Tuesday, November 28, 2017

It is not an Admissions Problem but a Retention Problem at Southern Illinois and Other Universities

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has an enrollment, and thus a revenue problem. Student population is shrinking. They have lost around 50% of the freshman population over the past three years. Official fall 2017 enrollment at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is 14,554, a decline of 9% percent over 2016.  Their new Chancellor, Carlo Montemagno is saying it is “because we are not offering programs that are distinctive and relevant to today’s students.” 

But is that the reality they are facing at SIU-Carbondale?

They are losing 56% of every entering class the graduation rate is only at 44%.  The University also recognizes that it is not necessarily a problem of underprepared or incapable students because it stated there is “a continuing increase in ACT scores for new freshmen and ongoing growth in freshman retention rates” which is at 68% freshman to sophomore year which is not all that great really. The University if losing almost a third of every entering class before sophomore year.

What his all means is that attrition is losing the University $113,801,801 annually. (To calculate how much attrition is costing your school click here.)  It is losing more than it has to spend. That is a financially dangerous situation to be in.

The Chancellor’s response is a radical restructuring of the University out of individual departments into groupings that will cut the overall number of departments and colleges.  He has proposed that the University collapse its existing eight colleges and 42 departments and schools into five colleges and 18 schools, two of them being law and medicine to cover the lost revenue. He further plans on eliminating some departments entirely. He hopes the new structure will stimulate synergy and cross thinking to generate new ideas and programs. These, he believes will stop the population erosion.

The Chancellor believes new relevant programs will attract more students.

But this does not make logical sense since the problem is that the University is losing students after they come to school. The students originally chose the school for its programs and degrees to start with but something else made them leave. The offerings were sufficient to get them in the door but then something is happening to make them leave.  Attracting more students will just lead to more dropouts. It is not admissions that is at fault. It is something else.

The issue is not how to attract more students but how to keep them? How to increase retention from 44% to some rate that will begin stabilizing, then growing the student population. The University cannot keep losing over half of its students annually if it is to succeed no matter what the structure of its departments and colleges.

It, like most every college and university, needs to focus on retention to stabilize its population and revenues and that will not come about by re-organizing the departments and colleges. It needs to find out why students are leaving. If it does and corrects the issues, it can and will increase population making a radical restructuring that will turn faculty against the Chancellor unnecessary.

Southern Illinois has an engagement problem that is made worse by poor or weak services that would attach the students more fully to the school. A large part of what is occurring  very likely is that the University is not providing students what they need and expect especially in how they are treated, i.e. academic customer service. We already know that 76% of attrition is caused by poor or weak service provided to students as shown in the chart below. The major reason students leave a college is that they believe the college does not care about them and that is very probably a factor at Southern

Illinois as it is with so many other schools we have studied to see why students left them. The University is not providing an ease of service and procedures that make the students believe the school does not care if they succeed or not. They are probably putting students seeking help into “the shuffle” of having to go to office to office trying to find the services they need.

If we were to do a study of the University’s student attitudes I would be willing to bet our fees that a major concern students would express is that “I have not been treated and helped very well. The school does not care about me. All they care about is my money.” I can make this offer because we have found this to be the situation at just about every college that we have studied with a high attrition rate. The University likely does a good job of recruiting students but not as good a job reselling them on the school every day by providing the services students want, need and expect.

We also know this is quite likely true because closely behind the reason for leaving “The school does not care about me” is the category of “weak to poor customer service”.  Students report that they cannot get the services they need to complete a needed function for example. They go to an office to get help and are given less than good service, maybe even abrupt and indifferent treatment students report.  This in turn feeds into the belief that the school does not care about them. Just think how you feel about a business or a restaurant that treats you poorly or gives bad service. You don’t go back. Well, students make a buying decision to attend class and stay in school each and every day. If they are treated poorly, they will not want to invest their tuition and fees in the school and leave as you would a store that ignores you or gives you bad service.

All of this makes the students believe that it is not worth it to put up with a school that does not care and treats them poorly and they drop out. It is also quite likely that at Southern Illinois they are cutting sections to try and save money. This is a normal, but wrong way to save money because it also cuts students out of classes they need to progress in their major quite often.

We observed a school recently that decided to only offer some required courses once a year in the Fall but did not fully communicate that to students, and advisors did not seem to know of it either. One of those was in the senior year.  Students waited to take the course the next semester when it could fit in the schedule to find it was not offered. They had to wait until next year to get the course which often meant they had to take some course that might not fit in their major to remain full-time to get full financial aid. They had to stay longer in school to get the course complete their program. This caused problems because they had to stay another year to make up courses but their financial aid ran out in four years and they had trouble affording the cost of the extra year. Many could not and had to drop out to earn money to pay for school often not coming back.

This is all indicative of a school not with an admissions problem but a retention and customer service problem.

Would this be the situation at Southern Illinois or your school for instance? It is likely that weak or poor academic service is leading to much of your dropout/attrition rate. If Southern Illinois found our precisely what services were not being done well and fix them, it would increase its retention rate and the revenue needed to operate instead of causing major upheaval which likely will not solve its real problem – retention.

To uncover why students are leaving your university or college, call us today at 413.219.6939 or contact me by email at Nealr@GreatServiceMatters.com.

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