1. Financial return on investment
2. Emotional return on investment and
3. The affective return on investment.
The phrase return on investment makes these sound like a rational calculation that students perform to decide if they are indeed receiving the ROI they expect and want. That is not so. These are not the business calculations that a company might make to determine if an investment is worthwhile to make. Business calculations take into account outlay of funds that will either realize a profit, a return, of not. The calculations students make are instead subjective investments, feelings that are made by students in schools.
The role of emotions in retention is an extremely important one that is not taken into account enough. Students make their initial decisions to attend a college or university from an emotional attachment to the school (“I WANT to go there”) all the way through to the emotional decision to leave a school (“I hate this place.”) Yet we do not take the emotions and the academic customer service that builds them up or tears them down into account enough. Service and hospitality make a student feel as if the school is worth it or not. Good service and the students feel a better ROI in all three categories. Weak service and hospitality and the students feel the school does not care about them and they do not feel they are getting the ROIs they expect.
The involvement of a student in his or her school is almost purely an emotional one that determines for the student if they are receiving back at least as much as they are putting in. This is called emotional equity. Of the three returns on investment they one that comes closest to a calculation can be the first, the fiscal ROI. The question it asks is simply felt as is this worth it? Will I get to my goals? Is this school worth the money it costs and the effort and time I am investing in it.
If a student feels (that’s right feels) that the money and time he is investing will pay off in a job that will get the student to where in life he wants to go, the investment can be deemed worthwhile. The payoff need not be a fiscal one by the way. The students want a specific career that he or she will love for her life. For example, a student who is an art history major will almost never make all that much money in his or her career. The money invested is not to make more money but to do something she wants to do. Something he loves doing so the investment leading to some sort of job in the world that calls for an art history degree can be seen as well invested even in an expensive liberal arts university.
The return on investment here is then an emotional one as are the others. But if the student feels that the investment of time and money will not lead to a job he or she will either quit or at least change majors. So even in the fiscal return the decision is a subjective one. One that depends not on a calculation but a feeling, an emotion. A feeling that the academic customer services we provide – education and help with learning – will lead to the objective of a fiscal ROI. These are customer services by the way in our enterprise of higher education. The how they are provided is what can determine if a student will see a fiscal ROI in her future or not.
If the educational services are provided by caring professors who show they are concerned with the student’s learning and succeeding then the student will feel as if she has a chance to succeed. If taught by uncaring faculty who see it as their goal to get through the material and get out the door, the perception of the fiscal return on investment will be lower and the odds of a student dropping out higher. It is after all a subjective decision finally.
Those emotions are developed not by a calculation of feelings either but primarily whether or not we serve the student as she wants to be served to meet the other two ROI’s – the emotional and affective. Let’s realize that most students are highly capable of deluding themselves about their prospects. Each student who stays in school believes that she will be the one who will get the job out there. If they did not they would quit or go somewhere else. So the other two ROI’s become quite important too in determining whether a student will stay or not.
The emotional ROI is what it says it is. “Do I feel people care about me?” That is do I feel emotionally attached to this school and do I feel that people are giving me back emotionally to make me feel happy and comfortable here? This is probably the strongest of the ROI’s by the way. Since the decision to leave a college or university is an emotional not calculated one the perception of whether or not I am getting an emotional ROI becomes paramount. Consider also that the one of the major findings of the reasons students leave a school is the feeling that the school does not care about me. Students do not feel that there is an equal emotional ROI coming from the school to justify continuing an emotional investment in the school. In fact if one asks ( as we do) why students left a school the response is often something akin to “I hated that place” followed by “all they cared about was my tuition money”. These are emotional rejections of the school.
And where do these emotional rejections come from? From the second major reason why students leave a college – direct poor service and weak hospitality. Students see themselves and feel that they are the customers of the school yet we too often do not. We too often see them “as privileged to be here” as one faculty member told me recently. We really believe they should feel fortunate to be at the school. That flies in the face of the emotional perspective of the students who feel they wish to be given good service and made to feel welcome.
A good example of a school that seems to get the service and caring aspect is Lynn University which has revamped its campus tours along the lines we have been writing about for years for example to personalize them and make the potential students feel welcome on campus. They do not do the “impersonal walking backwards group here’s the library tour.” They take each student separately around campus and make sure they meet people who provide a gracious welcome to campus. They make sure they meet faculty in their intended major; students majoring in the area and administrators including the president when available who provide a hearty welcome. That sets the emotional ROI expectation in place. Their applications have risen exponentially and their retention should also if they keep it up.
They have realized the strength of the emotional attachment to the school and are playing it for everything it is worth in their new tours that are working very well.
The affective return is also an emotional one. It asks the question of whether or not I want to be known as part of the school. Do I feel an attachment to the place? This is the ROI that leads to such things as sports at a college or university. Ever wonder why colleges invest so much in having a top football or basketball team? Sure they are for donations from alumni but it is also a way to get students to feel an attachment to the school. A winning team can make people feel proud to be part of a school and that provides a good affective ROI. That’s also why schools brag about a faculty member publishing a book, a research project or a graduate getting a good job. That makes students feel proud to be known as a member of that school. This is also an emotional attachment.
For schools to succeed in attracting and then keeping students through to graduation they need to focus on the students’ sense of their ROIs which means focusing on their emotions. That is done through increasing the services and the excellence of the services we provide just like Lynn University did on its tours.
If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction and retention.
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed" as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program. Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university. Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session. Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as Dean and President. Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out. We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation. Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth