Sunday, October 09, 2011

Redefining retention for Reality and Academic Customer Service Pruposes

I was doing some research into how much money individual colleges and Universities are losing on an annualized basis due to attrition. (Surprise – the numbers are in the millions per individual schools and billions for us all collectively.) The source was IPEDS which is one of the standard sources. I was bothered by one of their statistics, It is the retention rate which they calculate only as the percentage of students who come back from the freshman year.

That is not a retention rate. That is snapshot of freshman- to-sophomore rate as if there weren’t at least three more years to worry about.  Very different. It forgets about the sophomore bubble, the junior jump, senior slide, super senior slipways and all the other times that students leave a school. Calling the freshman to sophomore number a retention rate is very misleading.

When we calculated the actual average six year attrition rates for colleges there were huge differences between the “retention rate” and the actual cohort attrition rate. The real indicator of retention is how many students a school keeps over the full period required for a student to graduate. Until a student graduates, he or she has not been retained.

In fact what we are finding is that the sophomore year is becoming a significant time for students to leave a college.  An equal number and for some even more students leave a college after the freshman year than during it.

Freshman year is not real college? And real college is tough – meant to wean out the weak that should not be in college anyhow. Most every freshman will disagree. It was a tough year. But what she may mean is that in the freshman year students are treated with care, concern and customer service. Sophomore year… Well, screw ‘em? Let them sink?

What is clear here and at most every college is that in the freshman year customer service is considered by many colleges sort of like the Xmas spirit. For a week, people are kind to their fellow man and woman, give donations for the poor, help out those who may need assistance. Then after the holiday, it’s back to WIFM and “hey I gave at the office”.

Now, some people will be kind and helpful all year long and those are the colleges that do not experience the sophomore slump. They pay attention to students, their needs and expectations and provide good customer service throughout the freshman, sophomore, junior, senior and super senior years as if they all mattered.

The solution to the sophomore attrition bubble and after it is easy. Treat students as if they matter every day, every year.

Education is a service industry in which the clients/students make a decision about the level and value of the service every day, and even many times a day. They skip a class for example if they do not feel it is worth going. They actually judge the school’s concern for them every single day. They decide daily if they are currently getting and believe they will get the requisite financial, emotional and affective returns on their investment. If the answers are not at least, "I guess so" the bubble pops right then and there - sophomore year or not.

Then when they have a break – weekends, vacations, semester breaks – they determine if they are going to return on Monday. If they feel they are at Cheers University “where everyone knows their name and is awfully glad they came” they return. Or if they are being forced to attend Dr. House’s clinic where he may be a good doctor but clearly does not give a damn about them, they will seek new doctors.

So IPEDS and others need to calculate retention as a cohort graduation rate and not just a freshman to sophomore rate.

If this article has value for you, you'll want to get a copy of the best-selling book The Power of Retention by clicking here.

N.Raisman & Associates has been providing customer service, retention, enrollment and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits, workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. N.Raisman & Associates prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 

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