Monday, March 09, 2015

Saving Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar’s closing has sent a shock wave through higher education. But it never had to happen. Sweet Briar could have remained open and solvent if it
had realized it has a retention problem not an enrollment one. If the college had focused on the students they did recruit and kept them in school they might have done alright

Let’s look review some numbers.

Sweet Briar had a student population of 723 students with 695 of them full time. They charged tuition of $33,605 per student. That could mean an annualized revenue of $23,458,515 from full time students and another $103,040 for a total of 23,458,515. With an endowment of $85 million added to that annual revenue, they would have had enough money to say in operation if…IF they had retained their students and they could have.
As it is they had a 43% attrition rate. That means they were losing almost half of its population each year and had to recruit a new class plus enough students to make up for the attrition. They were losing $10,279,578 from attrition each year.

They did not have a revenue problem; they had an attrition problem
This was a problem they could have addressed. All they needed to do was study the school’s customers, the students, and find out why they were leaving. This could have been done through a simple customer service audit. They could have done something as simple as sending out a survey with one question to start. “If you could change one thing at the school today that would make it better to be here, what would that be?” Then take the answers and organize them from most noted to least. Next, if Sweet Briar had started at the top, addressed the problem and let the population know it has been resolved, they would let the students know their issues were heard and something was being done. Plus the college would have started removing the reasons why students were leaving at such high numbers.

They could also have started a mentoring/coaching program for all students. The school has about 300 employees to the 723 students, with an 8-1 student to faculty ratio. There were plenty of people to provide personal attention to students. If each employee were assigned two students starting with students getting Bs, C’s or D’s (this is the most vulnerable and savable population) they would have kept many more students in school. Giving students a person they can be in touch with all of the time on campus builds stronger bonds to the school. And all the mentor would have to do is keep in touch with the student, take her out for a cup of coffee or a soft drink every so often, ask how things are going and help her navigate the school when there was a problem. Not too much to ask of an employee I don’t think. 

These two steps would have led to a significant drop in attrition to around 15-18%% which is manageable and Sweet Briar could have stayed in business. 



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