Thursday, January 29, 2015

Colleges Do Not Care Enough About Students

After working with colleges and universities in various academic, administrative and consulting capacities, I have come to a disturbing thought
. Most colleges and universities really do not care about their students. They of course say they do but they do not show it. Individuals on the campus may well care but the institution – not so much I fear.

Colleges care about themselves and their well-being but not so much about that of their students. They are more concerned with their reputations and standing than the success of students and their welfare. Students are not the end focus of too many colleges. They are a means to an end. That end being the success of the institutions,

Colleges are now more like corporations focused on the bottom line and attainment rather than in creating great products. They care about their own preservation and perks more than those of their customers, their students and their families.

Take for example the issue of sexual assault and rape on campuses. There are currently 76 schools being investigated by the US Department of Education for non-compliance with title IX  for not responding to rape allegations on campus. And very many more could be investigated for not taking rape seriously enough. For example, when a fraternity was found guilty of a gang rape at John Hopkins, the fraternity was suspended for a year but no expulsions or arrests were made.

When a student reports an assault on campus, she is often ignored or her complaint is shuffled to the bottom of the deck to avoid bad publicity at the school. If a rape is reported most schools do not take the most appropriate step and turn the case over to the police. No, they try to handle the issue internally so the disclosure does not get out and taint the school’s image. Most normally, a charge of rape is investigated by a college committee that places institutional image above the student’s well-being. There have been too many cases in which a sexual assault or a rape has been either denigrated or even dismissed with a minor sanction than what the criminal system demands. The victim is left traumatized and feeling guilty from the outcome. The school’s image is more important than a student getting justice.

Or just look at the appalling percentage of students who actually graduate from a college. Just over 50% of students who start at a college actually receive a diploma from that school. And it isn’t because they flunk out. The number of students who flunk out is insignificant in comparison to the number that leave because they believe the school does not care about them enough to help them succeed through basic services such as academic assistance. Colleges do all they can to recruit students with promises of personal attention and help when needed but they are seldom supplied in the quality and quantity promised in the marketing. For example, most colleges use peer tutoring rather than have faculty provide the extra assistance. The undereducated leading the less educated too often.

Why? Because student success is too often not as important as faculty and administrative happiness at too many schools. To make full-time faculty tutor students would be to take them away from doing research or sitting on their tenured laurels. That would lead to complaints making the administrators have to deal with so faculty are not pushed to provide the basic service of extra help and/or tutoring to students in need. Student success is just not as important as a calm faculty.

The whole issue of college’s selecting students who can succeed at the school is a basic myth by the way. There are certainly the 300 name brand schools which can and are selective but the other three thousand plus do not care about admitting students who they know can succeed at the school. Students are admitted if they can pay tuition and fees. Sure some students get scholarships to help pay for school but each one of them is seen as a revenue point for the school. In many cases, the partial scholarships are just a “loss leader” to get the bulk of the tuition and fees  from the student. A scholarship of $5,000 for a $30,000 school is just part of the recruitment package to get students to enroll. The schools have figured out how much they need to provide as an incentive to get the enrollment just like a car company giving “away” $1,000 off the price of the car to get the buyer into the sale. They know they’ll make it up on extras such as fees, housing, books and other costs. The scholarships are a planned part of the sales package to attract students and fill a recruitment quota even if that student is wrong for the school in many, too many cases.

Why?  Students bring in the money through tuition, federal assistance and state reimbursements that the school needs to do what it wants whether that be provide release time for faculty, pay a football coach millions or however else it spends the per student headcount money that comes in. Numbers count but the individual students too often do not.

Simply put many too many  colleges will accept anyone who can pay all or at least part of tuition when the school is not meeting its enrollment numbers. They do this knowing that a great many of those they admit will not succeed and will need to be replaced, but they will help pay the bills for the semester they are there. This is crass commercialism similar to recruiting 5’4” me to a basketball camp. The success of the student is just is not as important as the revenues of the institution.

Other examples of not caring about students can be seen in how schools operate. For example, most schools have evening classes yet the operational offices all close down for the day by 5:00. Students cannot get their needs attended to. This is done fully knowing that most of the evening students are non-traditional students coming from a nine-to five job . These people cannot get to campus during the day but there are no or very few provisions made for them to get their school business done after 5:00.

Just look at the parking on a campus and you can tell who is least important. At most schools there are reserved lots for administrators and faculty close to the buildings. Student parking lots are furthest from the classrooms and are very often inadequate in the number of places available. What message does that send? One that says the faculty and administrators are more important than the reason the school exists, the school’s customers, its students.

Classes are not scheduled around the needs of students but the desires of faculty and institutional priorities. Faculty decide when they want to teach a course not when it is best for the students who need to take them but when they prefer to teach.. Often students have to choose between required courses scheduled at the same time rather than being able to take the both of them if they were scheduled with student needs taken into account. Most often if the school decides that there are not enough students for a course to be allowed to go even after students have signed up for it, students will find out in the week or even days before classes start. The students are left short of the courses they had already signed up for and scheduled their lives around. They have arranged their work hours, babysitting and  schedules around the hours they had signed up for but at the last moment the school puts its own priorities in place over those of the students they have contracted with. The class is cancelled and most normally the student is left high and dry without a course needed to move forward to graduation because the school decided at the last moment that there were only with students in the class so that is not enough.

These are but a few examples of how colleges do not care about students. There are many more and I am sure you can name some on your campus too. These are all customer service issues that need to be addressed. Academic customer service which is not coddling students but making certain they receive the services and attention they need to succeed.

If this makes sense to you, you should get a copy of the new best seller

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Is Free Community College Tuition Really a Good Idea?

President Obama has made a bold proposal when he wants to have community college tuition free for all but is it really in everyone’s best interest? Really?

Consider that the community college completion rate is around 34% nationally. That means that 66% of students start but do not complete. That means that at this time 2,804,305 started community college in the fall but 1,794,755 of them will not achieve a degree. Now on the good side that means that close to a million students will achieve a degree and that is good of course but fare too many do not complete their program. And some of the 1,794,755 will transfer before getting a degree but the  numbers are still  bad on graduation.

Most community colleges have not yet found the solutions to attrition at such high levels. Granted some of it is from students who just are not really prepared for college study. They will simply walk away or flunk out. That’s just the facts of it. But hundreds of thousands of others will not complete. That is a sad fact too. 

The tuition proposal only takes care of one part of the cost of attending community college. It does not cover fees, books, daycare, transportation and other associated costs. Considering that a great many of the poorest students get their tuition already covered by Pell and other grants such as state programs, there is no great benefit to them with the President’s program. I fear that by increasing the size of the pool all that will be accomplished is to increase the number of students who will fail in their attempts to succeed. This will leave them in a worse situation that they were in before. They will have expended their savings on fees, books and associated educational costs and end up defeated until the problem of attrition is taken care of in community colleges. . 

The tuition free education would kick in after Pell money pays for what it can cover. For most students, the Pell money is taken up by tuition so there is no full benefit for them. If the free tuition was not including Pell, then there could be some befit by freeing up the Pell money to pay for associated costs other than tuition.

Before universal tuition is offered there are core issues that need to be taken care of and where the money could be better spent.

One of the reasons that there is high attrition in community colleges is that there just are not enough coaches and counselors to meet with all the students who need them. There are not enough retention programs either. Programs such as at Hostos Community College in the Bronx have developed programs that are successful through making sure that every student in the program gets to see or hear from a counselor/coach at least once a week. That creates ways to keep the student realizing that the school does care about them as well as solve problems that do arise. This program has an extremely high success rate and could be emulated with the right amount of money made available. Counselors and coaches would be a better use of the money for start.

Another reason for attrition is that community college students are often hesitant and tentative students. It does not take much to turn them off from school and we have found that colleges seem to do all they can to turn them off. In general, they provide very bad customer service to the most needful of the services. These services are the coaching mentioned above for example and just basic customer service such as treating students kindly and being helpful. It has been an eye opener for us as we work with schools to see how many allow absolutely weak to poor to abominable treatment of students by the school. Just talk to most students about how they have been treated in offices and the resulting complaints are overwhelming. Yes, there are some schools that care and we have worked with most of them to increase their retention but there are thousands of others that haven’t a clue as to how to treat students as if they mattered more than their tuition.

And that is another reason why free tuition is not necessarily a good idea. Many too many colleges will take free tuition as a sign that they can raise their tuition and bring in more money. Yes, they need more money but it should not be from increasing tuition. It should be from retaining the students who are already attending and paying tuition. If the community colleges could keep more of their students, they would retain more tuition and revenue. They are losing 64% of it a year as it is now. To offer free tuition will just encourage schools to raise tuition and not do anything about retention.

President Obama certainly wants to help more people get a college education but this may not be the way to do it.

If this article makes sense to you, get a copy of the latest book by Dr. Neal Raisman From Admissions to Graduation: Increasing Success Through Academic Customer Service

Friday, January 09, 2015

Smile - Gain Students and Lose Weight

There is a core concept behind much of positive customer service in college or
for that matter anywhere. Smiling.

Greeting a student, a customer with a smile is the quickest way of saying I am happy you are here. It will also make the recipient of the smile feel better about you thus making it easier to help the student.
Not only is it great for increasing customer service and retention, it has wonderfully salutary and powerfully positive effects for you too. Smiling creates huge returns on a very small investment. And according to a study completed by the British Dental Health Foundation, smiling can save you weight too!
The British Dental Health Foundation, co–ordinators of National Smile Week in May  — the biggest oral health event in the UK calendar — spoke after scientists revealed that a smile gives the same level of stimulation as eating 2,000 chocolate bars or receiving £16,000 in cash.

The clinical tests, carried out on volunteers in Scotland, measured brain and heart activity as participants were shown pictures of people smiling and given money and chocolate.

The results were analysed by psychologist Dr David Lewis, the author of The Secret Language of Success, who said that seeing a smile creates what is termed as a 'halo' effect, helping us to remember other happy events more vividly, feel more optimistic, more positive and more motivated.
 Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Foundation, commented: "We have long been drawing attention to the fact that smiling increases happiness both in yourself and those around you, so it is good to receive the backing of this scientific research.
2000 bars of chocolate! And the halo effect. When you smile, it causes other to do so too. During a workshop at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, I proved the strength of smiling by putting a smile on my face and going up to members of the audience. Eevery one of them responded with a smile. Now, whether it was because they felt the power of a smile or because they were thinking I had gone mad and best smile back to keep me from some odd behavior focused on them, I can not say for sure. What I can say for sure is they all smiled back, even one who had done her best to tell through a rigid frown and body language to state to me she was not going to buy anything I would say. In fact, after I got her to smile just by grinning at her while talking about smiling, she lost the frown and relaxed the rigidity in her body for the rest of the workshop.

If we smile, we release endorphins and serotonin which some obtain though marijuana use. So, smiling can save you more money, loss of job if caught and no lingering pot smell on your clothes to make your colleagues wonder if they need to create an intervention for you.

Smiling also has been found to reduce stress, lengthen life expectancy, lower blood pressure and make the smiler appear younger and more attractive. Maybe that explains the attraction Jerry Lewis to the French?

Smiling also makes you appear to the viewer as if you are pleased to see him or her and that produces a halo effect. The other person feels happier as a result and will even like you more. This is true even if your smile is fake. A faked smile will have as much positive effects as a real one for the viewer. Granted a real one may be stronger and thus produce greater effects on the viewer and yourself, but a faked one is a great start.

Moreover, when you smile it is fairly impossible to sound as frustrated, tired or even as angry as you may really feel. Your voice and one will have a more positive, upbeat, perhaps even friendly tone caused by the smiling. The smile-influenced voice will carry out to anyone hearing it and affect their mood too. Even if a person cannot see your smile, he or she will hear it such as when talking on the telephone. That makes the listener feel better and even welcomed.

If you do not believe you can smile on the job then you may well be in the wrong job. If you are not happy at your work and cannot smile doing it you are simply the wrong person for it. Moreover, you are shortening your life because of underlying stress that keeps you from smiling. So now that theeconomy if doing better, get another job and let someone who can smile do the one your are currently doing.