Student Persistence: Blame the Customer

By: Bill Bradfield

Student Failure

I have been reading a fair amount about student persistence and persistence rates. While the reports are both scholarly and well constructed, most of what I have seen is that student persistence and retention rates are actually declining since the current emphasis has increased so dramatically. In fact, in a recent study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, student persistence rates actually dropped 1.2% from 2009-2012.

That got me thinking. Isn’t measuring student persistence (or lack thereof) smack of blaming the customer for failure? As in, “I know that our processes and systems are cumbersome and that we are not yet customer service centric, but, students who have a natural propensity to persist can navigate them and get through the process.” Seriously?

Student retention rates are a real problem. Not just for the schools that have poor retention and 6-year graduation rates, but for the students themselves. Debt-laden former students face a pretty uncertain future, as do schools who leave millions of tuition dollars on the table every year due to poor retention rates.

I wonder what education would be like if schools approached their constituents experience the way Apple does? At Apple, it’s all about the customer experience. Most Apple products are modern, contemporary and actually fun to use! Folks who convert to Apple, generally stay (persist) with Apple. Apple is a customer centric company rife with innovation and loyal customers. Even when the company fails, it retains its customer’s loyalty.

Schools could learn a lot from following Apple’s lead. There is much to be learned from customer centricity and where the responsibility for retaining customers lies. There is also a lot of financial reward and brand equity associated with it.