Take Your School to a New Level
Executive Vice President of Business Development, Greenwood Hall
I had a couple of frustrating meetings in the past week. This is the time of year when college students are returning to campus. They need to get their financial aid straightened out, get registered for class, figure out all their new technology, and, by the way, acclimate to a new and different lifestyle. For many, it is a time of help desk calls, waiting in long lines, and navigating arcane business processes. Resulting from this stress will be negative social media campaigns from students; negative stories about semester start-up problems in the newspaper; issue escalations to University officials; and most tragically, students who simply walk away in frustration.
What made my meetings frustrating last week was that on three different occasions, I heard school officials defend their service delivery and explain that students need to be more persistent and “stick-to-it-ive”. It reminded me that I had written about that very issue around this time last year. A colleague of mine encouraged me to repost that blog article from August 8, 2016. Here it is.
Student Persistence: Blaming the Customer
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.
I have a couple of brothers who are physicians. One is an OBGYN and the other is a plastic surgeon. Neither can do much for me in terms of critical health care 😉 However, their focus on health made me draw some parallels to things going on in higher education.
For example, 50 years ago the primary focus of healthcare was on heart disease and the effects of cholesterol. Don’t eat fatty food and balance your diet with more reliance on carbohydrates! The result was that we replaced heart disease with diabetes as the most rapidly growing health threat in the nation.
The parallel to higher education is that for the past 40 years the focus has been in inclusion and access. The result, according to new WICHE President Joseph Garcia is that, “we were getting a lot more people into college, but we weren’t graduating many more from college.” Now there is an increasing focus on outcomes, but financing models are still rooted in enrollment. According to Garcia, “I think that instead of spending so much time talking to CFOs and donors, presidents and governing boards need to spend more time talking to students.”
Garcia goes on to prescribe greater collaboration with secondary schools to avoid enrolling high school students “with a 3.5 GPA who then test into remedial courses.” He also recommends more focus on career and technical education programs. “We need to get students training in advanced manufacturing and computer programming.” Clearly implying more collaboration with employers!
So to me, the analogy is that the shift in focus from heart disease to diabetes is comparable to the shift from access to outcomes. The lesson, however, is that like humans, schools can’t just focus on one thing, they have to do it all! They must provide access and outcomes if they are to be successful in the future. Just like people must be aware of both heart disease and diabetes! According to my brothers, all it takes is a balanced diet.
Online Grad School: Interviewing a Working Mom
Vice President of Business Development, Greenwood Hall
Online courses continue to grow in popularity, especially for working professionals and parents…also known as “nontraditional students.” Babson Survey Research Group reports that more than 28% of all college students now take at least one course online, up from 9% in 2002. In other words, a working mom (like my bride of nearly 15 years, pictured above) can attend classes on her own schedule and still be available for her job, family and perhaps a trip to the gym or night out with friends. Perhaps this is why Aslanian Research found that more than 70% of online students are female. Even more surprising was that 2015 marked the first year since the Census Bureau began collecting data on higher education attainment that women (30.3%) are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than men (29.9%).
So, what is driving online enrollment today? I conducted a short research project and would like to share the results with you today. However, I’ll be the first to admit I did not meet minimum sample size requirements. Rather, I decided to simply ask my wife 3 questions about why she decided to go back to school to get her graduate degree. Although anecdotal at best, perhaps her answers provide a glimpse into the mind of today’s online student.
Chris: Why did you want to go back to school?
Laura: That’s easy…it boiled down to 2 things. First, I’ve always wanted to work. And while our kids are young, I saw an opportunity to get an advanced degree while the kids were in school, which would set me up to reenter the workplace in a position beyond an administrative assistant. I’ve always wanted more and felt school was the door I had to walk through in order to have access to those options. Second, taking classes online allowed me the flexibility to meet my family’s needs, while at the same time investing time in something that will pay off in the future. It feels like I don’t have to sacrifice my family and friends just to go back to school. If I had to go to night school or take daytime classes, it just wouldn’t work for me.
Chris: How do your online courses compare to your on ground courses?
Laura: As it is with everything, there are pros and cons. As far as the cons go, I do struggle with feeling slightly “removed” from the actual classroom. There’s just something about being in the physical classroom that makes me feel part of the class. Maybe it’s sitting in the swivel chairs or hearing other classmates’ questions, but I do miss the classroom experience. As for the pros, I love it that I can go to a school with international recognition, even though I’m out of state. Their system even allows me to download lectures (I listen to them in the car sometimes). As far as difficulty, I’d say they are equal, but different. For example, participation in online classroom is challenging at times because of the threaded discussions. But as far as the number and difficulty of assignments, it’s the same. Plus, you are required to learn and use the technology, which is good for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy learning new tech tricks.
Chris: How do you balance everything?
Laura: This is, by far, the hardest part of being an online student. Managing my schedule challenges my personal discipline because I have so much going on! As a result, I just have to prioritize what I do and make sure I set aside time for when I’m going to do my classwork. I also put dates in my calendar for when things are due. It gets overwhelming at times…and I do stay up late several nights a week. And to be completely honest, I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to let the laundry pile up and use paper plates “just one more time.” At least I have a family who understands that “mommy is in school too” and supports my efforts.
What can we learn from this non-scientific, 15-minute research project? First, motivation remains the key to turning prospects into students…and students into graduates. When push comes to shove, it’s the “why” that’ll determine whether someone is going to take the leap of faith and go back to school, or take the bigger leap of faith and stay in school until they graduate. Second, proactive student support will continue to play a significant role in helping students succeed. From high touch phone calls during critical cycles in the semester to simple email reminders about payment deadlines and course registration instructions, these points of contact help very busy people stay on track. They also show you care. And finally, be sure your students have a support system in place to help them through school. Not only will it help your students, but it also helps the people in the support system realize the difference achieving educational goals can make in an individual’s life.
To all the Moms out there…keep up the good work! You’ll get to the finish line before you know it!