should alter their work habits, strategies, businesses, countries, culture and so on. Academia is also comfortable telling its clients what change they need to make to be successful in my class while using old notes from many classes ago. We have no compunction about telling students what they should do to change even if we are not going to do so. And it is done in interesting and competing ways. Each faculty member, every class sends out a different message to students. In humanities classes, students are told to open their minds and embrace new ideas but don’t try and shake mine even if I believe that Shakespeare was gay and all his plays send out a pro-gay agenda what with all the cross dressing and all. In math we are told to close down our minds and just accept that this is the right way to do this and all other ways to solve the problem and get to the answer are wrong. In social science or psychology students are exposed to whatever pet theory the particular faculty member embraces even if it is at odds with every other person teaching in the college. Well, you get the picture. Students are bombarded with calls to change even though they may conflict, be correct or even produce little change as the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Arum and Roska posits.
One thing about change is sure. It does not take place or if it does it is very very slow in higher education. I recall a study done by some professors at the University of Pennsylvania in the 80’s which showed that higher education changes seven times slower than business and that was on issues such as technology that all agreed with. (Sorry, I lost the study but if anyone knows of it I would love to hear so I can get it again.) Imagine how slow change can be on issues that are even slightly controversial? Such as changing the culture of a school to embrace student success above research and personal success? To place student learning and teaching at least on a par with research? To actually get colleges and universities to embrace the idea that it is not enough to simply admit a student, that student has to really be taught and retained to graduation? To embrace Principle 15 of the Principles of Good Academic Customer Service – Actually give as big a damn about graduating students as recruiting them. (If you’d like a copy of the 15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service, just ask for them at info@GreatServiceMatters.com)
Somehow we have this attitude that it is okay and even good to have students failing and leaving a school. The old “look to your right, look to your left…” Somehow losing students by the left and right establishes a university or college as a tough school and academically valid. That is not so and needs to change. If that were so then schools such as Dalton State, Golden Gate University, Baker College, the University of Phoenix and over 1,000 others would have to be really great schools since they graduate far less than 30% of their students in six years. While universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Davidson would be weak schools because they graduate over 90% of their students in six years. Talk about an upside down idea!
Lose Students: Lose Money
What losing students does establish is that the school is losing money; leaving millions of tuition dollars on the table as students walk out, drop out, stop out and get out. Every student that leaves takes tuition and fee dollars with him. That is not just pocket change, but dollars. It is highly likely that your college or university is losing millions of dollars a year due to attrition as a study of 1668 colleges and universities I recently completed shows. If you want to find out how much your school is losing from attrition just ask me (Nealr@greatservicematters.com)
So it is important for any college or university which is to focus a bit on its revenue and budget to also realize that it would have to change its attitudes and culture. That is not easy to do. Not easy but necessary. Sorry to be so blatant on this point but to increase revenue and not have to keep cutting into the muscles and sinews that hold the college together, it will be necessary to focus on retention. It will thus be necessary to focus on student success above all else. Not just retaining at any cost but retaining by helping students succeed. That also means that the culture will have to change from a “research first” culture to a students first. It will be necessary to move from “this would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students” to this is a great place to work because of the students.” Colleges and universities will have to move from churn and burn to learn and earn.
These will all be major cultural shifts that will demand changing beliefs, practices, habits, traditions, folkways and attitudes of all the members of the school from the lowest adjunct pariah through the administrator Brahmin caste. This would not be easy. It will demand strength of vision, tenacity, sensitivity, patience, and at times the strength of purpose to take a chance moving forward. These unfortunately are not always qualities we ascribe to out leaders in some schools. Nor are they qualities that we attribute to some key members groups for success such as faculty who have an interest in a vested academic power structure built ion research and recognition. Turning around the good ship Academia is not easy but it has to be done.
The Heat of Budget Cuts Could Melt the Culture
Change as we learn from organizational development requires something to happen. Some event or situation that causes enough “heat” to unfreeze the organization. When the organization is unfrozen it might be able to start to make some changes required to reshape it into a new organization with perhaps different mission or purpose. Granted it is very difficult to “unfreeze” higher education as a result of tenure. Tenure isolates a key group i.e. tenured faculty who hold the power among the faculty in general and much of the college at large. Tenured faculty are largely personally immune to the heat of budget and personnel cuts that have made others in academia feel the heat. They cannot be dismissed due to revenue reductions as students continue to stream out the exit with their tuition money. Tenure keeps them as almost untouchable. Sort of ironic in that Brahmins have become the untouchables because they are Brahmins!
Years ago, my wife and I were driving across the US heading to Boston to bring our new daughter to meet her grandparents. As we drove, there was a news story about some homeless people who froze to death in the cold. I quickly questioned why no one did anything to help them? Aileen hauled off and punched me in the arm. “Ow” I yelled to which Aileen said “I didn’t feel a thing.” This is the situation in many colleges and universities which keeps them from unfreezing even in the face of revenue reductions that are causing cuts that are hurting students more and more every day. But because of tenure, many faculty who can control change are not directly feeling the heat. Yes, they do feel when people are let go. They feel the cuts in equipment, release hours travel funds, staff, etc. They are not heartless or impervious to the cuts but they are protected. This makes change even more difficult since the mind of the faculty is usually the consciousness of the institution unless the leadership is really committed to an idea or goal that can pull tenured faculty along.
Change might take place now since there is the ever-hotter potentially unfreezing effect of revenue reductions and cuts in almost every college and university in the country. This is a time when leadership can make a clear and clarion case for focusing more on students and a bit less on research; focusing more on revenue and budget growth than expenditures and cuts. But it will demand that leadership show the college what’s in it for them and maintain a clear and consistent message. Presidents should be willing to do this since they should be rather fatigued at cutting budgets and trying to explain the cuts while having to place reductions in the best light possible when the first thing to go was the light bulb.
The campus should also be fatigued from hearing and absorbing the cuts. The members of the campus community should be ready to embrace some change even though they will simultaneously resist that same change hoping all will go back to the good old days of the nineties which may not have realty been all that good anyway.
This is a time for presidents, boards and college communities to draft customer-centric, thus student success centric plans to focus on students as a primary and actual activity. Yes, missions all say something about student being our most important business but that has not been true on most campuses for many, many years now.
The budget crises hitting higher education demand change and the best way to affect change that will also increase revenue is becoming student graduation-centric. The more students that stay in school and graduate, the greater the rewards –monetarily and mission-wise. And it is not a time for the usually glacially slow change of college. The reductions in budgets are so severe that to wait too long to embrace change will only expose the college to greater damage.
The time to change is now. The change needed is to focus on retention and student success.
IF THIS ARTICLE MAKES SENSE TO YOU, YOU WILL WANT TO OBTAIN A COPY OF THE BEST-SELLING BOOK ON RETENTION AND ACADEMIC CUSTOMER SERVICE THE POWER OF RETENTION: MORE CUSTOMER SERVICE IN HIGHER EDUCATION by clicking here
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