Monday, June 29, 2015

Academic Customer Service in a Nutshell

Administrators thinking about having us come to their campus for a workshop or presentation been asking for a "nutshell" definition of academic customer service. So here it is.

Academic customer service is far different than customer service in a retail environment. First of all, the customer is not always right as proven daily on tests and quizzes, and sometimes in their behavior. Academic customer service is far from coddling students too. And it is certainly not giving higher grades than are deserved.

Academic customer service is meeting the needs and demands of students which are created by what we promote in our marketing. If we say we have small classes then providing them is a promise we have made. Therefore it is meeting the promises we make to students for such things as personalized help, excellent instruction and treating every student with respect and kindness. It means greeting each student with a smile and an offer to be of assistance and being glad to see the students in our classrooms, offices and all over the campus.

It also means doing or jobs as well as we can to meet student needs whether that be classroom instruction, helping a student in th office or making certain the facilities are clean and at a level that makes students want to be at Mainland. It means putting students first because they really are more important than you or me. They are why the College exists and why we are here. They make us possible and provide the opportunity to make ourselves more valuable. We need to treat them in ways that match their importance.

For much more on what academic customer service is and how to make it work on your campus, get a copy of The Power of Retention and From Admissions to Graduation. 


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Changing Higher Education

Higher education is not a sector well known for change. It is in fact a sector that is
laughably slow to embrace any change at all while telling everyone else how they 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

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 (

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 Goodship 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 makes sense to you, get a copy of the new best seller From Admissions to Graduation by this article's author, Dr. Neal Raisman by clicking here

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

End Churn and Burn Through Retention

There have been an increasing number of calls and emails from schools seeking training for their admissions’ departments the past six months. As a consulting group, we are pleased to help out. But I am amazed when we tell the schools they can save money and increase profits by focusing on retention.

“Retention! No, we can solve all our problems if we enroll more students”.

But they can’t enroll more students. That’s why they call us. But then they don’t listen. They still focus on a churn and burn approach. Enroll them. Bring them in. Greet them at the front door and wave bye to them and your revenue as they flee out the back. As a result, schools continue to have problems meeting revenue and mission goals.

Let’s look at the realities. If an admissions department enrolls 50 students on Monday but only 25 show for the first day of classes, how many students were enrolled? 25. Yet you paid to have all 50 recruited and processed at an average cost of $5,640 each. That means an immediate loss of $141,000. This loss is partially from inappropriate sales technique but mainly from not focusing on retention from day one.

The fuller loss can be easily calculated by multiplying the 25 students times your annualized tuition as discussed in my book Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition. If the school’s annualized tuition is $12,000, that means an additional $300,000 lost. Just for one start. If there are six starts, total attrition losses could be $2.646,000. For most schools recapturing some on that $2M-plus would be good. That is why we are so busy helping schools on retention.

When I was the Chancellor of a college the truth was that we seldom hit our admission goals. Competition was increasing. The available market was starting to shrink due to competition and costs. Tuition went up every year and we were about to hit a price point at which the ROI would be questioned more and more by potential students and their families/buying committees. We would soon hit that point at which we were pricing ourselves beyond our target market. Yet admission goals were raised by corporate for every single start. The goals were raised even though the school did not hit its earlier goals. A guaranteed way to assure failure financial if we focused on new enrollment alone. But we didn’t.

I realized the most important number was not new students but total population. Money was made if we kept population. So we began to focus on retention.

Sure we kept working at improving our admission approaches and tried to change the sales methods to adapt to the actual mindset of potential students rather than that of the admissions rep. For example, they seemed to think they should keep talking and dumping more and more information on the potential student’s head as if they were an educational landfill. Sooner or later, the student would agree to fill out an application just to shut them up I think. Applications could be up but real enrollments, those who showed for classes and paid tuition, not so much.

We brought in the top sales coach in the world, Stephan Schiffman and used his excellent books that lead to sales success. We also tried re-aligning staff to focus on strengths such as setting appointments and closing sales. But a hallmark of churn and burn is the comfort in failing; to keep doing the same thing that isn’t working. So the admission’s team went back to its losing ways each and every time with the blessings of regional admission’s directors who only cared about admissions of course.

But I hate failing so we hired a student retention group. But to illustrate the inability of churn and burn-oriented groups to change to succeed, I was told by I could not use the title “Vice President for Retention Services”. That would take away from admissions and make a negative statement. So I hired a VP of Student Services who focused on retention. We also hired intervention counselors whose job was to contact every student at least every other week and any student at risk at least twice a week to see what we could do that was legal, ethical and in the students’ best interests to help out. We did all we could to meet their needs and especially their return on investment concerns and goals. 

We also put in place a Rapid Response Retention approach that sought out problems that caused students problems each day and then solved them by the end of the day so the solution could be implemented the next day. The only rule was to determine if the solution was legal, within rules and regulations; ethical and to the benefit of students.

Bottom line – The college did not hit admission numbers but did return a quite solid enrollment every year based on a retaining students so they could graduate Students hit their goals and we hit ours. Would anyone refuse that?
By the way, since we offered two and four year degrees, we increased our ability to upsell associate degree students into the BA programs since they were also happier with the school. Again, a win-win for everyone.
So the message here? Admissions is good and necessary but retention really makes the revenue grow.

Move away from failing churn and burn approaches that assure fiscal failure. Focus much more on retention and embrace what we call Learn and Earn that we teach schools and is discussed in the new book From Admissions to Graduation with many ways to keep students learning so they graduate and get to their goals while you keep earning.

We are quickly filling up our dates for school opening convocations and workshops in August and September as well as customer service week (Oct.5-9). We would like to be able to help you too so please contact us ASAP for a date.

Nraisman & Associates has been providing customer service, retention and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits, workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. Nraisman & Associates prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s 413.219.6939