Monday, April 17, 2017

People Make Success

The following is from an abstract of a paper Twenty Years of First-Year Student Success: An Inventory of Strategies and Programs That Work by DeLaine Priest, Stephanie Gisler and Maribeth Ebasz of the University of Central Florida's Student Development & Enrollment Services. In it they recount and explain what UCF has dome of the last twenty years to increase their retention from 70% in 1994 to 87.5% in 2014 as the school grew from 25,000 t0 61,000. The authors write:

This paper describes strategies and programs that have been crucial drivers for the increase in retention as well as contributors to overall academic achievement in first-year students. Tutoring, academic advising, coaching, career readiness, and student engagement are among the strategies and programs that will be examined in this paper. Additionally, specific programs offered through offices such as the Office of Student Involvement, the Recreation and Wellness Center, and Housing and Residence Life will be described

The paper goes on to describe the particulars of what the University did to achieve that success. What it did in an nutshell l was provide excellent academic customer service to its students.They focused on delivering excellent services to students to keep them in the University and make others want to enroll in it.

Re-reading the section above and the rest of the paper makes one point absolutely clear. What works is engagement and specifically, engagement with people; not technology but people delivering great customer service in areas such as advising.In every activity described in the section from the abstract and in the full paper, a human being is involved in the interaction with the student. People make or break a retention and enrollment program's success.

Much of the enrollment growth at UCF comes from their strength in providing the academic customer service that keeps students at the University. ,They are adding more students each year rather than making up for attrition losses with the incoming freshman and transfer classes as was
discussed  in the piece called Zeno's Paradox, I Love Lucy and Admissions. They have built a solid base of retention to build upon and that has led to a significant part iof their stellar population, and thus revenue, growth.

And yet, when colleges run into financial difficulty what do they cut? People. This is especially so in the areas that provide the very services that keep students enrolled in college and attract them in the first place. People in student services are often cut before say faculty, generally because the president does not have the intestinal fortitude to cut dead or dying programs and save student service programs that lead to retention and population growth.

The success of UCF shows that people are needed to  succeed in retention so the last people who should be cut are they who create population growth.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Don't Overlook the Physical Aspects of Customer Service

A customer service facet that is often overlooked is the “objective correlative" aspects of a college. The phrase objective correlative is one taken from my English background and was discussed
primarily with literature. But I find it has numerous applications to colleges. Besides, using the phrase helps justify all those years of English study.

The phrase was popularized by the American poet TS Elliot to explain emotional reactions to literature. Objective correlative refers to a physical object or more likely a grouping or combination of objects, images, or visual descriptions that create(s) an emotional response to piece of literature. For example, if a poem has images of grey things, a tumbledown house and crows sitting on a broken fence, these physical allusions and objects set a tone, an emotional metaphoric response, of gloom and foreboding. Try an Edgar Alan Poe poem for examples and pleasure.

In a college, the objective correlatives are visual and physical aspects of the school - websites, the grounds, the buildings themselves, the colors we choose in the buildings, walkways, signs, offices, lobbies, etc. These all have a very powerful response on a potential student’s emotional reaction to the school and do affect his or her decision to enroll and/or stay. These all create a visual metaphor of the school and its potential to meet the three returns on investment all students bring with them. The three ROI’s – fiscal, emotional and affective – are what help determine if a student enrolls and will definitely be the determining factors in whether a student stays at a school, transfers or steps out.. (The three ROI’s are discussed in Customer Service Increases Retention)

We are aware that one of the most important parts of the enrollment process is the first contact with the school, followed by the tour. In fact, 12% of potential enrollment is lost when a student makes the first contact with the school. Notoriously poor telephone, email or voicemail habits turn potential students off enough to have them cross the college off their list of possible school to enroll in. First impressions matter a great deal which is also why school websites can turn off a student thinking of enrolling.

The appearance of the college and parking also make a great impact on potential students. If a student is turned off by the way the school looks, the landscaping and things like parking and signage, that student could be one of the 12% that will cross the school of his or her list. Most people don’t realize that students start creating a visual metaphor of the school as soon as they make contact with the objective correlatives of that school. The tour is generally simply that which polishes or corrupts the metaphor through what students see and hear while on the tour.

Metaphors are very powerful. They become emblematic of the institution and are very hard to shake loose or change. It is important to realize that students think not in words, but in pictures, in metaphors of their world as Gerald Altman discusses in How Customers Think. Students live in a visual environment which has them “read” and value objects emotionally. They trust their images much more powerfully than any words, which are the coin or our realm. They make amazingly quick and assertive metaphoric leaps of judgment and embed them deeply in their belief systems. We view the world intellectually in words and numbers that we want to make some logical sense. We wish to have rationality be the basis for decisions. They use visual objective correlatives and the metaphors they generate.

Therefore it is very important to tend to and understand how your college's objective correlatives affect students when they encounter them for the first time and while on campus.

If you want to learn more about how you can be assured that the objectives correlatives and all other aspects of customer service help or hinder enrollment and retention click here for additional information.