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.
Outsourcing in Higher Ed: A Viable Strategy
Vice President of Business Development, Greenwood Hall
Outsourcing remains a vital strategy for success in today’s higher education landscape. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education 2016 Trends Report, outsourcing in higher education is quickly on the rise, reaching far beyond the traditional bounds of payroll processing, campus bookstores and the cafeteria (sushi, anyone?). What exactly are colleges outsourcing? The growing list includes marketing, enrollment operations, advising, curriculum design and delivery, facilities and grounds management, technology management, campus housing, and in some cases, even raising investment capital to fund growth initiatives. Galvanize CEO, Jim Deters referred to these changes as the “great unbundling of education that is taking shape right now.”
The reality is this: most institutions are unable to effectively manage business operations that service student needs…particularly during peak times. As a result, college administrators must take notice that strategic goals for enrollment growth and improved retention will remain unattainable if solutions that maximize institutional effectiveness are not forged, even if that means sourcing some operations to outside partners. As you might suspect, there are a plethora of innovative thought leaders striving daily to create solutions that help institutions improve business processes and enhance the student (and staff) experience.
The rationale for outsourcing is simple…partnering with outside organizations allows institutions to focus on what they do best (teach students), while at the same time achieving operational efficiencies and an improved student experience. And we all know what that means…happy students equals increased tuition revenue. If you are one of these thought leaders creating these incremental shifts in higher education, then keep innovating. If you’re a college administrator, determine your core competencies and then look for opportunities to leverage outside providers to complement your institution where it makes the most sense. The ROI will be well worth the investment.