Thursday, March 26, 2015

Give Recognition to Get Excellence

When I was a dean of academic affairs at Lansing Community College (MI), we began every yearwith what I thought was a kind of hokey ceremony at the time.  I was a cynical liberal artist at the time grieving for my administrative art and montage of post-pre-avant garde modern - traditional learning symbologies (whatever they are.)

The college president Phil Gannon used to start the year with an ingathering of all employees. The usual parade of administrators started it all with our plans for the year and introductions of department chairs who introduced new faculty or staff. Yes, there was a time when colleges actually hired new faculty and staff.  Then he and Ron Dove, the Director of HR would hand out service pins to people.

This is what I thought was a bit hokey. To think that a service pin for five years of service would mean anything?  I mean if you want to make people feel appreciated give them more money. Boy was I wrong. If they had handed out checks the response would have been much more subdued.

They would call out that they were giving out pins for twenty-five years of service. Then they would call out the one or two people who made it to twenty-five years. The recipients would walk down through the auditorium to the applause of all the people there and receive a pin with a small diamond chip in it and a framed certificate. They would wait for all the recipients to be called to get their pin and framed certificate beaming as if they were Sally Fields and had won the Academy Award. “You like me. You really like me!”  Then they would be introduced as recipients of twenty-five year pins and everyone would clap, and whistle and stomp approval as they basked in their peer’s recognition.

This went on through twenty years, fifteen years, ten and five. The enthusiasm from the audience was retained all throughout what I now recognize as the pinning ceremony for employee engagement with the school. And to be able to recognize that the ceremony was the one thing between everyone and lunch yet no one made a move to the door during all the pinnings attests to how important this recognition was at the college.

Years later I was a president of a school that felt beaten down upon. The demands made on everyone were enormous and never seemed to be enough. Meet one goal and an even higher one was given to you. People just did not seem to be able to please corporate. This was a career college. Oh by the way, I have worked in every type of school there us so my experience and suggestions are an amalgamation of experiences and suggestions I make will apply to whatever type of school you, dear reader, are working in.

The people at the school did receive bonuses, cash rewards for meeting some set goals but the money never seemed good enough. Money just paid bills not the sense of value after all. Besides it was earned by meeting goals.

I decided to bring in recognition of service pins among other ways to build morale and recognize people. It took a while to design and choose just the right pins but it was well worth the effort.  We did not announce the ceremony when we had our monthly “Knowledge of the College” (another communication and engagement tool I highly recommend. It is like a convocation but monthly and brings people up to date and into what is happening at the school.) on Thursday afternoon.

Then Mel Lyons (HR Director) and I called one person forward and announced the first ever twenty-five year pin. The faculty member was overwhelmed by the recognition. She had thought no one cared and even knew of her contributions to the school. It didn’t hurt that she had recently been having some issues with a new dean of academic affairs who didn’t seem to care about the faculty member’s long contribution.

We could have shut off the lights and read from the beam of happiness the faculty member was giving off. Her bright joy would be repeated by everyone else we recognized that day and every year following. The people loved those recognition pins and were overjoyed when someone saw the school crest and a jewel on a pin and inquired about it. They really enjoyed saying how they had served the college for X number of years and we had recognized their service in a way that they could show off every day. And some did wear that pin every single day.

What I first thought was kind of hokey just may have been but it was also very meaningful to so many. It was also a very powerful way to show our appreciation and regain many more years of engagement in the school, and its students. Though they were not ever directly studied, I do believe they had a role to play in the college’s 14% increase in enrollment that year.

So, honoring employees in a way that was meaningful to them led to a major re-engagement in the school and students. I cannot recommend the recognition pins more highly. If your school is not doing a recognition ceremony yet, start one thus year and see even stronger engagement occur. Need any help with the pins or ceremony, just contact us. Be glad to help.
Buy a copy of The Power of Recognition or 
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Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition
through May 1, 2015 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mentoring and Saving Students

Since last week's post I haves been getting inquiries abut what I mean by mentoring so I decided to discuss it further.

Students need to feel they are engaged to and with the college. They need to have their social structure and support systems rebuilt while attending college so they have someone to lean on or go to in times of stress or need. They can go to fellow students for some information such as what professor to never take; what classes will fulfill requirements; which administrator cares about students and will try to help out ; etc. But there are many times when another student can’t help out or provide the support needed in the situation. These are the times when they might have asked a parent what to do but the parents do not understand the system and the school. So, they need a sort of collegiate parent figure – a mentor.

There is a reality rites des passage about college. It really does not come with a user’s manual though the FAQ’s recommended to help end the shuffle could fill the need. College is a strange environment that prior knowledge and experience including orientation do not prepare one for. There are new rules to learn.  Traditions and morĂ©s to absorb. A whole new way of life and a new lace to try and find one’s way around. In fact, college is a strange place not only because it is new and unique but because it seems to put all new students through a rite de passage involved in just finding one’s way around, finding a parking spot in time to get to class or just getting from one place to another on time. It is almost as if universities in particular put new students though a geographical hazing by having them find their way around campus without the use of helpful signs.  Signage on most campuses ranges from weak to non-existent.

There are administrative and procedural challenges and tests that are added on too just to see if a new student is really college material. In most schools for example, there is the rite/test of “find the advisor” which is part of the registration ritual. Students need to sign up for courses of course but to do so they must have them signed off from her academic advisor. But since it is the summer prior to the start of  classes, the advisors are quite often no9t on campus. The advisor might have office hours but since classes have not begun, the hours are neither posted nor the advisor in the office for the unposted hours. So the student has to work to find someone willing to sign off on the schedule unless of course she finds out from another student shuffled around the campus that the way to end the test is to just sign the registration form for the advisor. First, no one at registration checks for an actual signature nor would know the actual one if he saw it. Two, the advisor usually does not know what should actually be taken as well as another student who already passed this test and learned from experience. Or three, the advisor is found or another takes some pity on the student and signs off for the assigned advisor.

These processes do not help further the engagements between student and school. In fact, they initiate rifts between the two. The student begins to find that the school is not showing the engagement and caring that was promised and that he or she is “on my own”.  But this need not be the situation if the college engaged students with mentors. A mentoring system could also increase retention by approximately 84% of the total number of students who were mentored.

Most colleges assign a new student an academic advisor thinking that academics are important as they are, but not to the decision to leave. They forget about the major reason why students leave – the human element of attrition. But mentors can strengthen that attachment, the engagement at least at the beginning of the experience.  Mentors need not be drawn from the academic sector alone by the way. In fact, many students report that though faculty are a primary source of direct contact, many others report that they have found relationships in interactions with others who have reached out to them such as staff and administrators. With some training, everyone, from the president on up at the college can be a mentor if he or she is willing. This includes not just full time employees and faculty but adjuncts As well. It would be a very inexpensive investment to pay adjuncts for another fewer hours  of mentoring some students Keep in mind that students do not draw distinctions between full and adjunct faculty.

And every person at the school should be willing to become a mentor to students. Students are what everyone is there for after all. In fact, it is in helping students that members of the campus community really meet their goals. Helping the college reach its mission by helping students succeed and stay in school  provides most people at a college their reason for being and working at the school.  Moreover, a student completed by AcademicMAPS found that people work at a college not for the high pay and short hours but for the chance to be part of something bigger than they are; a chance to contribute to the school, its students and a better future for everyone.

Tikun Olam
This is a version of a Jewish belief called Tikun Olam - to save the world. Tikun Olam realizes that every person is a world unto him or herself.  So to save a person, to make a person better is to better, to save the world. And that is what people in a college or university do. They strengthen each and every student, each and every world and in so doing, the people who work in a college have many opportunities to save worlds and make our world better as they do so. By engaging students as mentors, they are also engaging in tikun olam which gives their lives greater meaning and value. By doing so, they also better their own worlds as well as the institution itself.

For example, a university with a population of 2,575 students and 300 employees with an attrition rate of 81.1% that has its employees mentor 300 students has an opportunity to save between 300 to 252 student worlds. That could increase their retention rate by up to 14% which could also add $1,387,445 to the budget. And if employees were willing to mentor up to 8 students each, it could be possible to add to the retention rate by a factor of 67% which would be an amazing turnaround.

It is necessary of course to realize that not everyone is capable of reaching out to students in an appropriate manner to mentor students even with training which everyone should have before they do mentor. With this realization, it will be important to focus the mentoring effort on those who will most benefit. This calls for some realistic recognitions that can be guided by grades. Students who earn A’s have likely either already found an engagement in the school or will survive on their own.  Students who are failing will likely have a long road back and may not be “savable”. Thus the effort should focus first on students falling between the B- to D+ range for greatest retention payoff.


Monday, March 09, 2015

Saving Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar’s closing has sent a shock wave through higher education. But it never had to happen. Sweet Briar could have remained open and solvent if it
had realized it has a retention problem not an enrollment one. If the college had focused on the students they did recruit and kept them in school they might have done alright

Let’s look review some numbers.

Sweet Briar had a student population of 723 students with 695 of them full time. They charged tuition of $33,605 per student. That could mean an annualized revenue of $23,458,515 from full time students and another $103,040 for a total of 23,458,515. With an endowment of $85 million added to that annual revenue, they would have had enough money to say in operation if…IF they had retained their students and they could have.
As it is they had a 43% attrition rate. That means they were losing almost half of its population each year and had to recruit a new class plus enough students to make up for the attrition. They were losing $10,279,578 from attrition each year.

They did not have a revenue problem; they had an attrition problem
This was a problem they could have addressed. All they needed to do was study the school’s customers, the students, and find out why they were leaving. This could have been done through a simple customer service audit. They could have done something as simple as sending out a survey with one question to start. “If you could change one thing at the school today that would make it better to be here, what would that be?” Then take the answers and organize them from most noted to least. Next, if Sweet Briar had started at the top, addressed the problem and let the population know it has been resolved, they would let the students know their issues were heard and something was being done. Plus the college would have started removing the reasons why students were leaving at such high numbers.

They could also have started a mentoring/coaching program for all students. The school has about 300 employees to the 723 students, with an 8-1 student to faculty ratio. There were plenty of people to provide personal attention to students. If each employee were assigned two students starting with students getting Bs, C’s or D’s (this is the most vulnerable and savable population) they would have kept many more students in school. Giving students a person they can be in touch with all of the time on campus builds stronger bonds to the school. And all the mentor would have to do is keep in touch with the student, take her out for a cup of coffee or a soft drink every so often, ask how things are going and help her navigate the school when there was a problem. Not too much to ask of an employee I don’t think. 

These two steps would have led to a significant drop in attrition to around 15-18%% which is manageable and Sweet Briar could have stayed in business. 



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guaranteed Education is Great Customer Service

Going through some old (and I mean OLD) files, I came across this Contract that was created while I was president at Rockland Community College
(NY). It was resisted by some faculty but we finally gained enough acceptance to move it through to the Board which jumped on it and a community shell shocked after a $12.8 million state and federal financial aid allowance loved it. (No, I didn't create the problem It was my job to resolve it, keep the college open and fiscally solvent. We did.)

The guarantee created confidence in our academic program and student focus.It was also the right thing to do. It also gained national recognition as a forward thinking approach to learning and jobs. Not sure what happened once I left in a protest over Board impropriety and ties to a politician who would soon go to jail after I left).

I still think it is a good, student-focused idea that could be adapted by any college and would go a long way to help the beleaguered reputations of community colleges in particular but also most four-year schools. they are all under f ire now for not having enough success in helping students complete and get jobs. 

There are some that say we cannot guarantee ;learning but under this contract we do all we can to assure that learning has taken place. It also causes grades to mean something other than showing up.

 Let me know if you think it still has benefits.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Academician Heal Thyself

Are most colleges businesses and not just the obviously for-profit ones either? All colleges sell their services (marketing and recruitment),have sales
staff (admissions), bill payable and collections (bursar), service providers (faculty) administrators and staff. They all do their best to provide services that their customers (students) want (electives) or must have (required courses). And they all try to make a profit (fund balance/surplus) or at least not to lose money of at all possible. They have employees and unions. Pay salaries and extend benefits And they do produce products (degrees) and sell services.

Maybe they are businesses; unique businesses but businesses just the same. Businesses like a medical practice perhaps with professionals serving the needs of their patients. Each tries to use professional services providers (doctors/professors) to better the lives of their clients. Each purports to higher missions than making money.  Each make patients/customers/ students pay for services but each is also paid for some of the services by outside groups like insurance and the government for medical practices and local, state and federal government for colleges. Each depends on a core of contracted professionals; doctors for the medical practice and faculty for colleges.

But there are also differences. Whereas medical practices are dedicated to doing all they can to save their customers, colleges seem to be rather indifferent to their customers’ success and longevity. Medical practices try to keep their customers alive and coming to the practice while colleges seem to thrive on having huge swathes of their clientele die off or leave. If a medical practice had a reputation of losing a third of its patients every year, it would be seen as questionably competent; a group to stay away from. Many colleges lose fifty percent of their students with some losing as many as 80% of a class and they are still enrolling future students. A medical practice with such a bad record would get cut off from government funds and close while colleges with terrible retention records often get grants to try and keep them going and failing.

Colleges have a rather strange relationship with their customers. And while we are at it, they are customers. Students exchange money for goods and services and that makes them customers by definition. Call them students if that makes it easier to swallow, call them the college’s clients if that makes one feel better but they are customers.

Colleges spend an inordinate amount of time and money to attract their customers  to get them to buy the college’s offerings, but then do so very little to retain them. They spend around $5460 to obtain every new customer and process him or her into the system but then neglect to capitalize on that investment by ignoring their needs and expectations. As a result, large percentages of their customer base leave the college each semester.

They exert a great deal of energy trying to get potential students to believe that the college cares about them but as soon as the student signs the application check and deposit, they just toss them into the deep end of the college and do all they can to make them sink. They treat all students with the same services as if they all were the same and too often we have found those services are lacking in quality and assistance. In fact, if one looks at how much money a college actually spends in student services needed to retain their customers, it would be shockingly low f there is any money set aside for retention services  at all..

What should be the primary activity of college –educating its students – treats all students as if they were the same learner. The lecture approach for example just sends out information as if all the students learn the same way. Everyone is given the same information and work whether or not his personal needs and learning protocols are receptive to them.  This is certainly different than medicine in which every treatment is personalized to the particular patient. College hands out information as if every patient needed the same medicine whether or not the need exists for that medicine. If a doctor gave out the same prescription to all he or she would be seen as incompetent. Colleges are seen as efficient when the same lecture is given to a class of 500 in an introductory course independent of whether learning actually takes place. 

But doctors work with fewer patients than does a professor lecturing to a class of one or two hundred even as few as 50. But doctors who work a clinic may easily see that many patients in a week and they all get some personal attention. The average professor has three classes of 20 or 60 students total so what is the excuse of not giving each student personal attention to make sure they all succeed? 

When a patient needs extra care, he is often sent to see a professional specialist. In college that might happen in writing when a student is sent to a writing lab but in other areas the student with extra need is often handed off to a peer tutor.  And we wonder why students with extra need fail so then. It is as if we have a patient with a serious problem being sent to a med student for specialized help. Why is that? Because the professor is considered too busy to deal with tutoring in most schools. And the more senior the professor and more renowned in her knowledge the less time she has for the primary purpose of college, making sure students succeed and graduate in many too many cases. 

When one boils it down, a major difference between a medical practice and a college is that in the practice each patient is individually important whereas in a college, a student is not. To “lose a patent” in a medical practice is considered a terrible thing. In college losing a student can just be sign that the college is academically rigorous. In the medical practice, when a patient is lost that often calls for a review of why that patient is gone. In most colleges if a student leaves, no one looks into why he or she left. It just is not that important. “We’ll go and recruit another”. A life may be damaged when a student leaves or flunks out but that is not of much concern to the college. A student life is just not that important.

In a medical practice, the administrators worry about patients who will sue for one reason or other. In college, administrators worry about faculty members complaining about one thing or another. As a result, medical practices do all they can to treat the patient’s ills and personal needs while colleges treat the needs and self-perceived injuries of the faculty more than the students.

Colleges need to become more like medical practices, businesses that focus on the needs of their patients, the customers first and foremost. They need to rethink their priorities and put students first and the services they need to each succeed focus upon what each student needs to succeed. Colleges need to put the student first and provide all the services they need to succeed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Colleges Need to be More Like Hospitals
Higher education is in a position that hospitals were in back in the 1980’s. There were more beds than patients. Costs were climbing upsetting  and worrying the public. And the federal government was starting to assert itself on how hospitals were run and making them prove they were successful.  The result was that hospitals some consolidated, some were closed and others just went out of business. They could not manage under the scrutiny and additional cots to operate. That could, and is happening in higher education as well. 

Hospitals are like colleges. They have an administration that is not trusted by the hospital community. Doctors who have a somewhat independent relationship to the hospital, being able to do as they please for the most part with their patients. Their allegiance is to their discipline more than to the hospital.  Hospitals also have indifferent staffs as well as some stellar performers And hospitals have patients sort of like colleges have students.

A major difference though is that in the hospital, people show great concern for the patients and try to save each one while colleges accept a student “death rate” around 50%, the national attrition rate. That is a significant difference. 

In the hospital treatment is centered around the immediate and personal needs of the patient while in colleges the students’ needs are often neglected. In hospitals if a patient needs help, she or she can get that assistance from a qualified professional. In a college if s student needs extra help they get to work with a peer tutor. How many of you would be comfortable with another patient taking care of you in the hospital?
In the hospital, each patient gets care that is appropriate for him or her needs. In college everyone is treated the same too often in classrooms where the professor just drones out with the same information and teaching for everyone whether  they get the material or not.

Another difference is that the hospitals try to admit people who can benefit from the treatment they provide. If a person is not a good candidate for hospital care, he or she does not get in while at many, too many schools, they let in anyone whether or not they can benefit from the stay at the college.

Hospitals also try to save every one of the patients they have. If a patient is “crashing” they have a team that comes quickly to triage the patient and try to keep them alive. While if a student is crashing at most schools, the college lets him or another flunk. It is seldom that the professor (the doctor) will commit himself to triage the student and do all he can to save that student in the class. Hospitals even have a special ward for patients who are in the gravest chance of dying. It is the ICU while in schools may not even let a student know if he or she is in danger of failing a course or flunking out.

Oddly enough hospitals that lose too many patients are looked down upon while schools that “cull out”  large numbers of students are considered to have high standards. Hospitals that save patients  are considered tops in their areas while schools that do all they can to save students are… Well, they are rare.

We need to act more like hospitals and care about each and every student we admit. Every one of them needs to be saved and kept healthy. It is not enough to admit them. We must provide all the professional services and care they need to succeed or like hospitals, we will be scrutinized even further and many will not survive that.

There is a lot we can learn from hospitals especially the clear focus on each and every patient. They know it is not enough to admit a patient. They have to do all they can to save them too. They also know something that we have not really learned. It takes a great deal of information and data to properly care for a patient/student.

Every test and exam is posted for all doctors to see and in many cases now for the patients to also see, For example, I go to the Ohio State University hospital system for my medical care. Every time I have a blood test, every result is posted on a system they call My Chart. It tells me the result; whether or not that is normal or not and what each test means, I am fully informed. If I have an appointment coming up or need to schedule one, the system sends me an email letting me know. It is in contact with me at all times.

And I can use it to contact my doctors to get more details or help. All I need to do is scroll down and enter an email to a doctor and he or she gets it. And, they respond. Moreover, when I went to the Cleveland Clinic it was able to pull up my entire chart on-line and see all my doctors’ notes and exam results. It was fully informed on me as a patient. It had my record so transfer into their system was simple. I did not have to repeat tests at all.

Schools need to build or obtain systems like this to allow students full access to their records and notes. They need a system as hospitals have to notify him when he needs to do something now to stay healthy. This is a customer service which is needed now to save more students. And in turn, keep more schools from having to shut down or consolidate services as hospitals did in the 80’s

by Dr. Neal Raisman, author of the best selling book The Power of Retention.