Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Five Issues Concerning Freshmen Commuting Students

Here are the five top customer service issues from new freshmen commuter students we interviewed at 4-year not-for-profit public and private colleges, community colleges and 2 +4 year proprietary career schools. Students could indicate more than one concern. These are the ones that came up the most.

So now, (drum roll please!)

Top 5 New Commuter Freshman Concerns

1. Paying for college
2. Parking
3. Faculty that care
4. Belonging
5. The right courses
 1- Paying for college is the greatest top of mind response. No surprise. Money is very top-of-mind now in particular. Maslow could have predicted that. Tuition is up. Cost of books is obscene and disposable income is not strong for students and their families in September. Not that college is disposable. Just right now, at the start of the real New Year in the US (Labor Day), bills had to be paid, books bought (or not) and many students are going through their money fast. “I’m set for this semester but the next ones….?” was a common theme of many students.

So be sure that your financial aid office is working well and that the advisors each know about what to tell students who express concerns about finances. Each should at least be aware if there is an emergency loan program on campus (If there isn't there should be.) be sure they know about the rudimentary process of applying for financial aid, what scholarships there are and budgeting concepts. (Money management is an area that should be covered in orientation to help students.)

2- Parking is a perennial issue. Colleges do it all wrong and make students (the customers) park in the worst, most distant lots. Moreover, since most schools plan parking based on average per day over a year and the first weeks are far from average attendance, students actually want to be there the first month, there are normally shortages of parking spots. And what is available is way out at the rear of C Lot. Students (faculty, administrators, staff and the rest of us) don’t like walking. Add these all up and no wonder parking is a constant problem. I suggest buying old drive-in movies and using them as classes. No one even has to leave the car. More on this next week on a posting only on parking.

3- Faculty that care This is one of the big issues for later, weeks 6-9, when grades start to solidify but it starts now. Students want to like and respect their professors, but they have already begun to wonder if some of them give a damn. Since most faculty learned to teach by osmosis, they learned some of the worst habits of past faculties. One of these is to try and establish authority by being somewhat distant, professionally aloof, or even all-knowing. They learned to start by writing your full name on the board - “I am that I am”.

Others start being out outgoing and approachable but as part-time adjuncts, the serfs of education, most get worn out quickly driving from school to school trying to make ends meet and their exasperation quickly shows. Or they are TA’s who are more concerned with their dissertation into the lack of boat shoe images in Moby Dick than in teaching composition for example. Others have no idea what to do anyhow so they get lost, frustrated and fall back on osmosis induced bad habits. Most all faculty are concerned by the recent cut backs at the school so they are always concerned about their own well being and that cuts into caring for others.

Other faculty are great people and may even succeed at being engaged and caring but they, unfortunately, are, too often in the minority. And since we remember the broken arm at the fair rather than all the candy and rides, the negative learning experiences are primary. But thank god for them all. They give students hope. Thank you.

4- Belonging is related to faculty that care. Students want to feel they are wanted at a school and therefore belong. Uncaring faculty, administrators who ignore them (see past posting), staff who look through them and are not helpful, poor signage so they get lost, parking issues, books not available and too expensive,,, Actually most anything can make a student feel he or she does not belong, does not fit in. (send me 15 Principles of Good CS). Alienation or feeling rejected or unimportant is a major cause of why students leave a school..

5- The right courses Too many schools demand that freshman get the okay from an advisor on what courses they should or can take. But at most every college or school we have studied, the advisor system does not work. Most advisors are faculty who want to help students but cannot because they are not up-to-date on curricula changes, course equivalencies, requirements outside their own department, course content or program graduation requirements. As a result, 37% of students reported they were misadvised and put into the wrong courses. Most do not know add drop procedures so they will suffer through the wrong course and add money, time, frustration and perhaps another school to their future.

These are the top 5 now for commuting students. They will change over the semester and we will be there to let you know how they have changed.
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