Focusing on the Right Things – The Student and the Partnership

Focusing on the Right Things – The Student and the Partnership

David Ruderman
Executive Vice President, Strategic Relationships, Greenwood Hall

The Chronicle of Higher Education article “4 Problems That Can Sour Colleges’ Partnerships with Online-Education Enablers” (10/27/15) highlights “problems” that can negatively impact the success of online enrollment initiatives.

The challenges highlighted can be inherent challenges in any type of business relationship where activities are sourced to an external party.  The highlighted obstacles can be overcome with the right focus, partnership orientation, transparency, alignment of goals, and communication.

The focus always needs to be on the student:  Identifying and understanding their goals, developing a relationship and connecting them to the institution, breaking down barriers to success, and keeping them connected and engaged.  In order to achieve this, a partner needs to possess a truly holistic approach to the student lifecycle – versus just recruiting a student or delivering a program online.  There also needs to be an alignment of values and goals.  A third-party that collects a percentage of tuition may be inclined to focus on enrollment or insularly focus on a single academic program/delivery method.  On the other hand, a holistic partner that is compensated on a fee-for-service basis can naturally focus on the student’s needs and act as a conduit to multiple academic programs as well as educational delivery methods.

Transparency, communication, and a commitment to ongoing process improvement are crucial to making the partnership work between the institution and a partner.  The partner’s freedom to collectively share what’s working (or not working) to optimize marketing, recruitment, admission, financial aid, and other processes – is key.  The required transparency is an essential component of fee-for-service revenue models, but not with revenue share agreements, where long-term return on investment becomes a primary driver for the enabler.

Online enablement can and should be a partnership focused on student success – and with that success, institutional and partner success.

Dropping the Other Shoe

United States Department of Education

Dropping the Other Shoe

Bill Bradfield
Executive Vice President of Business Development, Greenwood Hall

Today’s WSJ described the most current effort to drive retention and graduation rates…  pressuring accreditors.  http://www.wsj.com/articles/arne-duncan-to-launch-crackdown-on-college-accrediting-1445382119.  I don’t have an opinion at this point as to the wisdom of such a move, but it is telling that the billions of dollars expended on higher education by the federal government has caught people’s attention.  Outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan summed up the issue succinctly, “Government, at both the federal and state level, along with accreditors and Congress, need to flip the current incentives in higher education. In the current system, only students, their families and taxpayers lose when students don’t succeed. That simply doesn’t make sense.”

As I said, I don’t have an opinion as to the wisdom of the actions proposed by Secretary Duncan, but I do realize that schools with consistently high attrition rates and consistently low 6-year cohort graduation rates had best pay attention.  Now that the newest shoe in the debate about school funding and accreditation has dropped, there will be increasing pressure on schools to defend and then improve those statistics.  It would appear that the WSJ analysis and Duncan’s subsequent proposals are going to force action.  Any school with a less than 30% graduation rate will be fair game.  And, over time, that target will increase to 35%, 40% and maybe 50%…  engulfing as many as half of the schools in the country.

As I have written before, almost every school has specific programs to assist them in managing retention and graduation rates.  In fact, I have seen estimates that nearly $500B has been spent on software and services to help.  But to date, the results have been anecdotal.  Few schools, and the purveyors of retention solutions, can point to quantitative results.  In essence they may have saved specific students but few can point to a 20% increase in overall graduation rate.  It can be done and with a great ROI, and if Mr. Duncan’s plans are implemented, that ROI will do nothing but improve.

So, it’s time for schools to get serious about retention and graduation.  Buying software generally is nothing more than “checking the box” of retention.  Programs need to have specific metrics and internal culture needs to be changed to one of “service.”  Measures of success of such initiatives need to be specific and verifiable.

The sky isn’t falling, but the shoes are dropping.

It’s All Connected

It’s All Connected

Bill Bradfield
Executive Vice President of Business Development, Greenwood Hall

Great article in the NY Times yesterday [October 07, 2015] on the ongoing student debt/default problem facing higher education and the nation. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/upshot/student-debt-is-worse-than-you-think.html?ref=education&_r=0

The teaser is that it is “worse than you think.”  Not only are the numbers worse, but the “system” conspires to exacerbate the problem.  It’s no surprise that schools with a poor 6-year cohort graduation rate also have troublesome default and non-repayment rates.  So student retention is one of the culprits here, right?  Well sure, but to fix that we need to look at the existing enrollment processes, student support services, financial aid support services and student lifecycle management.  It’s all connected.

I have written before about Neal Raisman’s work on student retention.  He has been a paragon in the crusade to resolve student retention (defined as 6-year cohort graduation rate).  And he has developed a formula to define the cost of student attrition.  What that means is schools can calculate an ROI for their retention activities.  Which means they can now justify student retention activities and actually fund them internally.  Students that don’t graduate will struggle to repay loans.  It’s the next housing bubble.  It’s time to invest in retention.  Raisman is a good place to start.  He contends that over 80% of the reasons that students fail is poor service from the schools, not believing that school is worth it, and that the college doesn’t care about students.  Look to the school’s enrollment management, engagement and student services functions.  Often problematic but always pretty fixable.

In the past week, I have read articles on two major US University Systems raising their tuition.  In one case, the System is comprised of 9 schools.  Seven of those schools have 6-year cohort graduation rates of less than 40%.  In that System, it means that $150M in tuition alone walks out the door… annually!  In a second, larger System, I did the calculations and was surprised to find that more than $400M in tuition revenue potential exits annually.  A 5% increase in retention would have negated the need for the tuition increase and undoubtedly improved the default and repayment rates.  It’s all connected.  The numbers are easy to calculate and for some schools, it’s the elephant at the table.

If we want to fix the student loan problem, we need to get diplomas into the hands of students (and provide better employment opportunities).  To get those degrees completed, we need to fix the student retention problem.  And the path to do that is pretty easy to see, just hard to execute.  It’s all connected.