Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Zeno's Paradox, I Love Lucy and Admissions

By some definitions, higher education is truly crazed. Places of self-defeating
insanity. For example, an educational leader I know loved to tell others that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing that has failed over and
over again and expecting different results.” He, like most every other higher education administrator really may have believed that so he, and they, repeated it every time it seemed to fit. But, when things demanded a solution such as increasing revenue, he actually did the same things that failed over and over again. For example, he believed that increased admission numbers would solve all the problems when they did not every year. Every year he would set higher and higher admission numbers even if the recruitment team could not reach the goals. He did not see that as insanity but as using tried and true administrative and academic approaches to solve problems – even if the solutions were ones that had failed or resulted in long-term disaster.  

He is not alone at all. Most schools believe that by bringing in more and more students they can solve their revenue problems. And possibly that would be correct except for the fact that most of those new students are coming in the front door and leaving through the back door. Bringing in more students will not help in the long run if there is not a strong retention plan being implemented to keep students in the school through graduation.

Considering that oft quoted definition, the situation universities and colleges and  find themselves in now and how they are going about trying to work their way to solutions through increasing enrollment goals, not population it can be concluded that higher education is insane.

The problems are really not all new. Costs are exceeding revenue. Demands are outpacing the ability to fund them Tuition, fees and expenses have surpassed available resources for many families. Internal costs continue to rise faster than revenue can be raised to meet them. Capital deferments and outstanding debt grows. Budgets are being tightened. Competition for traditional, non- and neo-traditional students has never been greater. Technology needed to stay current increases in cost and amount. 
The solutions are also not new. They haven’t worked in the past really but well let’s use them again. The major way that universities, colleges and career schools seek to solve the problems is tried and untrue – increase enrollment by increasing new student numbers and build new buildings, climbing walls, and the suchto attract new students. Yet, more students yield and increase in the demands for services, sections and often tutorial assistance. All require additional expenditures which are usually not provided so the new enrollees turn into attrition numbers. Or even if the services, additional sections and people are provided, students leave anyhow so even more students must be recruited to take their place and add more to the overall population.
But, this Lucy at the conveyor belt approach to a solution simply shows how insane academia is as the solution itself sooner or later breaks down and takes quite a lot with it including people and success. Lucy is given the job to box candies as they come down on the conveyor belt. She does this fairly well but then the owners want to increase the number of boxed candies. The belt speeds up to push her to speed up but that causes more and more candy to fall off the belt. The owners do not see the insanity behind their decision and just keep demanding more and more boxed candies until all the candy is falling off the belt and Lucy just gives up. Every piece of candy that falls of the track is not just a lost sale but lost investment in the creating of the candy. The lost candy not only mean that the day’s production has been hurt. It also means the long term ability to meet projections and the buyers’ needs are not met which can cause a longer term negative effect on sales and client retention.

This is similar to what happens with college admissions when given a higher enrollment goal almost always with the same staff and time.

When admission offices are pushed to speed up the conveyor belt of enrollment goals, the people in them respond with a combination of enthusiasm and dread just like sales people in any business. And make no mistake, recruitment and admissions are sales. The enthusiasm is from the belief that “we can now show them what we can do. Hit our numbers and be rewarded for doing so.” The dread comes from the reality that the competition is strong, the market saturated, the product not that different from any competitor and “I am going to have to work even harder and longer if I am to succeed most often with not much more resources.” As well as a recognition that population for most schools is really an embodiment of one of Zeno’s paradoxes that will just yield them even more work and increased demand.

The Greek philosopher Zeno devised a paradox that illuminates the paradox of achieving population goals through admissions for most schools. Achilles and a tortoise are running a race. Achilles assumes he will win so he gives the tortoise a head start. But Achilles finds he can never catch up. Before Achilles can surpass the tortoise, he must get to point A, where the tortoise started the race. But when he gets there, the tortoise has moved to point B. When Achilles gets to point B, the tortoise has gone to point C, and so on. As a result, Achilles can never catch the tortoise even though he may get closer and closer because the Tortoise will always stay at least one point ahead. The only way Achilles can catch up is if the tortoise stays still at one of the points achieved.

For colleges and universities, the tortoise is student population which is controlled not just by admissions but equally, no more so, by retention. Retention is a constant, steady and eventually winning strategy that is the only real way for admissions to ever catch up to demand. And to carry the analogy one fabled step forward, it is the tortoise, not the hare that finally will win the race. That is the race for population, graduation and mission success.

Moreover, when the school has the admissions people speed up the line, they can only do so at most schools by digging deeper into the available pool of recruits. They take students that should not be admitted to make their numbers. But like Lucy at the conveyor belt, many of the candies will simply fall off the belt and crash to the floor.  Too many of these students will do the same. They will come along the college’s conveyor belt and get pushed off or drop off on their own.

The school may hit its admission objectives but it will not make its enrollment goal if a retention plan is not in motion and working. the colloege finally will lose more students and revenue from the students it should not have taken to begin with. Students who do not fit the school, who should not have been admitted in the first place drop out. Sure maybe a few can actually succeed and we point to them to say we are doing the right thing. Providing access to students who may not have been normally admitted but were and succeeded. But what about the large percentage that simply do not make it?

By letting them in and then having them flunk out or drop out we have done them a grave disservice. We have made them believe they could do it and then proved they could not. We have crushed their sense of value. And we took their money! We took their savings and financial aid to attend the college so we could make our numbers objective even if we dashed the students’ objective of succeeding in college. We have been unethical and immoral and knew we were doing this. We knew many would drop out or get pushed it and we did it just to reach into their pockets so we could get in more money. What does this say about the state of higher education?

If we realize that we also lost money because it costs us to recruit and process every one of the students we accept and then leave, we may not be making all that much money off them after all. And what we made is just pushing off some decisions that will have to be made because they are not staying. All we have done actually is create a funnel that leaks out students rather than a square of retention that holds in all the students and their revenue too.

It would be far better to understand that admissions only really succeeds if we can break the churn and burn approach and focus on recruiting students who will stay. Speeding up admissions has failed over and over. yet we call on admissions to get more students who drop out leaving the school, in a precarious position. that is the definition of insanity.

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction, retention and your bottom line
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

If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our best selling book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Ed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Reinventing the College Tour for Greater Success

One of the most important parts of the enrollment sequence – the campus tour - is also one of the worst for many potential students and their parents. We
have cited before that at least 12% of potential probable enrollees are lost as soon as the interested potential enrollees encounter the campus. The poor customer service of the tour is a major contributor. It is not the only one by any means, but it can be a major one.

Most colleges relegate the tours to a group of students who likely start out enthusiastic and interesting but soon devolve into the bored rote voices of students who have more important things than this #$%ing tour on their mind. This is especially so for students doing the tours to make minimum wage.
And the tour itself…. “Here is a typical classroom (yawn). A computer lab (Woopie! Computers in rows) This is a sample dorm room (which is almost always staged much better than any other room). This is our cafeteria (where the food sucks but I have to pretend it is fine), And on and on. How exciting and motivating.

The tour is one of the most important aspects of the decision-making process. It can make a decision to enroll or drive a potential student away. The tour can also be the start of the engagement process during which a potential student decided if he or she wishes to be wed to the school.
It is also the point at which parents decide if they wish to support their child’s college choice. This is especially is for mothers who seem to be most affected by what they see and hear according to Jim Black of SEM. He Sid that the mother is the most influential person on whether or not to attend a college other than the child making that decision. Fathers pretty much decide on cost and if their child will be happy at the school we find. And yet, tours get simply boring, not directed to the decision-makers and well, pretty much ineffective. One tour is quite similar to another school’s.
The tone of an article in (2/13/07) New York Times summarizes it all rather well.

College tours are pretty standard. A student walking backward will show you the library, the athletic center and a typical dorm room. Then there will be the requisite safety talk. The tour guide will point out blue boxes -- emergency call buttons for the campus police -- and extol the security systems in the residence halls. The spiel usually includes a bit about how, if a student feels uncomfortable walking alone at night on campus, he or she can simply call security for an escort.

Wouldn’t that tour just light up your “gotta go there juices”? Not really since most any tour of one school could also be the tour of another. Sort of interchangeable like school catalogs and websites. No wonder the student tour guides lose their enthusiasm too even though taking students to the library might be their only visit too.

The idea is that a student will provide a more authentic voice and customer service that will seem genuine. This can’t be done when the tour is trying to please two audiences at once – parents and students. These are two very different audiences and one rule of customer service is that it must be focused and geared correctly to the correct audience. And well, let’s face it. Students have different interests than their parents.

Students want to know they will get a good education but also have a good time. Parents walk through the tour focused on the ROI for their tuition dollars, yes the library because they believe students will use books rather than the web, safety issues and how much this all is going to cost me.

Okay, the solutions. First, have two tours and two tour guides. The potential students should go off with a student without the parents. That way they can see the aspects of the school they really want to see and ask real questions like “where do people really eat? Is one dining hall better than another or should I skip them entirely?” “What dorms are the ones you don’t want to get stuck in?” “What’s with web access for downloading on campus?” “If I rush a frat/sorority how does that work?” And so on. Take them to where students really hang out. Buy them a cup of coffee or a soda and talk there, in their habitat; not the schools official one. They will feel more comfortable and will feel as if they have joined the school community already. 

And community is one thing this generation craves. They feel isolated by the society so they have a need to feel as if they can belong in some community. Sitting and talking in an environment they are familiar with sets them into a sense of community with the group around the table.

Parents should go with an adult tour guide, preferably a faculty member, and be shown a classroom, the library, safety including a brief meeting with the head of security, an introduction to the financial aid office and director to set appointments to go into financial aid packages, a quick introduction to an academic officer, a dean or a chair if you schedule by academic interests. They should meet the Dean/VP/Dir/ Head Honcho of student services too. They want a feeling that there are real people there to help them and their potential tuition provider.

If it is not possible to have two tours, then hire professional tour givers or train the admissions officers to give the tour. And I do mean train. Do not assume that because a person is an admissions representative, he or she can give a good tour. Simply walking with people and pointing out the classrooms like a flight attendant pointing out the emergency doors “two doors aft and two doors in the back…” is not pointing out the safety aspects of our Boeing College 387. Teach them how to fake enthusiasm if it is not there and then wonder why you keep a less than enthusiastic admissions rep. Train them how to get the tourists to talk more than the reps. Teach them questioning and listening as a touring technique.

Combine aspects of the student tour with the parents’ tor away from it.our on a checklist and ask the tourists what they want to see. Let them decide or at least provide them the illusion they are deciding. Ever been on a guided tour and felt like you were really missing the good stuff on the “okay everyone, over here now!” Find out what interests them and not what you assume they want to see. Then show it to them. And feel very free to ask them what they like and do not; what is making them lean toward the school

Keep in mind that this is the ME generation. The I will Manage my Experience generation which by the way is more a state of mind than an age. From what music they load on their IPod or phone, to designing their own home and Facebook pages, to Tivo-ing to watch TV when they wish to rather than the time the network set, to most everything, they want to make the decisions on how their experiences will be set up and managed. They want control and community. They want to manage their experiences. So let them make some decisions and don’t assume you know what they want to see and experience.

Also when setting up the basic concept of the tour, you may want to get external guidance that knows what students really want on a tour. There are consultants who can help. Or get some focus groups pulled together from high school students and learn from them. Let them guide you so you can guide them on their tours of their future school - if the tour doesn't lose them somewhere out by Classroom Building B.

If this makes sense to you, you will want to get a copy of one or both of my books –The Power of Retention or From Admissions to Graduation. You should also contact us about what else we can do to help you increase admissions, retention and graduation rates s we have done for over 40 colleges and universities in the States, Canada and Europe. Call today at 413.219.6939 or email me at

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Conference You Should Attend

I am attending and presenting at my first conference in a year-and-a-half since dialysis and getting a kidney transplant three months ago. I was tied down and weak for that time and did little work I fear but I am feeling fine and roaring to get back to work.

The conference is one I recommenced to anyone interested in admissions, enrollment and retention.  It is the best on all the three topics I have been to in years. It is the Small Colleges National Conference on Enrollment but it really is not just for small colleges. The presentations would be helpful for any sized college. What the presenters brought forward were practical ways to increase admission's, enrollment and retention success and can be applied to any size college no matter what the scale. These people knew what they were talking about too.

I attended sessions on Using Institutional Analytics to Improve the Effectiveness of Small College Admissions; Fundamentals for Student Success, Retention, and Completion, Incorporating the Latest Enrollment Tools and Initiatives to Meet Enrollment Objectives; Creating a Campus Environment that Supports Student Success and a session Critical Insights that Help Drive Students Success. I am very pleased to say that I picked up new insights from everyone of them; something that can be rare at some conferences. These were  to "here's what we do" brags, but real, down to earth here's how's to increase success. And of course a great session on Academic Customer Service is coming up tomorrow morning.

Moreover, it was run exceedingly well by Jim Black, President of Strategic Enrollment Management and Neal Clarke who is the Dean of College Counseling and Guidance at The Walker School in Marietta, GA.  They have been leading it for many years and have the running of it while keeping the enjoyment of it very high. People had time to mingle and meet new colleagues too as well as enjoy an entertaining raffle supported by all the vendors.   (I did not win anything BTW but had fun.)

They were also able to attract some of the top vendors of tools to increase admissions, enrollment and retention from all over the country. And they did not overcrowd the vendor room so you could actually have some great conversation and learning from them  More on some of what I learned about some great products in another writing.

I highly recommend this conference to schools of all sizes. It and the Institute for Educational Policy's retention conference are two that should be on your schedule.