Enrollment Management

Athletics and Enrollment: Communicating Across the Divide

(Jill McCartney, Doane College Athletic Director, is a guest blogger this week providing her perspective on the relationship and communication between athletic departments – specifically coaches – and enrollment offices)

Recruiting is the lifeblood of Athletics. While the same may be said for Admissions and the Enrollment staff, the way that we operate in Athletics and the strategies we use may not be altogether commensurate. For instance, admissions folks may be happy to welcome all applicants meeting admissions criteria, but sports coaches are not necessarily happy about welcoming all prospects.

As Athletics plays a larger role in enrollment management, ensuring good communication between Athletics folks and enrollment staff is important. Key to this communication is not only making sure everyone is aware of the lines of communication and who reports to whom, but also that the language we speak means the same thing to both groups. How the Admissions Office operates may not look like how sports coaches go about their work. Thus, making sure that both groups understand each other can go a long way in helping them function cooperatively.

To this end, I’ve listed some of the most important things for Enrollment professionals to know about how Athletics operates in recruiting:

  1. Coaches want the “Red Carpet Treatment” for their top prospects. What is interesting here is that coaches agree they want this, but they don’t necessarily know what this “Red Carpet Treatment” should look like. When I told our Admissions Director that this is what our coaches wanted, he expressed that this is how their staff attempted to treat each prospect they recruited. Admissions folks, he said, try to make each student feel wanted, so he wanted to know what specifically coaches were looking for. I had no definitive answer for our Director, even after asking our coaches a few more questions. I came to the conclusion that coaches just wanted admissions staff to know who their top prospects were and, therefore, needed to do a better job of communicating with the Admissions staff about their recruiting priorities.
  2. Coaches don’t like to be surprised with prospects. Coaches tend to be very intentional about their recruiting, which means they usually know most of the players in the area. They also tend to have busy schedules, so having an admissions staff member ask for a meeting within the next hour or, even worse, having the admissions ambassador show up at the coach’s office with the prospect and her family in tow, are not good for promoting good will between departments. Given that coaches now work under the expectation of maintaining larger rosters and supplementing campus recruitment, coaches generally understand the need to help out with students in whom they may not be very interested; but coaches still want to ensure that they make best use of their time, so having some background information on the prospect or having the time to delegate the visit to an assistant will go a long way toward maintaining good will and optimizing the time spent on the visit.
  3. In recruiting, coaches operate on a sped-up timeframe. Coaches live in a here-today-gone-tomorrow world. When they have a hot prospect, coaches recruit with an urgency, and they want others to show this same kind of urgency. For instance, when the arch rival down the road has already admitted the hot prospect, coaches expect their school to act accordingly—and right now. They want their prospects to be admitted in the same window as other schools against whom they compete.
  4. Coaches’ recruiting calendars can depend on the sport and gender of the student-athletes. And these recruiting calendars may not work very smoothly with academic or admissions calendars. Coaches of women’s sports tend to start recruiting players as sophomores and try to get commitments from their top prospects by December of their senior year (if not earlier!). On the men’s side, coaches typically find that early recruiting is not as effective, so they make their big push during the senior year. In football, campus visits get going in December and January, with many players making decisions by the first of February. For football recruiting, then, the winter break can make visits somewhat problematic, as December visits fall during final exams and January visits occur before classes start. We are fortunate at our institution that the Admissions staff and key faculty are willing to work with football coaches to set up visit days before the start of the semester to ensure a high quality visit for prospects and their families. While coaches would like for Admissions staff and faculty to be available during evenings and weekends—when many prospects are able to visit campus—finding other creative ways to adapt to coaches’ recruiting calendars is key to recruiting success.
  5. Coaches want admissions counselors to know about their sports programs. While coaches understand that they are the best and most effective promoters of their own programs, they want to feel as if it’s a team effort with admissions when their prospects are on campus. Coaches like to hear from the prospect that the student ambassador giving the tour talked about the football team’s big win over the top-ranked opponent, or that the admissions counselor told them about the baseball team’s unbeaten record in conference last year. On our campus, we have created promotional sheets for use by coaches and admissions staff, and these can serve admissions staff as “cheat sheets” for key talking points.

While this list reflects the specific priorities of coaches at Doane College, Crete, Nebraska, I believe the underlying principle—the need for clear and effective communication—pertains to all. What has helped our coaches and, I believe, our Enrollment staff, is the use of multiple means of communicating. Having our Director of Admissions as an invited guest to our Athletics Department meetings, creating an Admissions staff “liaison” to the Athletics Department, and using Google Docs for coaches to update offers and acceptances are all ways that we have worked to shore up communication and effective rapport between departments. The good news is that we are still speaking to each other, and the even better news is that both groups feel that we have benefited from the increased and improved communication.

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Enrollment Management, Higher Education Marketing

You’ve got mail!

QUICK EDITORS NOTE:  You may continue to choose to read this blog post or you may watch/listen to the post!

Everyone likes getting mail during the holidays. I write my family’s annual holiday letter updating family and friends on what’s going on in the life of my wife, kids, and me. The result of this annual tradition – in addition to the increasing amount of online Christmas present purchases – is a crazy busy time of the year for the USPS as well as other delivery services. In fact, I learned while watching the TODAY SHOW that December 18th is anticipated to be the most significant mail date of the year!

To be fair, I believe everyone likes to get mail, particularly personalized mail, regardless of the holidays. I still look forward to checking my mailbox every day when I get home from work – but, maybe I’m old fashion.  I did turn 40 this year. There are fewer bills, statements and cards/letters in the mailbox compared to 10 years ago. Personally, I don’t get the hand-written card from my mom like I did in college. She emails or texts which I appreciate, but they still don’t have the same effect. Think about the last time you received something hand-written in the mail. Felt good, right?

After checking with a colleague and Doane College alumnus at the United States Postal Service (USPS), I’m told that mail volumes have declined considerably over the last decade. First-class mail – i.e. bills, statements, letters and payments – has been significantly impacted by online options. As a result the USPS delivered 35% less First-Class Mail in 2013 than they did in 2004. While the rate of decline has slowed in the last two years (only a 5% and 4% drop in the last two years respectively) the first 2 quarters of 2014 shows that trend continuing. But, what about Standard A mail (aka Junk Mail)? Truth be told that Standard A mail has increased slightly in the last year and is down only marginally from where it was in 2004.  Bottom line…less mail in the mailbox means what is in the box may very well get more attention by comparison to ten years ago.

Two quick thoughts on this: First, with less mail, it’s understandable that businesses are working more strategically with Standard A mail to gain more presence in front of the consumer – to get noticed in the mailbox. Second, I believe the value of a personal note in the mailbox has more impact today than it did 15 years ago.

I contend that the plight of first-class mail has actually made the mailbox more relevant today! In higher education enrollment management, communication with the prospective student is of paramount importance and ever more challenging to coordinate. For example, response rates to mail pieces are abysmal for the most part and the elimination of landlines makes it even more challenging to connect with a student via phone. Rather than wait for students to tell us they are interested, colleges use predictive models to determine who we need to target with our communication plans and ultimately we create communication flows that hit prospective student mailboxes on a regular basis even when a student hasn’t taken the specific step to tell us they are interested. We can’t afford to wait for the student to respond.

Beyond general propaganda mail, however, I am also determined to create a mailbox presence for prospective students that connect to them personally. It’s true that printing companies can more easily print variable data on brochures and postcards to give the impression of personalization. While I think this works and has an effect, it still does not replace the value of the hand-written addressed envelope that contains something more personalized inside. Make no mistake, this isn’t easy to coordinate and takes time and energy. However, Admission Counselors at Doane College must make connections with prospective students that require them to think beyond the quick phone call or even the Facebook message or email.

So, how about email? Studies have shown that prospective students prefer to receive college information via email. As a result, we push emails out to prospects regularly. So much so that people question if it’s too much. Do people really care that much about junk emails, so much that it frustrates them? Can you actually send too much email? Mass email can be easy and very inexpensive. Unfortunately, some enrollment professionals struggle to invest the time and energy to really think through an email campaign strategy. This is not an indictment on those individuals. It’s reality of our resources. I know we are guilty of that at times for sure. A discussion I hear in my office often is related to the volume of emails that we send to prospective students. I hear people contend, “We are turning them off with so many emails!” Really? A student is not considering Doane College because of how many emails we send? I think it’s an easy excuse for a person, but not the reason they are not coming to Doane College. I simply think it’s unfortunate for a college or business to fear sending too many emails. That said, it is important to have a balance – purpose and volume. People can easily opt-out of email campaigns or they can simply ignore them. I get an email a day from Kohls – maybe even two or three this time of year – and it doesn’t bother me because I know it’s there if I’m interested. It takes more energy for me to opt-out or send a nasty-gram for them to stop sending me emails.

Lets be clear, however. Quantity and quality are two different issues. I’m in favor of significant volume of emails, but there has to be a strategy and a vetted message to these emails. They do represent your brand.

College enrollment professionals lament over different strategies to engage with high school students during the college search process. We utilize all modes of communication in what sometimes seems like a lost cause. Does our mail get opened? How do we know if they don’t respond to the tear-off card or go online with the customized URL. Do they even receive our email campaigns? We create landing pages, review open-rates and click-through stats in hopes of validating our efforts. We look at Google reports to see the pages visitors land on. Today, we can’t obtain as many valid phone numbers because there is no landline! We pay exceptional amounts of money to firms to help us manage the communication flow to prospective students, which includes a select number of mail pieces, email campaigns, and phone calls. We consider the message, the look, the timing, and the volume of touches all in hopes that the student engages.

There is no silver bullet. But, moving all online and eliminating a mailbox strategy is a sure death in my opinion. Take advantage of the mailbox today. It’s not nearly as cramped as it once was. Get your college into the conversation by making sure your brand lands on the dining room table or counter at the end of the day, preferably at the top of the pile.

So, I leave you with a few pieces of advice:

  1. The mailbox still matters.  Use it strategically.
  2. Hand-written addressed envelopes are effective.
  3. Be aggressive with emails, but give thought to your message and subject lines for best response rates. Top of the mind awareness is the name of the game. Be there when they are ready for you. Can you dedicate a person to manage this activity and report on successes and failures?

Happy Holidays! JOEL

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Enrollment Management, Higher Education

7 Observations in Recruiting the Student-Athlete Today

QUICK EDITORS NOTE:  You may continue to choose to read this blog post or you may watch/listen to the post as a vLOG or Video Blog – 7 minute video.

Athletics is such a significant part of the lifestyle and culture of so many young men and women today, particularly in smaller rural communities. It’s a component of their social life. It should be of no surprise that many student-athletes in high school consider continuing their athletic experience into college, at least early in exploring college options. It may very well be a comfort thing. It’s what they know. And, depending on the school – and obviously the individual – the athletic accomplishments may suggest that college athletics is a real possibility for young Johnny.

Many colleges and universities have taken advantage of this culture over the last 15-20 years increasing the number of athletic programs on college campuses and offering junior varsity and even freshman programs. While larger universities have traditionally offered intramurals, smaller colleges may simply not have the population to manage that on their own campus, but they could increase opportunities and competition with other colleges. More importantly for many colleges, the increase in athletic programs is a way to increase enrollment, something desperately needed by many colleges both then and now. It makes sense financially for many and has proven to be quite successful.

So, how has this impacted the way admission offices recruit and interact with prospective students? First, let me take you back about 20 years to my experience being recruited as a student-athlete. Of course, we have to take into consideration that the internet was only known to Al Gore (that’s a joke folks), email wasn’t available, cell phones didn’t exist in mainstream population, and it was much more difficult to share video. But, the Pony Express still delivered out of Wahoo, Nebraska at that time delivering VHS tapes to my potential college suitors. Ah, the glory days of yesteryear.

But I digress.  Connecting with high school student-athletes is different. I stop short of saying it is any easier today just because we have the technology of cell phones, email, social media, and more. But with all that said, I reflect on my experience and share some observations.

  1. More young men and women today believe they can play college ball. Maybe this this is a simple result of colleges providing more opportunities. But, I also believe that the effort to use sports as enrollment has sent the message to many that they can play college ball even when many of them will never see a minute of varsity time.
  2. Personal and sustained contacts through the recruiting process still matter. In fact, I still contend that snail mail has grown in impact since email and social media took over. My senior year I received a personal note of some kind from my college of choice almost every other week. Students still like the personal connection, particularly with schools and coaches they like.
  3. Athletic scholarships are readily available! I tell many high school athletes, if you want to play, it’s likely that someone will give you a scholarship. The amount of that scholarship, however, can vary greatly.
  4. Entitlement vs. Opportunity. I say this with some trepidation. But, my experiences have increasingly witnessed parents negotiating – serving as an agent – with colleges rather than being thankful for the opportunity.
  5. Evaluating real talent is easier. Technology has had a tremendous impact. HUDL for example has put my freshman son’s highlights in the hands of family, friends, and ultimately college coaches. But also, the increased opportunities at colleges, suggest to student-athletes that they can and should dream bigger rather than limiting their opportunities to only what they know geographically due to what they get in the mail or see on tv.
  6. Smaller colleges and universities have a value proposition they may not have had previously. Due to increased opportunities, many young men and women see the significant value in the smaller college as a place to continue playing something they love. Consider the addition of men’s volleyball and women’s wrestling at schools in the Midwest.  Would a student have considered such schools if not for athletics? For some, it comes down to the decision of playing. I’ll go to XYZ College if I want to keep playing and I’ll go to ABC University if I choose to give it up. Personally, I don’t think it should be this way but I understand the mindset.
  7. Admissions offices are greater extensions of athletic recruiting. It’s more of a partnership today to meet common goals. I remember when coaches would forbid admission offices from contacting certain recruits. Today, coaches seek and often need the support of admissions to maintain the connection with a larger number of potential recruits. I’m sure this isn’t always the case, but I’ve seen it evolve at my institutions.

Bottom line is that things have changed. I’d argue it’s a buyers market for student-athletes right now at smaller NAIA and DIII colleges and universities. That being said, we all know that not everyone can play in college. College athletics is just like high school in that winning is the objective and players who contribute best to the team and winning will be on the floor, field, or competition space. Fortunately, students get to choose how important the opportunity to continue is to them. But, they also need to be prepared for when their number doesn’t get called. Fit is important!  Hopefully, they’ve picked the college in which they can transition smoothly to experiences that will translate into a great career outside of athletics. So, for my shameless plug….I believe we do this very well at Doane College.  We have many fine students who thought they would play college sports only to find that life after organized sports can be just as rewarding as the experiences on the court.  But, like most college athletic programs, we also anxiously await all football players with a 4.2 40 speed and a 42 inch vertical leap….who meet our admittance requirements of course.

For me, like many basketball players before me, I dreamed of playing in the NBA. Unlike my days in high school, I had no recruiters looking for my services after my college career. Looks like old man’s noonball for me!  Until next time…

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Enrollment Management, Higher Education

All you have to do is get them here!

In my opinion, the campus visit is the single greatest indicator of student interest in a college or university.  While it’s true that students may enroll without a visit, it’s rare.  Colleges will host large number of visitors throughout the academic year and also some in the summer.  The visit can “seal the deal” for many who visit their first-choice college.  For others, particularly those that have not already applied for admittance, a visit may prove that a school isn’t the greatest fit and an application will not get completed.  At Doane College, we have a beautiful campus – many will argue the most beautiful in Nebraska.  It’s amazing no doubt.  As a result, I hear many people – not those in admissions mind you – share the sentiment, “All you have to do is get them here.”  I have two issues with that statement.  First, if that were only true and second, we still have to get them here!  I’m going to address these in reverse order.

Do to the continued ease of online applications; a large number of applicants will not even visit a campus to which they apply.  Getting a student to visit campus is not as easy as some might think, particularly those that visit from “away”.  Without the visit, we are almost guaranteed that the student will not enroll.  Given the incredible “noise” generated by all schools encouraging student visits during the fall, how can a college break through to be noticed by students and have that opportunity to WOW them with a visit experience?  First, it’s about exposure early.  Students need to see the college as early as their freshman year in order to have a real chance.  Second, it’s about consistency in the message to students and families.  Colleges and universities must articulate value and how they are different from other schools.  For example, at Doane, we provide a world-class education excelling at teaching tomorrow’s educators and conducting real-world scientific research.  We provide guarantees in both three-and four-year programs with an inclusive community where students can fit in her and stand out after college.

It’s also about opportunity.  Again as an example, Doane College offers an opportunity for each student to earn a $1,000 grant (renewable annually) simply for visiting Doane College during their senior year.  Visit campus and earn the $1,000 upon enrollment.  And, this isn’t just for high school students.  Students who are looking to transfer from their current institution can receive the grant by visiting campus as well, provided it’s within 12 months of their enrollment.  Finally, it’s about convenience.  Location matters for sure.  Doane’s main market is within 100 miles of campus.  For those outside that radius, the college provides a bit more incentive beyond the $1000 visit grant.  For this reason, Doane has a travel reimbursement program allowing students with limited resources to access funding to support their travel to campus and their time on campus.  Truth be told, even these strategies don’t guarantee (remember, no silver bullet) chart-topping visit numbers.  But they can definitely help.

So, let’s say we get them to campus…what next?  As I mentioned (and it’s worth mentioning again), Doane College has a beautiful campus.  But to even think that campus beauty in and of itself gets the job done over simplifies the college decision, particularly today.  I’m going to give students more credit for college choice than simple campus beauty.   The reality is as admission professionals, we have limited exposure to how a visit is done at other colleges and universities.  How many college visit coordinators have the opportunity to see how others coordinate visits?  How many admission counselors visit other colleges as a prospective student in order to do a real assessment of what we do well?  How many faculty interview or meet with prospective students at different institutions throughout their career?  Professional conferences can give us a little exposure to how others coordinate and manage visits, but generally it’s not enough.  My point is that it’s easy to believe we are doing it well, but most of us in enrollment will still want our yield on visitors to increase.  We can always do better.  Just getting them here won’t get the numbers.

The fact of the matter is that while beauty counts, it’s the substance of the visit that really makes the difference.  It’s the whole visit experience, including things we cannot control (at least not easily), i.e. the weather, families showing up late, the menu in the cafeteria that day,..people!  🙂   We try to create an environment where each visitor can have an exceptional experience in order to determine if they are a good fit at Doane College.  We talk about “Orange Carpet Treatment” or “Concierge Service”.  I want our admission team to be genuine with students and families while at the same time making sure that our prospective students leave the visit knowing as much about their Doane potential as realistically possible.  I also hope that all staff and faculty recognize the opportunity they have to influence a visitor when they greet a student and a parent or when they say hello on the sidewalk.  There are a lot of moving parts that we manage (and some that we can’t), and we must strive to do them incredibly well.

Other than looking at yield rates, how can a college determine where they can increase the quality of visits?  Admission offices will mail surveys or seek feedback from visitors regarding their visits.  Unfortunately, at Doane we only hear about the great visits (which unfortunately don’t guarantee enrollment) or we hear about the horrible visits which can guarantee enrollment….elsewhere!  We jump to “fix” that issue immediately, but we also want to hear about the typical visits.  We generate schedules and manage visits trying to keep the student in mind while at the same time managing the relationships with our colleagues on campus recognizing that their time is valuable as well.

As professionals, we sit down and try to determine how we can be better.  Is it the schedule?  Is it the people we have student’s visit with?  Is it the route of the tour?  Are our ambassadors/tour guides saying the right things?  We consider employing a “secret shopper” experience to try and identify our weaknesses from an outsider.  We want to make the best experience for each visitor.  We can and should want Doane College to be right for every visitor even though we know that’s not reality.   Our goal at Doane is to influence and provide an exceptional admission experience.  You hear the saying that beauty is only skin deep.  Our beauty comes from within (value and outcomes) reinforcing what is easy to see on the surface.

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Enrollment Management, Higher Education Marketing

Mortimer, We’re Back!

Those words of the infamous Randolph Duke expressed to Mortimer Duke in a scene of Coming to America came to mind this week as I reflected on the time of year and my blog. Today, students are arriving on the Doane College campus to begin orientation while all over Nebraska (and across the nation), high school students are crossing the classroom thresholds for the first time since last spring anticipating what will come of this new year. It’s an exciting time for many to be sure.

As many students look forward, enrollment professionals tend to first look back. While it’s true that we are anxious for the start of a new recruiting year, admission directors crunch data and survey the higher education landscape to understand what worked and what didn’t work over the last year. Whether we anticipate making our enrollment numbers or not, it doesn’t change the questions that we seek answers to because one thing is for sure; higher education enrollment management is not getting easier, particularly in the private sector.

Then again, as much as changed, there are still constants. Students must apply and be admitted in order to enroll. And, students generally will not enroll if they have not visited the campus. So, as we lament over the tactics that we deployed last year, our bottom line question is rather simple. How do we influence more students to apply and visit? This is why higher education has become so commercialized. In some cases, yield on the number of applicants can fluctuate a few percentage points but enrollment growth or even just enrollment stability is predicated on colleges being able to convince enough students to complete an application and visit the campus. And, because of the commercialization, there is a tremendous amount of “noise” for students and parents to filter through to make their decisions. Truth be told, even if a student applies to 15 colleges, how many can they realistically visit, particularly during the academic year? To that point, colleges must figure out a way to be one of 3-5 true options in a student’s senior year.

So, the onslaught of communication continues and even increases for high school juniors and seniors. Mailboxes (because print mail still matters!) and email accounts will be filled with college information. And, make no mistake, every private college has amazing professors, small student-to-faculty ratios, and will tout new facilities. Filtering through the noise is exactly what students need to do. Results matter. Outcomes can distinguish one school from another. And no doubt, fit continues to be important. At Doane College, we’ve taken the step of identifying what we believe makes us different; what sets us apart from the crowd that will also resonate with students and parents. Our communication material will reflect our identity which can be summed up with the following “elevator statement”.

 

Doane College is a world-class private college excelling at teaching tomorrow’s educators and conducting real-world scientific research. We provide guarantees to graduate in both three- and four-year programs with an inclusive community where students can fit in here and stand out after college.

 

Check out this short video.

Using this statement as a guide, we are making sure our messages within brochures, emails, and digital media are focused and speak to the issues that students and parents expect to be addressed by colleges.  Every college has something special about it.  Connecting students to that something special takes considerable efforts and resources in today’s market.

My blog took a short hiatus over the summer, but we are off and running again. We’re back!

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Enrollment Management

Merit aid and the impact on tuition price

Eric Hoover wrote an article on January 17th, “Want to Define Merit?  Good luck.”  He accounted for a discussion among higher education enrollment officials at a conference focused on merit aid, specifically how colleges assess and reward merit aid to shape the socioeconomic and racial diversity of students at selective colleges.  I enjoyed the article but it got me thinking.  Shape socioeconomic and racial diversity?  I wish!

The term “merit aid” has grown in relevance exponentially over the last ten years for private, independent colleges.  But, merit aid is an enrollment tool used for very different reasons depending on the college.   Hoover’s article is focused on the discussion of officials from more selective colleges.  He discussed need-blind admissions, the influence of social class on students’ test scores, and the important debate surrounding the way in which colleges leverage aid to solidify diversity in enrollment.

Now, allow me the opportunity to share the world that many enrollment managers and college administrators live in related to this merit aid.  Our institutions are not considered highly selective.  We would love to shape our classes with more diversity and better test scores which typically translate into higher retention rates and ultimately stronger ratings in US News & World Report.  We thoroughly enjoy those conversations and get excited whenever the opportunity arises to participate in that discussion.  Unfortunately, our real-world, day-to-day challenges often push the discussion of shaping a class to the periphery.  Focus on that and we don’t have the enrollment to shape!  Fair to say, our issues with merit aid are different.

When colleges began offering merit, they opened Pandora’s Box.  On one hand, it was genius because it made private college attractive to many students who may have seen it as out of reach due to cost; college only for the wealthy.  On the other hand, it started a financial war which continues today.  Schools are pitted against each other fighting for the same student often not based on value of the education, but instead based on the value of a scholarship.  And, make no mistake; as the pressure to offer more merit has increased, schools have had to recoup their financial investment (net tuition revenue) in the form of tuition increases.

Because colleges offer merit with slightly different criteria, comparisons can be challenging.  There are different qualifications for different scholarship amounts.  Some scholarships are competitive whereas others are given based solely on arbitrary criteria.  Moreover, the arbitrary criteria are different at each school as is the amount attributed to the criteria.  Easy example is Doane College and Hastings College.  Very similar schools but different academic qualifications for different scholarship amounts.

As tuition-driven colleges increase merit to attract more students, it puts other similar colleges in a position to increase merit as well to be competitive in very price/cost-sensitive markets.  One college can significantly increase merit aid forcing other similar schools to do the same to stay competitive or lose enrollment.  In the private college environment, I believe this tactic erodes the value of the product we sell.  And not only that, but as I mentioned before, tuition will increase in order to recoup some of the net revenue lost by increasing aid.  I don’t expect students/parents to appreciate this or feel any remorse for colleges.  Nevertheless, merit aid war games are significantly effecting decisions made with respect to tuition and other costs at colleges today.

I’m not suggesting that merit aid is bad.  I don’t think I can make that argument.  But, it complicates an already challenging college decision.  If instead of merit, a college chose to provide financial aid based solely on need, it’s not likely that the college would meet enrollment targets, nor would it likely meet net tuition revenue targets for operational budgets.  But, some would argue that’s the “right thing to do.”  I don’t see an easy answer here but I do anticipate a change coming in higher education.  The path of more aid and increased tuition is a very rocky road at best.

I’m not minimizing the importance of the merit conversation related to Mr. Hoover’s article.  However, I think it’s important to understand that there is another merit issue unrelated to and (to me) equally important for many colleges today.  We can’t begin to shape our enrollment if we don’t have enrollment to shape.

What do you believe the role of merit aid should be in college enrollment?   

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Higher Education

A hybrid proposal to the gap year.

Have you heard of the “gap year” concept?  Basically, the concept suggests that a student should consider taking a year between high school and college to work, explore, and mature.  It’s the notion that a seamless and immediate transition from high school to college may not be the best approach to career preparation. While there may be some truth to that, I don’t believe too many colleges outwardly support this idea out of fear that a much greater number of students would ultimately choose not to attend college especially with today’s already frustrating college-going rates. Frankly, I’m not interested in arguing the value of a college degree in this post.  Instead, I’m interested in exploring the idea of the gap year under a different structure – a way to leverage the perceived value of that “real world” experience within the confines of a college experience and curriculum structure.

What I like about the gap year concept is two-fold.  First, I think it provides an individual time to get out of high school mode and really think about what they want to do in order to make the best college decision for him or her.  Rather than make a “safe” choice (or even too radical a choice), a little time in the real world might just ignite something within the student’s soul.  Second, I think students should try to find a job and work full-time for a period of time if for no other reason than to realize that minimum wage or even slightly better may not pay for that car they want or that trip they want to take; let alone paying for cable and utilities.

Now, consider a college that takes this gap year concept and makes employment a component of the general curriculum.  Here is my vision (albeit potentially oversimplified). A college requires second-year students to enroll in “Real World 200”.  Consider the following course requirements:

  • Students must seek and ultimately secure full-time employment.
  • Students must maintain a daily journal.  Content is focused on what they learn each day from experiences interacting with others, following orders, meeting expectations, etc.
  • Students must participate in a 2-hour course during each semester focused on discussion of the job, what they learn, what they like, don’t like and ultimately what it’s helping them to learn – finances, getting to work, etc.
  • Students must complete a course paper related to what they learned and how they will use what they learned to improve their college experience and opportunities in their final two years.

My vision is a full-year program providing 16 credits per semester (14 credits for employment and 2 credits for the course discussion).  Ultimately, the student’s grade is based on participation in the 2-hour course, securing a job, the daily journal entries, and a final paper.

I completely recognize that this concept has not been vetted to satisfy many reading this post.  While many may seek to identify reasons that this won’t work, I wanted to share my idea for bigger purpose – I’d like to encourage college faculty and administrators to consider looking at general curriculum differently.

There are colleges that approach learning one course at a time. There are colleges that don’t issue grades.  There are colleges that don’t have a general curriculum program.  Colleges are being challenged at local, state, and the national level to produce greater results to substantiate the cost.   Rating and ranking systems are being introduced to suggest that we can arbitrarily determine the quality of a college in comparison to all others.  I don’t see this pressure going away soon and while I don’t endorse government-created rating systems, I do appreciate the notion that education must evolve at a greater pace than it has.  And, this isn’t the responsibility of government.  This is our responsibility in higher education.  We should challenge the traditional approach to college education.  Is four years the right amount of time in college?  Does time really matter?  Are 16 credits the right amount of credits per semester?  Is a 2-semester system still the right approach?

Colleges and universities are in a dogfight with each other for students, particularly in the Midwest.  What if we embrace being different not just to be different but because different may produce better results?  Change is hard.  Change takes time.  Admission offices recruit students differently today compared to five years ago.  Recruiting offices are adapting because they must to secure enrollment objectives.  I believe there are many people like me in higher education (faculty and staff) who have day-dreamed about doing things differently, but unfortunately our lives get in the way and we quickly fall back into doing most the same way we’ve done it in the past.

For you dreamers out there, what do you think of my idea for a “Real World 200”, or better yet, do you have your own idea(s) that you believe would challenge the traditional methods of education and ultimately improve our students’ experience? Don’t focus on being realistic and conservative.  Some of the best ideas stem from being unrealistic and radical. Thanks for taking the time to read this post.  What is your idea?

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