Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Hierarchy of Student Decision Making in Choosing and Staying at a College

Over the past two years, we have been interviewing and speaking with students students to listen and better understand what motivates them to make their decisions to choose a school or leave it.

There is much we learned from the 818 students we interviewed and spoke with. One of the things we came to understand is that there is a hierarchy of student need that guides a great deal of their decision-making in choosing a school, then deciding to stay or leave. This hierarchy takes the form of five questions they consider when looking at a college or consider leaving one.

  1. Can I get in?
  2. Can I afford it?
  3. Can I graduate?
  4. Can I get a job? (or get into a good grad school)
  5. Will I enjoy it?

In some ways the questions parallel the organization of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. They proceed from Primary Concerns, basic issues of necessity and immediacy, to practical considerations of Return On Investment to finally a Personal consideration.  But, the question of a satisfying experience is the last issue for consideration by students after all others have been sarisfied. This placement suggests a parallel to Maslow’s self-actualization. It can only be an issue after the very practical survival issues are addressed. Yes, the initial reaction and desire to attend a specific college is there but it is a first response to a school which is over-ridden in most all cases by the hierarchy of student decision to attend or stay.

The most obvious initial basic concern is getting in to the college. Potential students first decided if the school is one they will be accepted into. This even applies even if one of the ones they apply to is a "stretch school", one in which their acceptance is not assured. They know if they can't get into the school, there is no reason to consider other issues in the hierarchy.

Next they stay with basic concerns and decide if they can afford the school. Granted some miscalculate out of their initial enthusiasm for the college, but if students can not answer the question of "Can I afford the school?" positively they will not go further in the application process or will drop out when the answer to the question become a no.. 

Then they face the practical question of "Can I graduate" from this school. Students generally all believe they will do well and graduate but if they think that the school is too much of an intellectual stretch, they will pass on it for or drop out due to a fear that they will not make it through to graduation. 

This is followed by another practical question that deals with can I get a job if I do graduate from this school? If a student does not believe he or she will be able to get a job after graduation in the chosen major (except for some majors such as theater arts where there is a recognition going in that a job is not necessarily there at graduation) they will not go to that school or drop out from it. All students attend a school to complete the program, get the degree and get a job.

It is only after the basic and practical considerations are answered that a student proceeds to the more personal issue of "Will I like going to this school?" It is quite usual that after the practical needs are answered, students can convince themselves, at least initially, that they will "love" the college or at least have a good time. But if this final concern is not a positive on or in the case of a student who is already attending who finds he is not enjoying school, he will not go or drop out in most cases.  But if the preceding hierarchical questions are all positive, I can get in, I can afford it, I can graduate and I can get a job, they are often strong enough to keep a student in school even if the experience is not what he had hoped for. This is especially so in a "brand name", top tier school with a record of getting employment by its graduates.

This issue translates itself once a student in is in the school and all other issues are resolved. It becomes "Do I like it here? And most importantly "Do they care about me?" as we have seen in the results of the study of why students leave a school.

Keep in mind that initially the students come to the school because they have made an engagement with it similar to when a couple gets engaged once they have answered the basic and practical issues positively. The students have decided in advance (for the most of them) that they will "love" the school. Therefore, they will enjoy their stay. But that decision is one we can either support or defeat with the way we treat the students and the service we do or do not provide. We are the ones who can reinforce or break the engagement.

So what does this hierarchy tell us. It says that students have a very practical view toward their college experience. They are going to school to "get a job" after all and that is a very practical matter. And so customer service needs to focus on their concerns and how they see college. They see it, as we already know from the UCLA Freshman Attitudes study, the CIRP, as a means to an end. For students, that end is quite practical. A job. It also says that when we focus too much on trying to make students enjoy their experience, we are not serving them as well as we could. 

Yes, they wish to enjoy their time at college but they cannot do that until we serve their other more pressing concerns – paying for it, getting what they need to graduate and finally, an assurance they can get a job or get into a good grad school on the way to a career from their college experience.

If this is helpful to you, please consider having NRaisman & Associates help you reverse the student and revenue loss from students dropping out. We are the leaders in increasing retention through graduation through our workshops,training, presentations and full campus audit of academic customer service.and other retention strategies. We guarantee results.

           Contact us today at nealr@GreatServiceMatters.com    or  call 413.219.6939

Get a copy of the bestselling book The Power of Retention by Dr. Neal Raisman and find out how you can increase service excellence on your campus. Just click here.

No comments: