Monday, November 13, 2017

Student Engagement Depends on How Well They Are Served In and Out of the Classroom

Though some faculty deride academic customer service as a noxious import from business, it has been found that faculty who provide
increased levels of customer service will have a better and more satisfying teaching experience. And their students will learn better with greater desire, compliance and increased retention.

When students believe a faculty member provides them good service and cares about them, they are more willing to listen and learn. Students are also more compliant with the teacher’s instruction, more willing to engage in-class and complete assignments.

I recall a master teacher and academic customer service provider named Dr. Taffee Tanimoto at the University of Massachusetts in Boston back in 1969. Dr. Tanimoto was the chair of the math department. He loved math and was always bothered when we students had problems with algebra. He also loved teaching. Our diffidence bordering on hostility toward math baffled him and he admitted it in class. He also said that he might not make us become mathematicians but he would do all he could to have us learn algebra and maybe even like some of it if we would just work with him.

To back it up, he started 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. tutoring classes that met every Tuesday and Thursday. He lived over 30 miles away from the University and took the train in to be in the classroom by 7 if any of wanted to show up early. He would also be available in his office until 5:30 every day to go over problems with any student who needed help – even if they were not in his class. He even tutored me once at the Back Bay train station over coffee as we both waited for trains.

He was patient but did not pander – no physics for poets type of classes. Full bodied algebra, calculus and trig. He demanded but did not reprimand. He provided excellent and extremely important customer service that made us want to learn algebra. And we did succeed and as he said, he succeeded. I even got a C+ but even more I learned to like math even if it didn't always like me because of Dr. Tanimoto. His extra service made me want to learn algebra and trig even though they were foreign languages to me. If nothing else, his going beyond my expectations not only made me inclined to want to learn, they made me fell an obligation to do so.

Dr. Tanimoto was going out of his way to provide us extra help and thus academic customer service so we could understand algebra. As a results, I felt I needed to do all I could to try and learn the material.  I did not learn to love algebra even if I did learn it but I did have feel a great affection for Dr. Tanimoto.

I also grew to love the University because of the customer service I was given in and out of the classroom. And the faculty loved the University too where they could take some maybe not the always most brilliant kids and make them into educated future successes.

Dr. Tanimoto made me want to learn from him. As a result,customer service helped me and a group of math clods pass algebra. And it helped him and many other faculty like their jobs in the classroom much better than many others who saw teaching as just a job.
The customer service/willingness to learn contention is supported not only by the Taffee Tanimotos of academia whose customer service engages students by providing extra service in learning and success, as well as the results reported from colleges that have engaged faculty in customer service training. There are other formal academic studies and reports that help forward the case. Studies such as the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and another by Hombury, Koschate and Hoyer in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Marketing on customer service and WTP (willingness to pay) alongside consideration of interactional equity theory support our contentions with their research.

The studies have found that the greater the feeling that one received good service. the greater the willingness to pay for that service. Thus, if a college provides good academic customer service, students will not resist tuition payment, or even increases, much. They will feel they are getting a good fiscal return on their money as a result of being served well in and out of the classroom.

In the 2006 NSSE Director’s Report (P10) report, the following is stated  "For years, researchers have pointed to involvement in educationally purposeful activities as the gateway to desired outcomes of college. Students who engage more frequently in educationally effective practices get better grades, are more satisfied, and are more likely to persist. Two decades ago, this literature prompted Chickering, Gamson, and their colleagues to compile a list of “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” which are reflected in many NSSE survey items. Recent findings from independent studies have corroborated the relationships between engagement and indicators of student success in college such as grades and persistence with undergraduates in different types of institutional settings. These studies also show that while engagement is positively linked to desired outcomes for all types of students, historically under-served students tend to benefit more than majority students."

We have no disagreement with this observation. Instead we add that the same is true for faculty when they become engaged with their students. Moreover, we add that though there is no disagreement with the NSSE panel's recommendations of curricula and pedagogy they feel would add to engagement, true engagement comes from appropriate customer services to students.

The 25 Principles of Good Customer Service in Higher Education begins with:
“where everybody knows your name
and they’re awfully glad you came”

This is the type of service engagement that must be created before pedagogical or curricula engagement can be achieved. If students feel that no one knows their name, i.e. no one cares about them, they will not engage with curriculum or pedagogy. But if students do feel that the professor cares, that will increase the willingness to learn leading to greater learning and increased teaching satisfaction for the teacher.

If you would like a copy of the 25 Principles of Good Customer Service in Higher Education, click here to request.

To increase retention, graduation rates and enrollment get in touch with us now at 413.219.6939 or email me at

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Academic Customer Service is Not Retail Customer Service

Customer service in academia is a very different animal than retail and commercial service. For one, the buying patterns are very different. At
Nordstrom for example, the service focuses on a unique one-time purchase and hoped-for future purchases for those in a particular social bracket. The purchase is a one time event. 

Let’s say I go to Nordstrom (for me, the Rack) one day to buy a shirt, maybe a tie to go with it. These are limited and specific material objectives I can obtain and achieve in this one event. I buy them and leave, not to think of a purchase again until a particular need arises. The service focuses on that one purchase. 
Disneyworld the same. One vacation a year. Not so college. Purchases are made very day, every class.

Too often we think that the decision to enroll is the one and only buying decision of our students. Not so. Not at all. That is just the first of many, many purchases on their way to graduation or attrition.

In college, our customers are in a constant buying/purchasing pattern. They are making a decision on your product every day and most every hour/class. Every day, students get up and decide whether or not to go to school and go to classes. They decide whether or not to go/purchase each and every class depending on a number of service-based factors and ROI’s, “is this worth my time, does the faculty member give a damn, is it part of my major, can I blow it of and still get a good grade, do I just feel like it today?”. These decisions ultimately lead to retention or attrition with steps in between of course. We buy a shirt once every so often. College is an every day purchase. And one might successfully argue that it is more important then a shirt.

This is very different than a unique purchase in retail which is a self-contained event in all cases with a simple temporal and commercial conclusion. Retaining a customer in retail is much easier than in education. When I buy a shirt, I walk out with it I can even wear it right away if I want. It’s material.

Retaining a student is much tougher than getting someone back in a store. In fact, once a student leaves a college, she does not come back while if a store has provided weak to poor customer service, if it has what a person needs at a good price, he will very often go back. Part of the reason is that there is little investment in the store. It does not cost anything to wander the aisles looking for a shirt for example. It does cost to go to classes looking for the education needed to get a job. Further, a person can often do without getting that shirt. He will usually have others at home he can wear. But a person may not be able to get a job without buying that degree with six years attendance and paying (that's the average time to graduation now).

An education? Can’t wear it. Can’t carry it. Can’t touch it. It’s more like love. We all need it. We all crave it but it can be hard to define, pin down or sometimes even know it is happening. It takes faith, trust. And that is often the basis of retention because all one can get from an education is trust that I have have been trained to get a job and learned something, I can get a job with. All I have for the thousands of dollars I paid into college is a piece of embossed card stock with signatures that says education took place. At Nordstroms I get a shirt I can wear. In college, I got a diploma I can hang in my office that somehow says I am trained and educated sort of like the Tinman in the Wizard of Oz.. 

Bad service in a school may well make the student leave forever as studies have shown. In fact, weak or poor academic customer service can account for 76% of all attrition.

Yet schools most always tolerate bad behavior and service from its employees. That is another difference between academic and retail customer service is you can’t even get rid of an obviously poor service provider in college while in a store, if they don’t perform according to store requests for service and at least a smile, one can fire them. Try firing a faculty member because he or she treats students like crap. And teaches with total indifference to the customers’ needs and learning style. Have fun in the grievances and court. Unless of course the faculty member is an adjunct. Then we will let him or her finish the term, teaching horridly, pissing off students and increasing attrition. Don’t need the hassles, grievances, lawyer calls and legal suits to follow. Better to provide horrendous service to our customers. Or a worker in a service office like the registrar's or business office who growls when she has to help students. Can’t just let her go. Need at least a long period of progressive discipline before one can even contemplate dismissal. And if she is in a union… Rather different than most stores or a resort. If a person angers and repels customers there, he or she is gone quickly.

There is quite a bit more too. Poor service in a store just makes the customer leave and go elsewhere. Unless of course he needs the particular item that the store sells and is the only one so doing in the area, then he’ll grin and bear it to buy it. She may want to leave but if the product can only be obtained there, she will have to either get it there or forgo it completely. Education? Can get composition, math, psych, etc. etc. most anywhere even on-line so one does not have to be bound by location and exclusivity. 

There is another and most significant difference between academic and retail customer service. In academic customer service, we know "the customer is not always right". In fact, that is proven every day on tests and quizzes and too often in the ways that they can act. It is the job of the college to teach the student to become "more right" through teaching both in and out of the classroom. Out of the classroom? Yes because we are not only teaching information and ideas but preparing students for life after college and for job. In a store, there is no interaction to improve the customer while in college, that is our mission.

To assure you retain more students through academic customer service, training is needed. We can't expect our faculty and staff to provide good service if they have not been trained to so so. Contact us today to learn how we can increase retention and graduation rates through improved customer service training at 413.219.6939 or email me at

We can and will increase your population and enrollment.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Higher Education is Vocational Education

A colleague of mine who is a faculty member in allied health at a large university said to me that if he had it to do over, he would teach at a community college where they have vocational
education. I was surprised. Not that he wanted to leave a university for a community college but that he that he didn’t realize that higher education is vocational education.
The difference is that for the most part, universities teach some higher level vocational ed.

Universities teach vocational education?

Yes, just ask any student attending a university or four-year college why she is there. The answer invariably is to either “get a job” or “become a botanist, teacher, computer analyst, engineer, poet or some other work-related professional. Even a philosophy or art major is taking the courses to become something – a professor or an artist.

Our students are not at college to “learn” but to get a job and earn. This is not new. The first university, Harvard, was started to teach young men to get a job as ministers. That was their vocational goal. Harvard is still a vocational school but one for future professionals like all other universities.

Students view college education as training for a job. And they are right for all courses except some required courses. The courses in their major all point toward becoming qualified to become something, to get a job in a field. If required courses were not required, students would not take them unless they somehow worked into their career goals. The required courses are an attempt on the part of the institution and faculty to broaden the curriculum and the students but they are just add-ons to a vocational curriculum.

Now, if this argument is not making faculty spitting in rage by now I would be surprised. For the most part, they refuse to see the vocational orientation of what they do. They see themselves as teaching in an institution devoted to learning not jobs. The very idea that a college has vocational bases is wrong and pure heresy to them. They persist in believing students are there to learn and broaden their intellects.  The majority of faculty refuse to see going to college as a means to an end even though they all went to college to get a job as a faculty member in a major field to teach others how to become a professional and get a job. It is the majority, quite often those in softer fields like literature, the social sciences and other required area courses that are most adamant about the university not being job-related.

A very close friend of mine taught classical literature at a graduate program at a university. He would invariably get quite angry when I would bring up the subject of higher ed being vocational. “I don’t teach students so they can get jobs. I teach them to expand their minds” he would say even as he trained graduate students for teaching jobs. He expanded their minds so they could become intellectually qualified to get a job. And the students knew this. Any course they took that was not directly related to that job they wanted was considered worthless and if at all possible, avoided. For example, when the teaching associates at the university I attended for grad school were required to take a course in practical classroom pedagogy to teach, they rebelled as believing this course was a waste of their time.

As a result of these differing views of the very nature and role of the college it can be seen that faculty and students go to two different schools together.  One is a professional training intuition and the other is an academy of learning. Fortunately, the two colleges do come together for the most part in the classroom when the course is within the student’s major. The student is there to be trained and the teacher is there to train them through teaching them and having them learn the material. The students learn the material so they can apply it in their vocational area. The faculty member gets to teach and expand the students’’  knowledge which can make him happy.
It is in the required courses where the two college situation is a significant problem. Students do not see them as leading directly to their vocational goal while the faculty see the courses as intellectually enriching and valuable in their own right. As a result, students rebel against the required courses and that rebellion is too often seen in their not applying themselves very hard to the work of the class. It takes last position behind anything that does relate to the job goals.

This creates real tension and even anger in the faculty who have to believe that what they are teaching is important and cannot accept excuses such as “I had to study for a test in my major so I couldn’t do the homework”.  This is why faculty who teach required courses are most vocal about students “not caring, disengaged, unmotivated, and not college material”. They are teaching at a college in their minds that does not exist in the students’ minds. It is a clear anomie situation.   They see the standards and values breaking down in students and the university and that causes tensions and stress between the faculty and students as well as between faculty and the college itself that let these students who are not prepared or engaged into their classrooms.

They need to understand that there is a real gap between them and their students in how they view and exist in the college. They need to accept that students are there to meet their own goals and get a job. They should understand that anything that does not lead to that goal is considered unimportant and alien to most students.

Yes, there are some who will respond enthusiastically to a required course. They may even be enthused by a literature course for example to become an English major and work to become an English teacher as a result of a required English II course. But then the reality is that the course became part of the student’s vocational goals by defining the goal more clearly and becoming a building block in the goal itself.

So what are we to do about this? First realize that students and faculty are at different universities and need to all be at one. Next, recognize that the student is the one who pays the bills and is the reason for the existence of the college. Without them, there would be no college. Thus, it is for the faculty to move closer to the students’ college and accept the reality that the students are there for a vocational reason and goal. Faculty need to accept that some of the courses they teach will not be seen as fitting into the students’ college and not take umbrage at the students’ indifference to the course.

Moreover, when possible, faculty should make the course fit more closely into the students’ vocational mindset. Make the course materials more relevant when possible. So for example, when I taught composition, I had students write job application letter. I did not assign any literary essays but readings about the world they live in and business-related topics.  
This will not necessarily be possible in all courses. For example, when teaching a world literature course. But if the faculty member recognizes that the students are in the other college, at least the experience may be more predictable and change the expectations of the faculty member to make the experience easier and more satisfying.

Retention important to you? Then get copies of the best selling books The Power of Retention and From Admissions to Graduation by Dr. Neal Raisman today by clicking here.


Monday, October 09, 2017

Requiring Attendance and All the Attending Excuses Against It

For the life of me I do not understand the attitudes and rationale of so many faculty toward student attendance. All I need to do at most every retention study and workshop is review the
institution’s attendance policy with the audience and kaboom, the fight is on. Yes, I did say fight. Most faculty and some administrators immediately disagree with me. They yell out “what do mean we should not have an institutional attendance policy? We then insist that students "learn the most they can by attending every class and learning from you. Don’t you realize that required attendance is a major positive factor in keeping students in college leading to their graduation and institutional success. That required attendance will return a significant percentage increase in retention and revenue? What’s more….”

Every college and university should have a clear, consistent and emphatic attendance policy that states that being in class is so important that students must attend all classes. Important because students who do not attend classes are at greatest risk for dropping out. Important because students who miss classes are not gaining the value of the teacher’s instruction and thinking on the material. Important because the student also loses out on the very important teacher-student communication and relationship. Important also because it is the student and faculty interaction that is the reason we have faculty at a college or university. If students do not need to learn from in classes, the need for faculty disappears.                                           

Yet every time I raise the topic of requiring attendance, someone is bound to disagree AND speak out. (There are always people who disagree but remain quiet until later when they get animated and assertive among like-thinking people because that’s the academic passive-aggressive way we do things.) And when they disagree in a workshop for instance, they do so vehemently. Example, a week ago I was giving a workshop in retention and customer service at a large community college. I mentioned that the college had about a thirty percent four-year retention/graduation rate that would be significantly improved with a consistent and encompassing college-wide attendance policy. A policy that would make attendance mandatory. Immediately a faculty member passionately shook her head no and raised her     hand. I saw her and asked her what she wanted to say.

“Students are adults and they need to learn to be responsible for their own choices They need to learn there are consequences to their actions” she said as does someone at most every presentation and workshop I have ever given. This statement of course indicates the belief or assessment that students have not yet learned to be responsible so we should teach them that. By allowing them to be irresponsible!

By permitting them not to come to class and learn the material properly we allow them to become intellectually bankrupt on the subject. Then we let them prove their irresponsibility by putting material from class lectures on the exam knowing that if they did not attend class they cannot pass the exam. Sort of like letting someone have a mortgage they can’t possibly pay for and we know it but sell it to them anyhow. I suppose that’s sort of teaching them financial planning by going bankrupt? 

The students in our classes are not yet responsible or even learned enough to make many decisions. That’s why when we assign homework we give a date for it to be handed in. That we can eve be fairly firm on. “It is due on next Tuesday. If it is not in then, I will not accept it without a valid reason.”

Why is it so important to not trust them on turning in homework on time but it is okay to let them  not attend a class in which the homework assignment and material related to it are handed out or have been discussed? Am I the only one who sees a major contradiction here? Why not just trust them to hand it in on time? Or better yet, why not trust them to hand it in at all? Why isn’t homework an optional attendance sort of thing. “Hand it in if you think if you think it’s important? Or if you can pass the class without doing or handing in enrollment, fine?” Contradictions anyone?
Why do we even believe they are responsible enough to make the right decision to attend or not attend class? What is it about enrolling at a college or university that makes anyone believe these people are responsible or even sensible? This is especially so for freshman which by the way is who the faculty member who asked the question at the workshop taught.

The Tinkerbell Theory of Student Maturity 
It is the widespread academic belief in fairies that makes people in colleges believe their students are adults. it. You know, Tinkerbell, the maturity fairy of the Tinkerbell Theory.
The Tinkerbell Theory is most clearly elucidated in the belief colleges have that their students know how to be students. Actually, too many schools have a misguided belief in Peter Pan and fairy dust. They believe that somehow magic occurs on the stage in the local school auditorium at high school graduation. An immature high schooler starts across the stage. And with him or her walks all the attitudes, ways of thinking, and attitudes ingrained over 12 long years. These are the same very characteristics that made the soon-to-be high school graduate have to prove he or she was capable of succeeding in your college. Then, he or she stops and just as the high school principal hands him or her a diploma, a small, invisible maturity fairy flies overhead and sprinkles magic knowledge dust on the graduate. POOF!! You’re a college freshman! What was a latent college student suddenly sheds his or her immature ways and is suddenly metamorphosed into a mature college student ready and capable of meeting the demands and dictates of college!

And if for some odd reason the fairy dust did not complete the transformation, the next ten weeks of summer vacation complete the transformation. After all, that freshman is no longer a high schooler. He or she is a freshman at Neverland U and all our students know how to be students. After all, they are here at college.

But this is far from the truth. Peter Pan was fictional and so is the belief that incoming students are college students upon walking on campus. (The Power of Retention: More Customer Service in Higher Education; p. 157)
The Tinkerbell Theory also applies to upperclassmen  Perhaps not as obviously but it does apply to most of them. Simply because they have been attending your college does not make them mature or responsible. And we all know this. We even complain when they act irresponsibly.

For example, do students suddenly shut off their cell phones in class if they are juniors? Not unless they have been taught to do so. Do seniors not text during class? Only if taught they cannot do that in class. When a freshman returns to campus as a sophomore does he or she come to class on time? Even better, if he or she has passed Comp 1(and 2 if you demand it) is the student’s writing now mature and correct? Etc. Etc……. What else is fictional is that we teach them responsibility by letting them choose to be irresponsible; to go to class or not.

Physical maturity in no way equals mental maturity. Maturity is something that is learned and taught. We accept that as a given with young people for example. We teach them how to share, how they need to clean their room, brush their teeth, wash, bathe, look before crossing, do their homework … If we want children to become a religious, we teach them and even demand they go to church, temple, mosque… If we want them to play a musical instrument we make sure they attend classes and practice. And we do make them go to classes, if they are our children!!!!!

If It’s Good Enough for Your Kids…. . When people start the argument on class attendance, at some time I will ask that person or persons if they have children in college. Most every time at least one does. “Okay, Let’s assume you are paying only $10,000 a year for school. Only $10,000. Public-affiliated university. Your child completed a FAFSA waiver at school (which should be done at every school) so you can call to find out why Jennifer is concerned her grade in a class is not that good. You are told that Jennifer is not attending that class. What do you do?”

The faculty member invariably says something akin to “I’d tell her to get her butt in class, not skip classes and go for extra help!”

So if it is good enough and important enough for you to tell your child to go to class, why isn’t it equally good and important for other peoples’ children in your classes to have to attend? That’s when the “ahhhhhh” and “we fell into that” light bulb moment hits. But fear not, the light gets turned off quickly.

And then I respond “Why didn’t you just shrug your shoulders and say something like ‘well I guess that’s her just learning to become responsible?’ Or don’t you want your children to learn responsibility the very hard way you would let other peoples’ children learn responsibility. By dropping or flunking out and getting to work at some minimum wage job? Oh by the way, most every business does not teach responsibility by making showing up for work an option. When workers do not come to work, they learn about looking for another job. Interestingly enough, that is true at the colleges and universities at which we work too.”

Not Enough Time and I’m Not a Disciplinarian Excuses 
Okay but how does taking attendance make someone into any of the above? It doesn’t. It is like teaching itself. It is all in the way you do it. If one gets to know her students, attendance is easy. You can recognize who is or is not in class and check them off. If you don’t know them well enough, then you may not be doing a great job of connecting with them anyhow. Little says connecting and caring like “yes, whatsyourname” or “you in the blue blouse.”

It is easy and quick to simply go through the roll, call out their names and see who responds. That way you can check to see who is here and…Wow! Start to learn their names!!!

One could also assign some student to take the roll or pass the attendance sheet around. That is not as effective of course. Some students will work it out so they can skip and not learn from you. And you will not learn their names since it is a way to not get too acquainted with anyone in the class. And yes, I know you will say you get acquainted to many of the students in class in the process of teaching. Of course, you can’t get acquainted with those who don’t show up. And we all know the pile of research that indicates that a feeling of association with a faculty member is a very important retention and learning factor.

Just Not Enough Time to Take Attendance Roll 
I also get the excuse that there just is not enough time in the class to take attendance every day. The two or three minutes it might take will kill the ability to learn all the material. A way to make sure there is enough time is to just start the class on time. As I investigate retention issues and customer service for universities an colleges, I am always amazed at the high number of classes that simply do not get roiling until at least five minutes have gone by wasted. In many cases, the delay is caused by late students, late faculty members, faculty talking to students at the front of the class rather than office hours or after class or the faculty member and class not knowing how to come to a decorous academic order.

Staring class on time is also good teaching since it reinforces the need for students to be on time. The major reason new employee graduates from college lose jobs is they do not show up on time. So why not emphasize a life lesson by startling the class when it is supposed to start?

Taking or calling attendance is a way to call the class to some sort of order. It can be the signal that the academic world is about to intrude on the more relaxed and disorder of the non-academic world in which people can do as they please without regard for others and a faculty member. Calling the roll also signals that the faculty member is asking for decorum, academic decorum in the classroom. Calling the roll is a well recognized signal to students that a separation from the non-academic to the academic has taken place so get with the appropriate decorum.

Another excuse I hear is that faculty do not want to be made into those who cause students to get into trouble, to report on them. But then if that is a concern why give grades and report them? After all nothing can cause problems more than a low grade.

I Have Nothing to Offer 
A quite prevalent response to required attendance is that this is college, an academic environment in which we are teaching ideas, ways of thinking through specific course material and information to students to prepare them for life. We are trying to instill in them a process of inquiry that can lead to mature decisions later on. Okay. Fair enough but can students learn if they are not in class?

If students can learn as much when they are out of classes as they can from a faculty member in the class, the issue is not attendance at all but the value or lack of value the faculty member brings to the material and learning. If a student can learn the same amount of information or whatever just by reading the books, frankly that faculty member teaching the class is…well…not worth much. Maybe nothing. Maybe less than nothing since he or she is wasting student time and institutional resources.

Realize that when a professor tells students that they do not have to attend his lectures and they can pass by reading the assignments, doing the homework and taking tests, he is saying “There is no value to my lectures or classes. I, in fact, have nothing to offer you that you cannot get from a book.” This is a clear admission that I am useless as a teacher. I have no value for you. And in turn that diminishes each every faculty member teaching at the college or university. The fact that “there is room here for someone useless and I am paying for this worthless piece of the faculty” makes students wonder about other professors. And it does not mater if he or she is a brilliant researcher; not to the student in the class trying to get something of value out of it. 

Anyone who tells students directly or indirectly that attendance to hear and discuss the lectures is not required to pass the course is saying I have nothing of value to offer and should not be teaching.

The Required Courses Paradox
The “this is an academic environment” excuse leads directly to another popular reason why faculty oppose required attendance although I have yet to have anyone argue against required courses. Why do we require some courses? Because if we did not students would not take them. We believe these courses are fundamental to a good education and preparation for life in and after college. We require these courses but do not require students to attend them.

If we assign these courses as so important that all students must take them, we must also assure they are important enough to make students attend them.

Weak Administrators and Legal Ramifications 
The reason why some faculty oppose required attendance is they believe that the administration will not support them. They believe that if they are going to fail a student due to missing too many classes, the student or parent will go to a senior administrator who will tell the professor to work something out. Make it go away.

I have to concur that there are some administrators who would do just that. Often while waving what they claim is customer service. It is people like these that give customer service a bad name. What they say is customer service is not. It is just making the problem go away because I don’t feel like dealing with it or listening to an angry parent or student. Keep Academic Customer Service Principle 11 in mind:

11. The customer is not always right.
That’s why they come to college and take tests.
(If you’d like a copy of the 25 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service just click here and just ask)

Furthermore, these people can get away with asking you to make it go away or figure something out because there isn’t an institutional attendance policy that the weak kneed need to lean on. In the same way they can point to an institutional, state, federal or some other agency policy and tell a student or parent “I’d love to help you but my hands are tied because….” 

This can occur because there isn’t an institutional policy. With a patchwork of individual faculty class policies which hopefully are elucidated in the syllabus, it is much easier for a weak administrator to pass the buck. If one section of a course requires attendance for all lectures except for excused absences; another has no required attendance; and a third lets students miss three meetings, you can see how easy it would be for a weak administrator to manipulate the situation if a student in the no miss section had two unexcused absences and was flunking as a result. Moreover, just think how well some attorney will be able to present the inconsistencies to a jury when some family sues because junior flunked the course due to the two unexcused absences while other students never went to the same course, different section, and passed.

An institutional policy takes away the possible manipulation and even legal action in which a plaintiff could sue not just the school but you individually. It also would not allow an administrator to suggest, ask, imply, persuade a faculty member to possibly consider passing the student against the attendance policy in the section even if other students may have flunked for non-compliance with the attendance policy for the section.That could definitely lead to a lawsuit?

But these are the weak people-pleasing administrators. When I ask the senior administrators at the over 450 colleges and universities I have worked if they would support a faculty member who followed an institutional required attendance policy, every one of them state support for an institutional policy.

So now, why oppose an institutional policy? What is the value of a hodgepodge of non-policies? They do not help students. They open faculty up to disparagement and even legal sanctions. Whereas an institutional policy helps students, promotes learning and keeps faculty out of court.

An institutional attendance policy will increase retention, persistence and graduation rates at a school as much as 18%. That alone is a powerful reason to have such a policy. But it also means that more students will be in the classroom to learn more and that is core to any institutional mission and educational success.

If enrollment management is important, get copies of the best-selling books The Power of Retention and From Admissions to Graduation at The Administrators' Bookshelf.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Cost vs. Expectation Correlation in College Retention

A reader from Point Loma Nazarene University sent me an email that started this piece on school costs, expectations, retention rates and
customer service.

He wrote:
"I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and am currently reading your book, The Power of Retention. I have a question about the difference in responses of students in private versus public colleges and universities. Have you found that students who leave private universities do not leave for poor service as frequently as they do in public ones? Our retention rate is much higher than the ones in your examples."

No I don’t. In fact, customer service issues are a stronger reason for leaving a private college since there is usually more investment at stake. To start with, the higher cost of a private college or university over a publicly-affiliated college brings with it higher service return demands. There is an interesting correlation situation created by cost in reference to service provided. In all but the top schools, the higher the cost to attend, the higher the expectations. Or to be even more accurate, the greater the personal fiscal impact, the greater the expectations. If school costs are having a negative impact on a person’s budget, their expectations for the school will always be high.

It is the same as if you were going to an expensive restaurant versus a McDonalds. In a higher cost eatery or bistro.(don’t you love the way the name of the place often equals overpricing? Joe’s Diner versus Joseph’s Refectory? Also why so many colleges suddenly became universities….Same food just seems more impressive?) In the bistro where a burger, (excuse me) ground Angus steak costs $15.90 or more, one expects more meat, more quality and flavor and the burger or ground steak should be served with a side of pom frites (French fries would not do in a bistro), a side of vegetable perhaps, on nice dishes, cloth table cloth and really “your way.” The customer also expects some nice ambiance and surroundings. That guy on his cell phone on the table to the left is annoying because he is talking loud to make sure the listeners and the world hear him. But you sit on a comfortable chair, place a fresh cloth napkin on your lap and wait for a server to come to you. He or she takes your order and then presents the meal. If the burger is not cooked the way you want, you call the waiter over and expect a replacement to your satisfaction. You also expect that the waiter will be attentive to your needs as well as ask at least once if everything is okay? The waiter should be conscientious but not overly so. The bill is brought and with tax, the food and experience are $18 plus a $4 tip and an hour of your time

Now let’s say that in the bistro, the waiter was a bit slow to respond to your request for more water, or the burger was served cool; not hot but not cold enough to really complain. The frites were fine but there were just a few of them. And the vegetable side was slightly overdone broccoli. Was the burger and resta…uh bistro worth it?

At McDonalds, you stand in a line. Wait to shuffle to a counter where an underpaid young person waits for you to come to her. She asks for your order. You say what you want, stand and wait some more. A thin meat puck on a bun wrapped in paper and a small bag of thin fries is handed to you by the inattentive young person who simply may say “thank you” before turning to the next customer or friend behind the counter. You walk away; sit in a hard chair at a cold Formica-topped table wipe your hands with a small, paper napkin feeling just fine with the purchase. People around you are on cell phones, talking a bit loudly and there is a kid running around the place. The bill for the burger and fries - $4.96 and no need to tip.

Less than a third of the cost and likely a greater fulfillment level even if the burger and fries were actually not as good as at the Bistro. Why? Because the expectations were lower for McDonalds and they were fulfilled. The Bistro costs more so more is expected. The Bistro is expected not only to provide a good burger and fries but service equal to the cost as well as an ambiance to match. The noise at the Bistro is disturbing; at Mickey’D’s expected. The uncomfortable chairs, well what do you expect? It’s McDonalds. It is anticipated and there are lower expectations anyhow.

Of course, the expectation commands a great deal of the fulfillment of it. Even a very negative expectation in service can lead to fulfillment and full ROI such as at a restaurant like Durgin Park in Boston as explained in my book The Power of Retention. (C’mon, You should expect I will at least mention the book which is about to go into a third printing since the first two sold out!!)

So now to relate it to schools. A more expensive school produces greater expectations. If one is paying $35,000 a year, that student and family will expect a $35,000 experience. If they get poor service from people at the school and it feels more like “would you like fries with that course?” the feeling of return on investment fulfillment will be low. If a student can’t get required classes because the number of sections were cut, that’ll feel like “we’re out of burgers tonight even though we advertised them to you. We’ll have them again Fall of next year…” The response is simple “Hey we are paying $35,000 tuition a year. If I wanted to get a $5,000 experience, I’d go to Mickey D College down the road.”

If the university serves decent academic customer service and food like courses (which again is not just smiling and pretending to be nice though that does help) then the expectations might be met. Students will feel and calculate they are receiving return on their investments and complete the daily buying opportunities. They will go to classes and feel a part of the University.

Now to all that there is also difference in demand level based on the investment within a pricing band. A pricing band is a set of schools that are similar in what they offer within a similar price. Bands are often also governed by location since bands are flexible in whom they include. The bandings are often made by buyers much as they would consider another group of possible purchases by cost, i.e, 42 inch flat screen TV’s. from $700 to $1200. (Oh, right schools are not TV’s. Not a product that is decided by price and affordability….. And how did you decide what schools your child could look at? And you could afford?)

Schools within a price band are usually the ones that the customer compares one another. These are what we can afford and are located where the student and we have a comfort level while offering an Angus burger. The higher the cost of a school within a band, the higher the expectation of academic service and ROI of course. So, if a private college with a $35,000 tuition is in a pricing band of private schools ranging from $22,000 to $38,000 of more or less equal brand value, the investment in the $35,000 is thus considered to be higher than most, but less than others. So students and parents will expect ROI based on cost within band; better than some, less than others.

If a student chooses a lower level cost within the band the expectations will be lower for it. “It may not be quite as good as University A but we can afford it. The dorms are older, and it does not have as many major but it’ll give Janie a good education”. Expectations will be lower and the odds of meeting them will be higher.

Now should Janie have to drop all of the schools in the band and look at a public school or even a community college, the expectations drop of course but so does the probability of success. The expectations can be met surely but they have been dropped so low that they are not even really expectations as such. They are just acceptances. The immediate expectation of going to a private school has been replaced with an almost unpalatable alternative. So actually, the expectations are that the college will not be able to meet real needs and the original ROI. In the case of community colleges chosen as a low-cost alternative to a private school or even a public university, there is no way it can fully meet the expectations of a four-year degree. NO WAY! 

Students who originally decided they wanted the Bistro angus burger who have to get the McD’s will find it unpalatable. They will leave for the Bistro as soon as is possible. This partially explains why community colleges have such a low retention to completion rate.

There are indeed many cases in which students go to the community college which meets many parts of their multifaceted ROI such as getting their money’s worth within a caring and student-focused environment in which they feel welcome and a part. And there are numerous situations in which students find that the community college provides excellent teaching and learning which are of course central issues to a real educational ROI. They adapt to the McD’s of education and find that they are pleased and might even look forward to it keeping the Bistro burger for a later date. Some even find they don’t want the Bistro burger at all. In these cases, their expectations have shifted.

That said, schools that have a clear mission that is embedded in all they do such as a religiously-based school like Point Loma will often have a higher retention rate than one that is not focused. Point Loma Nazarene University being a religiously-based or focused college thus has an advantage in that its students sought it out for a faith-based reason as well as an educational one Their expectations of ROI are shifted a bit from financial to emotional and affective so the money issue lessens in favor of am I getting the spiritual and personal attachments I expected and need as well as the education? The singular and fulfillment of focus is helping Point Loma.

I recently did a customer service for retention audit at a very fine university that had lost its clear focus. It had moved from being one of the finest military-focused educationally universities to trying to accommodate too many focuses. Students came to the University because of the military corps culture. Both the military and civilian students selected this University because they either wanted to focus on military training and education or they felt that a school with an active military training program would be serious and safe. 
They were having retention issues starting in the sophomore year because of the loss of focus. Freshman cadets went through a training regimen that identified them and the University as the militarily-focused school they expected. Then after a full freshman year experience, the military dropped off enough to make too many students question the focus they had signed on for.

Our audit pointed out the perception that the University had strayed a bit as well as some other issues. Students did not feel as if they were getting the ROI they had paid for. The President of the University is a solid leader and has been issuing clear statements of focus and purpose that have been very well received by the corps of cadets and the non-military students. The message that maintaining excellent teaching and learning as it has over the years and attention to some other overt customer service issues are underway but we believe the most important finally will be the clarification of a unified and singular focus. That will retain many more students than in the past.

Finally, since Point Loma can boast of recognition in US News, it adds to the sense of value and ROI whether it is really there or not. Students and parents believe they are getting the ROI’s for the most part as a result of the external certification. For example, the 306 name brand schools have a higher retention rate than most other colleges not only because they can enroll those that fit their culture but also because students believe they will get the ROI and service based on the brand name. The difference between a Rolex and Timex. Each will tell time but people will invest more in the Rolex and believe its time is more accurate and thus worth the extra cost. The Timex will be accurate as well, but it is a Timex. But if the watch is a Timex and costs $25,000 it will not sell. This is due to a negative expectation. Timex belongs in a certain pricing band and if it wanders that far out of it, it cannot find a customer belief it is worth the price.

Finally, Point Loma and other schools that have a higher than average retention rate may be doing a good job of meeting student expectations and providing good academic customer service. That’ll of course increase retention rates. I was just on a university campus with an 86% retention rate. It is doing well considering some of its factors. It is well above the national six-year rate of 59% for four-year schools. It is doing some things really well to get there. But, we believe we can increase retention by attending to some customer service factors like how some offices work, scheduling set up, breaking done some silos, altering a couple HR processes, etc. Point Loma and other colleges and universities may well be in a similar position. Point Loma does exceed the national average in the past because of some of the factors mentioned above but it could still be many percentage points below what it could be.

So, start looking and thinking about what your university can do to increase its rate and meeting student expectations today. 

Get your copy of The Power of Retention referenced in this article today by clicking here.