the relentless pursuit of payment.  At a college I worked at, it was corporate policy to have someone walk into a class, pull out a student who owed money. Then push as hard as is possible to get money out of him and not let him back into class until he paid. So, it was likely that he would miss a week of classes and fail because of violation of the school’s attendance policy. A perfect horrible customer service catch – 23. You can only go to class if you are paid up and when you are paid up you cannot got to class because you missed too many classes.  No wonder a very common complaint is “all you care about it the money!”

I did not enforce that and other policies that were student and retention negative. They were not just anti-customer service but stupid financial policy. A student who quits is going to be a loss to the revenue flow. Next, if he or she were treated as poorly as the student above and by corporate policy in this company’s schools and most all career colleges, That is money due that will almost never be fully paid. If it goes to collections that is a sure reduction of any moneys received by anywhere up to 50% fees of the agency. And the aggressive approaches of the school and the agencies will very often drive a student to file a complaint which ends up…yes, easily searchable on-line, in the media and legislative hearings.

Instead of pushing students out the door by pulling them out of class, we waited until a class was ended and sat down with the student to try and figure out a way to get the bill paid. We even set up payment plans based on a personal IOU. Yes, we did lose some money but we gained most of it and did not end up as evidence of career college malfeasance or in a hearing. And yes, the folks in the corporate office were not happy when I told people to violate policy but they loved the “cash cows” status of the schools I oversaw.

There is much more that can be said about how poor academic customer service turns students into complainants and witnesses at hearings but the even larger issue is found in the way we treat employees.

Making Ex-Employees into Witnesses                                                                                        Career colleges in general do not pay the field hands, the ones working at the schools all that well. The people who run, teach in and manage the schools where the revenue is generated are paid less and having much greater pressure and level of demands to deal with. This makes the bonuses all that more necessary and important. The corporate “seagulls” are paid better, fly into a school, do what seagulls do and fly off leaving the field hands to clean up the mess. For some reason, the “seagulls” seem to have a belief that if they can bully people, the field hands will respond and do better even if the people at the school know the goals being set cannot be met, or the new program will not succeed in the school’s area, or the demanded reductions in staff will only reduce the ability to perform and meet the goals set. This all creates anxiety, anger and antagonism which builds until field staff explode all over the pages of the local newspapers, TV and yes, in legislative hearings. ( I should mention that this does not apply to everyone of course. There are some intelligent regional managers or area directors. In fact, there are some who should be used as role models for others. One such person I have heard about and spoken to is a man named Vinnie Marino with CEC.)

The result is that one day, the school president pushes back and says no to the seagull and ends quitting in anger or being fired. (To those who wonder, no I am not talking about me.)  The turnover in senior-level positions is quite high and the damage these ex-employees can and do is very high so the school often needs to complete a non-disclosure agreement with the recently ex-employee. That is an additional operating cost.  I was once an observer at a corporate annual meeting where a very self-consumed corporate seagull looked out over a room of about 50 campus directors and presidents. “All of you who have been here ten years or more, standup.” One person did. “Okay five years or more.” Two people stood up/ “Okay then, three or more.” Four more stood up. “One and two years or more?”  Seven stood up. He finally had some sense and stopped. Thirty six of the campus leaders there had been with their schools less than a year. This was not a training session for new campus leaders either but a corporate annual meeting. And I knew for a fact that at least two of the many recently fired presidents were complaining and talking about their experiences with people outside of the college and company.

Another way we create witnesses for hearings is the way we do let people go. It is common procedure to just call someone into an office and let him or her know “we are letting you go but it is not for performance. We just have to make hard decisions because of fiscal situations.” That means the president has been told by the regional seagull that if you don’t reduce staff, you will miss your numbers and forget your bonus.” And of course his own too.

So a person is let go/fired and then is told he or she has to be out of the building within thirty minutes. And a security person accompanies the ex-employee to make sure he or she does not damage anything out of the anger we all know is there from being let go not for performance issues.

These are the people who are not just angry but humiliated by the process. They are turned into the ones who go right to the media and hearings with all the inside information that makes for headlines and great political fodder. They may have heard or even been told to d things that could be damaging not just to that department or school but to the entire sector since it is always assumed “what one does the others will too.” This may be right. It may be wrong but it is a fact of political hearings. 

Many “whistle blowers” are created by schools too. Many schools do not realize that our employees are our customers too. They need positive attention and good customer service. But since too many schools and especially companies see employees as a cost and easily replaced, they are not given the service and respect they deserve. Some schools and companies may try to keep the faculty happy and show some recognition with things like “Faculty Member of the Year” awards but staff…Not so much. Ina fact, staff are seen as expendable too often and are thus pushed to do and achieve without appropriate reward and recognition.

This is especially so of one group of staff that has become a stalwart contributors to all the media and hearings – ex-admissions counselors.  And I am not talking about the Sixty Minutes undercover that exposed some highly inappropriate activity but how we treat admission reps such as uin the segment. I had the unfortunate experience of hearing a corporate executive yelling at all the admissions people at a school. She was screaming at them during a conference call telling them they are a disgrace, failures, do-nothings, losers who should all be fired and likely will be if they miss the start goal. And that was the nice part of the discussion. I had the pleasure of kicking an admissions seagull of a campus and banning him from coming back because of the way he was working with the staff.

Admissions people are pushed to achieve unrealistic numbers. They are told “this is not something you should do but…” They are constantly threatened with dismissal, being written up and put on probation if they do not hit their application or phone calling and admission goals. Then to keep their jobs, they feel they have to get students no matter how while their managers look the other way and just applaud reps who get applications even if they are “pity aps” completed because the rep begged the student to just complete the application “so I can keep my job” or the such. The applications fail to lead to actual shows. The school does not hit enrollment and the lowest achieving reps are let go. And they go with resentment and anger building within because they gave their all against a goal they knew was unrealistic. And many gave more than their all. They may have crossed ethical lines that haunt them. They could know they misled students to get the application. They may realize they compromised themselves and hurt students just to try and keep a job they really hated anyhow because of how they were treated. So given the opportunity to assuage some guilt, they open up to the media and legislators about what they were forced to do that they now know was wrong. 

They tell all and more since they know and observed all. They were there when a misguided admission’s director told them how to get more applications. How it was all about “getting butts in the seats”. They know the rep who was rewarded for putting in false applications and others had to have known because no application fee came with the form. They are there when the rep who got students to apply by misrepresenting the actual offerings, cost or the student’s possibility of actually succeeding is rewarded and promoted while they do the job as it should be done and just get harassed for not doing as well. They are there when the highest achieving rep gets a cash or material award or the highest achieving reps get a vacation at a Hawaiian hotel which will be called “a professional training meeting” or the such which is illegal under Title Four. And when they get let go as they will eventually, given the fifteen minutes to clear out and walked off campus by security, they are low hanging fruit for those who wish to pit the sector in a negative light.

If this piece had value for you, you will want to get a copy of The Power of Retention by clicking here NOW 


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