Things are changing rapidly in our society and economy and on campuses. The status quo has starting to become more of the status qua. What was once truth, fact, or really more belief and certainty are being replaced by new realities. And those realities have even started to be felt on college campuses where we all worked so hard not to let change in even though we felt perfectly at ease telling everyone what they needed to change.
The old “we always do it that way” is being replaced with “well, we can’t do it that way anymore.” And it really did not work then but we let it go because there was enough money around to let you resist change.
Now? not so much.
We also need to shelve the “oh uh, well we tried that a few years ago. Didn’t work.” That dodge to change will not cut it as we go forward. Just ask the ex-employees and programs no longer on campus.
We have to be open to trying new things when things start to show us that the old has been replaced or is on the way there. It would be normal for a harangue now about the need to shift from a student intake culture to a retention culture, from a focus on admissions to one on population and enrollment.
But that will wait because as an annual study of why students leave colleges (that includes universities, career colleges, and community colleges) an interesting shift became quickly noted. So instead of waiting until the study is completed and wait to publish in the fall because we always do it that way, we needed to get this information out now. This might allow some schools to start to apply it and maybe save some enrollment.
For the past six years, AcademicMAPS has studied why students leave college. The results have been rather constant over the years with a shift of a percentage point or two. It seemed to hold that 72 percent of all students left school for academic customer service focused reasons.
To the right is the new chart from our preliminary study in June 2009 followed by the previous chart published in 2008:
We would have expected that financially motivated dropping would have risen significantly. That was not what we found. Though it could be argued that the major shift in “not worth it” is in part a financial decision.
However the larger parts of the category do appear to be a combination of “poor service and treatment” and “college does not care.” These are combined with a sense of “I am wasting my time and money.”
The major beneficiaries of the increase in the belief that cost in time and money is not worth it have been the career colleges.
(What? Career colleges? For-profits? They aren’t as good as us. We provide a better education. They don’t even do research!)
Okay, two points here. First, a good college is a good college no matter whether it is not-for-profit or for-profit. And, a bad college or one that does not care enough about its students is a bad college whether it loses money or makes money.
By the way, do you know what the major difference is between a good not-for-profit and a good for-profit is?
Accounting systems — fund accounting versus cash accrual.
In a not-for-profit, extra money at the end of the year is called “fund balance, carryover, surplus.” In a career college, it is called “profit.”
And yes, a for-profit can have a loss as well as a not-for-profit. And a not-for-profit can generate a profit—or fund balance.
The good career colleges are often the ones that make money. How? One of their major focuses is on not just enrolling students, but retaining them. Successful for-profits have realized that retention is the real key to success. The more students they can retain, the more students graduate, get degrees, get jobs, and help the school make a profit. This is clearly a lesson more not-for-profit schools need to learn. Not cut budgets but retain students.
Second, which is also important to retention success, a good career college does perform research but into its students and their needs or wants. For-profits actually focus on the students. And many they have learned that if students do not feel their investment will provide a good ROI, they are out of there. That’s why a good for-profit provides a good education first and foremost, celebrates students even with free food and recognition ceremonies, and provide two things that make the usually high financial investment worth it: a quick 18- or 36-month-to-degree, and real career and placement services that make a job probable not just possible.
If colleges want to retain more students, they will need to focus on making their education and student experience more valuable. That means learn from good career colleges and focus on making the full student experience worthwhile.
Neal Raisman is president of AcademicMAPS.
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