Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guaranteed Education is Great Customer Service

Going through some old (and I mean OLD) files, I came across this Contract that was created while I was president at Rockland Community College
(NY). It was resisted by some faculty but we finally gained enough acceptance to move it through to the Board which jumped on it and a community shell shocked after a $12.8 million state and federal financial aid allowance loved it. (No, I didn't create the problem It was my job to resolve it, keep the college open and fiscally solvent. We did.)

The guarantee created confidence in our academic program and student focus.It was also the right thing to do. It also gained national recognition as a forward thinking approach to learning and jobs. Not sure what happened once I left in a protest over Board impropriety and ties to a politician who would soon go to jail after I left).

I still think it is a good, student-focused idea that could be adapted by any college and would go a long way to help the beleaguered reputations of community colleges in particular but also most four-year schools. they are all under f ire now for not having enough success in helping students complete and get jobs. 

There are some that say we cannot guarantee ;learning but under this contract we do all we can to assure that learning has taken place. It also causes grades to mean something other than showing up.

 Let me know if you think it still has benefits.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Academician Heal Thyself

Are most colleges businesses and not just the obviously for-profit ones either? All colleges sell their services (marketing and recruitment),have sales
staff (admissions), bill payable and collections (bursar), service providers (faculty) administrators and staff. They all do their best to provide services that their customers (students) want (electives) or must have (required courses). And they all try to make a profit (fund balance/surplus) or at least not to lose money of at all possible. They have employees and unions. Pay salaries and extend benefits And they do produce products (degrees) and sell services.

Maybe they are businesses; unique businesses but businesses just the same. Businesses like a medical practice perhaps with professionals serving the needs of their patients. Each tries to use professional services providers (doctors/professors) to better the lives of their clients. Each purports to higher missions than making money.  Each make patients/customers/ students pay for services but each is also paid for some of the services by outside groups like insurance and the government for medical practices and local, state and federal government for colleges. Each depends on a core of contracted professionals; doctors for the medical practice and faculty for colleges.

But there are also differences. Whereas medical practices are dedicated to doing all they can to save their customers, colleges seem to be rather indifferent to their customers’ success and longevity. Medical practices try to keep their customers alive and coming to the practice while colleges seem to thrive on having huge swathes of their clientele die off or leave. If a medical practice had a reputation of losing a third of its patients every year, it would be seen as questionably competent; a group to stay away from. Many colleges lose fifty percent of their students with some losing as many as 80% of a class and they are still enrolling future students. A medical practice with such a bad record would get cut off from government funds and close while colleges with terrible retention records often get grants to try and keep them going and failing.

Colleges have a rather strange relationship with their customers. And while we are at it, they are customers. Students exchange money for goods and services and that makes them customers by definition. Call them students if that makes it easier to swallow, call them the college’s clients if that makes one feel better but they are customers.

Colleges spend an inordinate amount of time and money to attract their customers  to get them to buy the college’s offerings, but then do so very little to retain them. They spend around $5460 to obtain every new customer and process him or her into the system but then neglect to capitalize on that investment by ignoring their needs and expectations. As a result, large percentages of their customer base leave the college each semester.

They exert a great deal of energy trying to get potential students to believe that the college cares about them but as soon as the student signs the application check and deposit, they just toss them into the deep end of the college and do all they can to make them sink. They treat all students with the same services as if they all were the same and too often we have found those services are lacking in quality and assistance. In fact, if one looks at how much money a college actually spends in student services needed to retain their customers, it would be shockingly low f there is any money set aside for retention services  at all..

What should be the primary activity of college –educating its students – treats all students as if they were the same learner. The lecture approach for example just sends out information as if all the students learn the same way. Everyone is given the same information and work whether or not his personal needs and learning protocols are receptive to them.  This is certainly different than medicine in which every treatment is personalized to the particular patient. College hands out information as if every patient needed the same medicine whether or not the need exists for that medicine. If a doctor gave out the same prescription to all he or she would be seen as incompetent. Colleges are seen as efficient when the same lecture is given to a class of 500 in an introductory course independent of whether learning actually takes place. 

But doctors work with fewer patients than does a professor lecturing to a class of one or two hundred even as few as 50. Doctors who work a clinic may easily see that many patients in a week and they all get some personal attention. The average professor has three classes of 20 or 60 students total so what is the excuse of not giving each student personal attention to make sure they all succeed? 

When a patient needs extra care, he is often sent to see a professional specialist. In college that might happen in writing when a student is sent to a writing lab but in other areas the student with extra need is often handed off to a peer tutor.  And we wonder why students with extra need fail so then. It is as if we have a patient with a serious problem being sent to a med student for specialized help. Why is that? Because the professor is considered too busy to deal with tutoring in most schools. And the more senior the professor and more renowned in her knowledge the less time she has for the primary purpose of college, making sure students succeed and graduate in many too many cases. 

When one boils it down, a major difference between a medical practice and a college is that in the practice each patient is individually important whereas in a college, a student is not. To “lose a patent” in a medical practice is considered a terrible thing. In college losing a student can just be sign that the college is academically rigorous. In the medical practice, when a patient is lost that often calls for a review of why that patient is gone. In most colleges if a student leaves, no one looks into why he or she left. It just is not that important. “We’ll go and recruit another”. A life may be damaged when a student leaves or flunks out but that is not of much concern to the college. A student life is just not that important.

In a medical practice, the administrators worry about patients who will sue for one reason or other. In college, administrators worry about faculty members complaining about one thing or another. As a result, medical practices do all they can to treat the patient’s ills and personal needs while colleges treat the needs and self-perceived injuries of the faculty more than the students.

Colleges need to become more like medical practices, businesses that focus on the needs of their patients, the customers first and foremost. They need to rethink their priorities and put students first and the services they need to each succeed focus upon what each student needs to succeed. Colleges need to put the student first and provide all the services they need to succeed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Colleges Need to be More Like Hospitals
Higher education is in a position that hospitals were in back in the 1980’s. There were more beds than patients. Costs were climbing upsetting  and worrying the public. And the federal government was starting to assert itself on how hospitals were run and making them prove they were successful.  The result was that hospitals some consolidated, some were closed and others just went out of business. They could not manage under the scrutiny and additional cots to operate. That could, and is happening in higher education as well. 

Hospitals are like colleges. They have an administration that is not trusted by the hospital community. Doctors who have a somewhat independent relationship to the hospital, being able to do as they please for the most part with their patients. Their allegiance is to their discipline more than to the hospital.  Hospitals also have indifferent staffs as well as some stellar performers And hospitals have patients sort of like colleges have students.

A major difference though is that in the hospital, people show great concern for the patients and try to save each one while colleges accept a student “death rate” around 50%, the national attrition rate. That is a significant difference. 

In the hospital treatment is centered around the immediate and personal needs of the patient while in colleges the students’ needs are often neglected. In hospitals if a patient needs help, she or she can get that assistance from a qualified professional. In a college if s student needs extra help they get to work with a peer tutor. How many of you would be comfortable with another patient taking care of you in the hospital?
In the hospital, each patient gets care that is appropriate for him or her needs. In college everyone is treated the same too often in classrooms where the professor just drones out with the same information and teaching for everyone whether  they get the material or not.

Another difference is that the hospitals try to admit people who can benefit from the treatment they provide. If a person is not a good candidate for hospital care, he or she does not get in while at many, too many schools, they let in anyone whether or not they can benefit from the stay at the college.

Hospitals also try to save every one of the patients they have. If a patient is “crashing” they have a team that comes quickly to triage the patient and try to keep them alive. While if a student is crashing at most schools, the college lets him or another flunk. It is seldom that the professor (the doctor) will commit himself to triage the student and do all he can to save that student in the class. Hospitals even have a special ward for patients who are in the gravest chance of dying. It is the ICU while in schools may not even let a student know if he or she is in danger of failing a course or flunking out.

Oddly enough hospitals that lose too many patients are looked down upon while schools that “cull out”  large numbers of students are considered to have high standards. Hospitals that save patients  are considered tops in their areas while schools that do all they can to save students are… Well, they are rare.

We need to act more like hospitals and care about each and every student we admit. Every one of them needs to be saved and kept healthy. It is not enough to admit them. We must provide all the professional services and care they need to succeed or like hospitals, we will be scrutinized even further and many will not survive that.

There is a lot we can learn from hospitals especially the clear focus on each and every patient. They know it is not enough to admit a patient. They have to do all they can to save them too. They also know something that we have not really learned. It takes a great deal of information and data to properly care for a patient/student.

Every test and exam is posted for all doctors to see and in many cases now for the patients to also see, For example, I go to the Ohio State University hospital system for my medical care. Every time I have a blood test, every result is posted on a system they call My Chart. It tells me the result; whether or not that is normal or not and what each test means, I am fully informed. If I have an appointment coming up or need to schedule one, the system sends me an email letting me know. It is in contact with me at all times.

And I can use it to contact my doctors to get more details or help. All I need to do is scroll down and enter an email to a doctor and he or she gets it. And, they respond. Moreover, when I went to the Cleveland Clinic it was able to pull up my entire chart on-line and see all my doctors’ notes and exam results. It was fully informed on me as a patient. It had my record so transfer into their system was simple. I did not have to repeat tests at all.

Schools need to build or obtain systems like this to allow students full access to their records and notes. They need a system as hospitals have to notify him when he needs to do something now to stay healthy. This is a customer service which is needed now to save more students. And in turn, keep more schools from having to shut down or consolidate services as hospitals did in the 80’s

by Dr. Neal Raisman, author of the best selling book The Power of Retention.