Posted on May 14, 2019
In the words of Johnny Cash…“I hear the train a comin’”
Or, in the words of The Beatles…“I read the news today, oh boy …”
Only, it’s not me, it’s finally America’s Higher Education Industrial Complex.
A newsletter crossed my inbox today. It looked the same as every other day. But it was different. The headlines and coverage had an all-new feel…kinda like a new-car smell.
This higher education daily round-up is a traditionalist in the traditional sense of the word; or, should I say: has been a traditionalist in the traditional sense of the world of higher education.
It’s often chock-full of articles and links and commentary about how adding technology to the classroom makes higher education a better place; or that state governing bodies are abuzz with budget and enrolment worries for their higher education institutions; or the best way to keep tenure.
But, today was different. Here are three real headlines:
How boot camps are bringing skills training to college
State chambers of commerce partner on ‘work-based learning’
Understanding higher ed’s role in workforce education partnerships
Could it be? Are higher education traditionalists getting the new religion? Are they beginning to view actual, real jobs as equal in value to – or more important than – dissertation-level knowledge about classical French literature?
The real-world answer is: hell yes! And I’d often just leave it there.
It’s my experience at College Lead Exchange (www.collegeleadexchange.com ), What’s Best for Me (www.whatsbestforme.com) and Best Value Colleges (www.bestvaluecolleges.org) that traditionalists do not embrace change well; that management and marketing educators seldom get an opportunity to speak to or enhance management and marketing in their own institutions; and that outcomes may not be a dirty word, but it sure seems to violate some kind of code of honor.
But hearing institutional leaders and traditionalists beginning to feel the pain of their customers is a true “about time” moment. Of course, I deliberately referred to students as customers; higher education folks hate that I consider their students to be customers whose interests it is to be served! But, the drums are beating ever-more-loudly. Every day that college debt is debilitating; or theory is good in theory but less so in practice; or that the urgency being felt on the buy-side of the equation (students) is forcing some on the sell-side (schools) to not only recognize the change but share it in an existential threat to their existence, change becomes harder to resists.
So, as May 1st declaration day has come and gone and more and more schools and their senior most academic, enrolment, marketing and finance executives are surveying the bleak landscape before them, there is one over-arching question that all-too many are asking: Now What?
Try this answer: www.AlternativesToCollege.com
Posted on May 14, 2019
Alternatives to College, a Directory of Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College From Ryan Craig’s New Book, A New U, is Now Live on the Web at www.AlternativesToCollege.com
WhatsBestforMe, Inc. Partners with Ryan Craig and Cassidy Leventhal of University Ventures to Create Online Version of Alternatives to College Directory
May 14, 2019, Boca Raton, Fla. – With a goal to help under-employed college graduates and other young adults identify alternative pathways to more rewarding employment, WhatsBestforMe, Inc., with Ryan Craig and Cassidy Leventhal of University Ventures, today launched www.AlternativesToCollege.com, an online directory of over 200 faster and cheaper alternatives to college.
The announcement was made by L. Joseph Schmoke, founder and CEO, WhatsBestforMe, Inc. and Ryan Craig, managing director, University Ventures and author, A New U, published in late 2018 and for which the directory was originally created.
The comprehensive, constantly updated web-based directory provides information and links to more than 200 boot camps, apprenticeships, coding academies, online short courses and other alternatives to a college degree. As concerns continue to mount over the cost and value of a traditional college education, intriguing options as well as supplements to a degree are growing rapidly in the US and around the world.
“When I read Ryan Craig’s book, A New U, I was not only drawn to his broader argument – the need to reimagine the future of higher education – but also to his practical advice that many learners today can thrive with efficient and affordable training and postsecondary education offered as an alternative or supplement to college,” said Mr. Schmoke. “The appendix to his book – A Directory of Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College – caught my eye and I thought it would work well as the basis for a web site that would be accessible to a broad swath of the public. I’ve known Ryan Craig for several years, and I’m pleased that he agreed.”
“While policy makers and college faculty and administrators have taken an interest in A New U, my intended audience was always families trying to figure out the best postsecondary pathway to a good first job, or a better job,” said Mr. Craig. “The heart of the book has always been the directory of faster + cheaper pathways – i.e., pathways that don’t require a four-year degree – to good digital jobs. I’m delighted that What’s Best for Me has turned the directory into a dynamic online resource that may be helpful to thousands of families.”
Cassidy Leventhal, vice president at University Ventures, led the creation of the directory and cooperated with Mr. Schmoke’s effort to create a web-based location for the directory. “I’m excited that the directory will now have an online ‘home’ where students and graduates can find the most up-to-date digital career paths,” said Ms. Leventhal. “The last-mile training sector moves quickly, so it’s great that we can share these opportunities in real-time.”
Barry Layne, chief operating and chief marketing officer, WhatsBestforMe, Inc., led the team developing www.AlternativesToCollege.com and will be spearheading the creation of an Alternatives to College app, which will be made available later this year.
ABOUT WHATSBESTFORME, INC.: WhatsBestforMe, Inc. is a Boca Raton, FL-based student/college connection company that enables prospective enrollees to register with its proprietary platform www.WhatsBestforMe.com and colleges to do the same at www.CollegeLeadExchange.com, where they can identify candidate profiles and acquire them in a fast, efficient, exclusive manner. It also supports www.BestValueColleges.org, the leading independent award program in higher education.
Posted on April 30, 2019
If you are unfamiliar with the economic theory of the Paradox of Thrift, the shorthand version says that: even though you undertake to do the right thing financially, you could still end up being financially punished.
In a recent CNN town hall event for Democratic Presidential hopefuls, Senator Elizabeth Warren, promised she would cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million Americans. That promise is on her website. Of course, she isn’t the only one demanding we tackle student debt.
An article by Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation outlines many reasons why this policy is not the ‘good thing’ it may seem. And she is far from alone in that view.
Burke’s article highlights the work of a number of academics and organizations, including the think tank The Urban Institute, which show why and how this is bad policy. The Institute found that most student debt is held by the wealthiest families and individuals:
“The top 25% of American households by income hold nearly half of all student debt—and the bottom 25% holds just a tenth of it.”
The study further points out that while those with an Associate Degree represent 33 per cent of student loan borrowers they have only 18 per cent of total student debt. For those with Bachelor Degrees, the figures are 32 percent of borrowers and 25 percent of the debt. While those who undertook graduate degrees represent 35 per cent of total borrowers but 57 per cent of the total student debt.
If you care to read around the issue it becomes even more interesting.
A research project under the title Opportunity Insights out of Harvard found that roughly one in four of the richest students attend an elite college. Or, to put it another way, at 38 colleges in America, including five in the Ivy League, more students came from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent.
As Carlo Salerno of CampusLogic points out, students choose to take on college loan debt, and are not assigned that debt. So loan forgiveness “unfairly rewards the person who borrows to get a Ferrari over the one who got a Kia.” That analogy seems spot on. And let’s not forget, debt relief would reward the high-cost inefficient providers as opposed lower cost, nimble innovators.
Also, consider this. A 2018 survey by InsideHigherEd of university admissions leaders found that, “Forty-two percent of admissions directors at private colleges and universities said that legacy status is a factor in admissions decisions at their institutions. The figure at public institutions is only 6 percent.” Keep in mind most of those private institutions constitute the elite, and most expensive, universities in the US.
So what do all these things taken together mean? It leads us back to the paradox of thrift. Some students take the choices they have more seriously than others. They research; they determine what they need to do with the financial resources available to them. They turn their backs on the elite institutions and they very often seek alternative learning pathways or experiences, with defined career goals in sight. What we need is for all students to make serious choices, or at least understand the implications of the choices they make, and have the tools to find the college to help them fulfill those ambitions, or have universities and colleges find them.
There are lots of very good colleges offering reasonably priced programs of study, many work related or employment focused. They represent a good investment with real opportunities for fulfilling employment thereafter. What is more, those more expensive elite colleges are not the be-all and end-all, they are not the only means to a successful, rewarding life and career.
A debt relief scheme would reward those people who didn’t make careful decisions based on cost and outcomes. It would reward those colleges that fail to control their cost base and that offer programs of study which don’t provide value for the cost of study. It would reward those who took the path of least resistance –the legacy students.
Furthermore, it wouldn’t solve the real problem in the higher education sector which is the methods, means and metrics by which people select the institution they wish to study at. This is one of the reasons we have high drop-out rates than ever before, yet prices continue to rise –supply side economics would suggest the opposite should happen.
The key to fixing the higher education market, and ultimately the issue of unusually high personal debt, is enabling students to have the full range of options before them so they can make smarter choices and find the right institution for their career and financial needs. Anything else will merely prolong the dysfunction in the market which harms learners, as well as dynamic, innovative, and cost efficient institutions.
Posted on March 27, 2019
The arrest of 50 people including Hollywood celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, on allegations of bribery with the purpose of having their children admitted into a number of elite universities says much about the state of the sector and college admissions generally, and not just top colleges.
So what does this case tell us, if we care to listen? First, it demonstrates why we desperately need to move student recruitment and admission out of the shadows to an end goal of a far more transparent and efficient mechanism. Second, it illustrates the danger of believing that success in life is only available through a four- year university education at a name brand institution and that social capital, for both parent and student, is its primary benefit. Third, it exposes the lack of experienced, objective advice for the majority of students and particularly their parents about the range of options open to them.
The more complex, secretive and ill-defined a high-stakes process the more susceptible it is to shenanigans and, as we have seen, corruption. Currently, the sector is hampered by the bureaucratic and complex mechanisms for college admissions. The ‘College Admissions Game’ as some call it, which includes both access and affordability, is a game played to an unarticulated set of rules.
Students with greater access to test prep, good guidance, and to a parent who is an alumnus of the target college have advantages that others don’t. But that’s not the only tilt of the table. Decades of standards, pricing models, procedures, and relationships are fully baked into how admissions decisions are made by competitive colleges. If you don’t meet those standards or neglect to follow those procedures; if you cannot benefit from imbedded relationships, then quite simply the deck is stacked against you.
From here things go from the bizarre to the downright ridiculous. While there is a growing over-supply of university and college seats generally, the specific competition for admission to the elite and top institutions has become more competitive. For example in the Fall of 2017, the University of Chicago received 27,694 applications and admitted 2,492 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, for a nine percent admission rate. Other elite schools have similarly low admission rates as non-elites go begging for more applicants.
If you’ve been paying attention you realize today’s jobs market doesn’t require that everybody have a college degree. But up until recently a four-year degree came to be seen as a requirement, unfortunately, for even mundane jobs.
It is clear in the current bribery scandal that the parents who stealthily paid to assure their child’s entry into these elite colleges were not much interested in the suitability of their offspring to the institutions; they were only interested in the reflected prestige. This enduring faith that attendance at, or a degree from, an elite college – or any college for that matter – is the only means to a successful, productive, enjoyable and fulfilling life is fundamentally flawed. Barack Obama was wrong when he said everyone should go to college. Finally, people are beginning to wake up to that fact.
But the failure to offer an alternative view and provide students and their prestige-seeking parents with alternatives to the traditional and still-accepted – by parents – college pathway is, I believe, the fault of the government and of industry. Until businesses make it clear known that they are looking for skills, not sometimes worthless degrees, the surprisingly abundant alternatives to college will remain a mystery to most parents and their offspring.
Many parents, and a majority of the general public, mistakenly look to high school counsellors for guidance. The average public school student will receive just 38 minutes of college/career planning assistance from their school (across all 4 years). Nationwide in public schools there are between 491 and 1000 students per counsellor. Students then rely on the advice of ill-informed parents who rely on their own limited knowledge and experience as a guide. It’s the blind leading the blind.
All of this ignores the fact that there are great colleges and universities which may not be Ivy League or ranked in the top 100 US colleges, but which offer reasonable costs as well as rigorous academic programs. Many of these lesser known institutions pay a lot of attention to making sure their students are job-ready at graduation. The problem is few people know who these schools are and how to find them. One source is BestValueColleges.org, which is unusual as it refrains from ranking schools and relies instead on net cost and customer (i.e., student and alumni) satisfaction.
Joseph Schmoke, the founder of College Lead Exchange, a unit of his What’s Best for Me, Inc. is an entrepreneur with over 40 years experience across a range of business sectors. For the last 14 years, Schmoke has been involved in higher education. He was CEO of Andrew Jackson University, an accredited degree granting institution, where he played a key role in creating ProctorU, now the world’s leading remote proctoring company.
Interesting summary by Inside Higher Ed regarding a recent Council of Christian Colleges and Universities meeting in Washington
Posted on February 14, 2019
Presidents of faith-based institutions of higher learning, including Mormon, Jewish and Muslim leaders, found they have common cause in defending the value and uniqueness of a faith-based environment and education. While I think their tone may have been a bit too defensive, the reality is that they have been under fire by many liberal organizations. The chief complaints by these outsiders, it seems, are the anti-gay attitudes (I won’t elaborate here) and limits on free-thinking by faculty imposed by many Christian colleges and universities. Stands taken by evangelical institutions especially tend to rouse the liberals. Requiring students to sign pledges that they will not have premarital-sex contradicts human biological tendencies, many argue. Maybe so, but here’s the rub: No one forces students to enroll in these institutions, and if they do enroll and soon feel out of step with progressive thinking – or their own sexuality – I am not aware of anyone being chained to their dorms or desks to assure their purity.
While it’s not Moses parting the Red Sea, the divide between traditional secular colleges and universities and those that are faith-based, appears to have widened over the past decade. Falling enrollment for many is a real threat as traditional feeder systems gradually diminish; Catholic prep schools, mostly in urban areas, for example, have all but disappeared. Much the same thing has happened to Presbyterian, Lutheran and other Protestant sects. Many of these schools are small – less than 10,000 students – and do not have the budget for modern marketing techniques, plus they tend to put people in charge of marketing that have little or no relevant experience. The result is falling enrollment and diminishing revenue while expenses keep increasing. The solution to this dilemma for many is to embrace proven digital marketing techniques; that’s one of the reasons my organization developed College Lead Exchange, an open, easy to use online platform where colleges have access to prospective enrollees whose profiles neatly fit with each school’s target student.
It should be of interest to faith-based schools that another component of my organization has for the last seven years examined over fourteen hundred colleges and universities while we looked for good, reasonably priced but little-known colleges and universities (www.bestvaluecolleges.org). For 2018-19 we selected thirty-eight faith-based schools as Best Value Colleges. Key to final selection is the requirement that more than sixty-five percent of a school’s students and alumni must have positive comments about the school, it’s environment, faculty and fellow students. As a result of our research, it is very obvious that there is a place for faith-based institutions in the American higher education landscape. Families and students who feel comfortable in a God-centered environment should have places to go to further their education without feeling threatened or uncomfortable. Similarly, those who are part of the LGBTQ movement or mindset should be free to choose a college that supports their way of thinking. There are good reasons why faith-based schools are an important part of America’s higher education landscape. I only hope that their administrators open their eyes to proven digital marketing techniques in time to preserve their institutions.
Inside Higher Ed’s article can be found at https://bit.ly/2HPIJKo
College Lead Exchange can be accessed at www.collegeleadexchange.com
Posted on November 9, 2018
When my wife is asked, “What does your husband do?” She always says “Ask him.” When they do ask me I reply by saying that I start or acquire companies. It’s a short conversation unless the person runs or invests in small to mid-sized companies (or wants to). Then the conversation generally segues to an oft-asked question, “Where do you get the ideas?” That is what this article is about – where the ideas come from. To answer that I will provide some detail regarding where the idea for my thirteenth startup came from, how it developed, and where it’s at now.
Most of my ideas have come from being immersed in a business or industry and becoming frustrated at what I perceive as shortfalls in either product or service quality in my daily dealings. We all from time to time think we can do things better and tend to complain, either silently or loudly, about something that falls below our expectations. That was the case when I was CEO of a small university that needed to increase enrollment so we bought leads from several marketing organizations. I had to sign a contract for a certain number of leads per month, which was okay, but I couldn’t choose the characteristics of the leads, which was not okay. But that’s the way things worked: buy leads and hope that two out of a hundred somehow ended up enrolling in our degree programs.
The calls from lead vendors came in every week and the vendors all said their leads were better than anyone else’s and would I give them a try. Sometimes I did, but it was always the same problem: the leads weren’t what I was looking for, which were people in their 30s who needed to start or finish a degree program. They were out there somewhere, but the vendors couldn’t pinpoint them for me. That bothered me and I kept saying to myself that if I were running a lead vendor I could do so much better.
In December 2010 I transferred control of the university to a venture capital-backed group, and semi-retired. But in the back of my mind, I still thought the higher education lead generation business needed to be brought into the twenty-first century by borrowing best practices from other industries. Those thoughts lay dormant until I met a gentleman with a strong background in digital marketing. He and I talked about what each perceived as unique opportunities. I mentioned the archaic state of lead generation and lead purchasing in higher education, and described the shortcomings as I saw them. He thought for a second and then asked me, “Are you familiar with programmatic exchanges?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
Programmatic exchanges are used in the advertising industry so publishers, for example, can post pages that are unsold and agencies bid on some or all of the unsold pages. Publishers fill their publication with advertisers and the advertisers get bargain prices on the page space. All this is done online in frictionless transactions. This was all new to me, but I could see what he was getting at. Instead of advertisers bidding on space in a magazine I could see college admissions departments bidding on the kind of leads they wanted. My digital expert friend and I said: “let’s do it!” And we started College Lead Exchange.
As you might imagine there’s a big gap between deciding to do something – start a company in this case – and launching the company’s product. As I didn’t want to start from scratch with technology the first thing we did was contact organizations in the advertising and investment industries about licensing or acquiring their technical platforms. We were met with a deer-in-the-headlights response. Every company we spoke with said, in essence, we’re not in the education lead business and we don’t have any interest in licensing or selling our technology. That was bad news. Now we would have to develop the technology ourselves, which would be expensive in both dollars and time. But we had no choice.
Eighteen months and about a million dollars later we had a platform that was pretty much what we wanted. The important differentiators, those that addressed issues I had identified as university CEO, were an integral part of the platform. These features included the ability of colleges to determine criteria for leads they wanted, for example, a thirty-year-old female RN interested in a bachelor’s degree in nursing that wanted to enroll in three months. The platform had to be self-serve and available 24/7. Contracts to purchase a minimum number of leads were not necessary. Automatic download of leads plus a credit line were must-haves. All this had to work seamlessly. It took time, it was expensive, and every bit necessary.
We learned that, in version one, we couldn’t offer bidding so that was tabled for v.2. And in beta testing we quickly learned that our proprietary lead generation source provided an inadequate number of leads. I told people that it was kind of like we had decided to get into the gold business and to do so had to find a vein of gold, sink a shaft, mine and then refine the gold. But our beta testers, college admissions departments, wanted gold immediately. So we decided to source additional leads from two trusted third parties, one generating leads just for us and the other a twenty-year-old lead generation organization. Supplies of leads were now assured.
Now we had to sell colleges on using the platform. For those of you used to dealing with administrators in higher education you will understand that new things are a tough sell. New things threaten the status quo; they make people take what they perceived as risks. Many higher-ed administrators, even those in the admissions (e.g., sales) departments are wary of anything new. They think they’ve heard and seen it all, and they have up until now as very little has changed in the way they market their schools or buy leads in decades. Now we had to address the challenge of convincing the old fuddy-duddies to take a look. Some did, and they were surprised that someone had come up with something like this. Asked to rate the platform on a one-to-ten scale the worst rating was an eight. That’s where we are now after about eighteen months of developing the technology and refining the way it works.
Lastly, there is always the challenge of finding some dollars to fund a new venture and, as important, finding a few good people to make it happen. Fortunately, I have been raising money for companies I start or acquire for over forty years so that was not a problem for us. We did not seek venture capital funding. The few outside investors we have are people who have invested in other companies I started or acquired. We kept the company lean and watched every dollar. People took less than market compensation which was offset by equity or options. I have always shared ownership with those who help get a company off the ground and this startup is no different.
Now that we have what we feel is a unique platform that we expect will revolutionize the way colleges obtain prospective enrollees the next challenge is gradually rolling it out, first in our primary target market of non-elite colleges, and then all across the spectrum of the nation’s eight thousand colleges, universities, career schools, apprenticeship programs, and executive education. The real work has just begun, but the startup phase is behind us. Number thirteen is not an unlucky number for me!
Select the college enrollee profiles that are most likely to convert to a start, then shop online for leads that match your selected profile. Do it when you need leads. No contracts and no minimum. No, we’re not kidding.
Posted on September 26, 2018
“After listening to lead vendors pitch to me several times a week for over five years, none of which converted as promised, I decided to create a lead source that I’d have given my right arm for back then,” said former private university CEO Joseph Schmoke. “Fortunately, I met a long time digital marketing executive, Barry Layne, who suggested we look at what was being done in other industries and adapt it for the higher education marketplace.” That led to the creation of higher ed’s first platform designed to effortlessly serve admissions departments at the thousands of US-based colleges and universities that want to increase enrollment and revenue.
Borrowing ideas from the likes of match.com, eBay and other online transaction and matching services, Schmoke and Layne developed College Lead Exchange. This pioneering service does away with some of the irritating requirements set by traditional lead vendors. Layne says schools are not required to sign contracts. A college does not have to buy a minimum number of leads each month. “Buy what you want when you want. Buy one, none or a hundred. Once a day, once a month, or a few times a year. It’s up to the admissions team,” Schmoke said.
Maybe the best feature, according to Layne, is the ability to determine an admission team’s ideal enrollee profile, see if there are lead files in College Lead Exchange’s dynamic database that match the profile. The admissions officer can buy whatever number, at the stated prices, that the team needs to meet its enrollment goals. “The admissions team can change their criteria at will, online, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” Layne commented. He also said that to simplify financial arrangements, College Lead Exchange will offer automatic credit terms and bill the school on a net-30 basis.
The objective is to make it easy, simple and fast to obtain good leads at a fair price when you need them, said the College Lead Exchange founders. Schmoke uses an analogy that most people quickly grasp. He says “Say you are at home and you’re hungry. You know there’s nothing in the fridge or the cupboard, or what’s there you don’t want, so what do you do? You probably go to the grocery store, pick exactly what you want, buy it, and make something that satisfies your hunger. Same thing with College Lead Exchange. Only with the kind of leads you want instead of food.”
Schmoke and Layne know that this new service will take some time to be fully accepted by college and university admissions staffs. It’s very different from what these staffs have worked with for decades, and to many in higher education change is threatening if not frightening. “But there will be those who immediately see the advantage of this new platform and will step forward and incorporate it into their operations,” Schmoke suggested, “and we will do everything possible to help them benefit from its use.”
College Lead Exchange can be browsed for free, and admissions staffers are encouraged to register and see how many leads currently meet their criteria. Beginning in October lead inventory will change daily. There’s no cost or obligation to check it out, and Layne says “Come on, tell the platform what kind of leads you’re looking for. You don’t have to buy any.” www.collegeleadexchange.com
College Lead Exchange is part of the WhatsBestforMe, Inc. group of companies, which includes www.whatsbestforme.com and www.bestvaluecolleges.org and is headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida in the Research & Development Park at Florida Atlantic University. They can be reached at 561-877-0071 or email@example.com
Posted on September 10, 2018
In 2013 a small group of former college and university presidents, CEOs and executives decided they had enough of the various rankings published every year by “the usual suspects.” Forming an organization called University Research & Review, they set out to ferret out good, reasonably priced but lesser-known institutions. Many of the thousand-plus schools were eliminated because of their high cost to attend; others because their students and alumni had less than complimentary things to say about their school.
The first year twenty-one colleges were awarded the University Research & Review Best Value School designation. For 2018-2019 there are fifty-six colleges and universities that withstood rigorous examinations and earned the Best Value designation. Further, the award branding was changed to WhatsBestforMe’s Best Value Colleges to more accurately reflect the Award’s original goal. The goal was to offer suggestions to individuals of all ages interested in college that there are very good schools where students are happy and costs are reasonable.
Examples of 2018-2019 Best Value Awardees are two Saint Marys, one a college in Omaha, Nebraska one a university in Leavenworth, Kansas. They are both Catholic institutions but don’t want to be labeled “religious” as all faiths and ages are welcome at both schools. The College of Saint Mary is for women only. The University of Saint Mary is coed. Both institutions have an annual cost to attend in the $20,000 range, and our research indicates a great majority of students and alumni love the schools.
The full list of fifty-six colleges and universities can be found at www.bestvaluecolleges.org and there is no cost to use the site and each institution selected does not pay for their selection or inclusion on the site..
Posted on July 23, 2018
I am so tired of hearing “…55 percent who started (college) were gone the following year.” The college referred to is Texas A&M-Texarkana but could be any one of the thousand of non-elite colleges and universities in America. I am also sick of hearing about strong recruiting efforts but weak retention efforts. Recruiting, on one hand, generates revenue and it is apparently a bit easier than retention, which takes the kind of effort few institutions are willing – or able – to muster.
Since it’s not in cricket to complain absent a solution, I’m going to suggest a solution or two in honor of my cricket-playing buddy now traveling the world, Kurt the Canadian.
If one of the big worries in higher education is the loss of a large percentage of college freshmen before they start their second year, and it apparently is, I suggest everyone involved look at this for what it is. It’s a naturally recurring event, folks. Lots of first-year students leave college after experiencing – and paying for – something that for whatever reason is not right for them.
When I come across situations like this I am reminded of the dilemma McDonald’s franchisees faced once they opened their new restaurants. These franchisees, most of whom were responsible businesspeople, were appalled at the turnover they experienced with their young help. They tried hiring smarter, whatever that means, but that didn’t solve the problem. Eventually, the headquarters field managers convinced the franchisees that turnover was always was going to be part of an operator’s challenge. Accept that as a fact and deal with it, the managers said. The fact that lots of first-year college students do not become second-year college students is a fact of life; accept it and deal with it.
I know you’re thinking, Thanks, Joe, but my institution is not ready to accept that as we want students to continue with their education – that’s why we’re here at good old EDU. Let me point out that Texas A&M-Texarkana’s 55 percent loss increased from 44 percent two years prior. The trend, I suspect, is real. Reject this reality at your peril, or maybe just stick your head in the sand.
But I think these dropouts, who collectively are an annual experience that will not go away, can be helped and at the same time be of help to the institution itself. Here’s what I would do if all it took was a magic wand and the word Shazaam to make things better for everybody involved. I would create an environment that, first, acknowledged college isn’t for everyone, and second, that there are alternatives to a college degree. I would present those alternatives, including career-oriented certificate programs, in a non-judgmental manner. In other words, allow that it is okay if you feel your choice to enroll in college might have been premature or even a mistake. I would arrange articulation agreements with community colleges with career-oriented programs. I would invite outside career advisors to speak to the group who might be wavering in the commitment to a college degree. In doing so, I would expect two things to happen. One would be a great public relations coup, especially when testimonials come in from individuals helped by this unique approach. The second positive result, I would expect, would be some actual guidance and help for those students who will inevitably choose to drop out.
Of course, I do not expect even one college or university to adopt this approach. I just hope that my somewhat unique observations and unusual suggestions will spark other, better ideas. But whatever the reaction, I advise those of you in higher-ed decision-making positions to accept the reality of annual shrinkage between freshman and sophomore classes. It is inevitable.
Posted on June 29, 2018
The Wall Street Journal’s recent article titled “Financial Games Colleges Play” exposed the flim-flam approach used by many colleges and universities when composing financial aid award letters to prospective students. The Journal concludes that it’s shameful students are confused at best and misled at worst by these befuddling financial aid award letters. Your institution can stand out by providing easy to understand language and concise numbers when sending your award letters to those you have accepted as enrollees.
There is little long-term advantage to misleading or confusing your students. Word gets around when a student feels suckered into paying – or owing – far more than expected. Institutions wonder why they lose so many students when that second or third enrollment period rolls around. No one really knows how many transfers or dropouts leave their college because of unexpected costs that smack them in the pocketbook.
You can avoid being penalized with withdrawals, transfers and dropouts if you make sure your institution doesn’t play the game of “get them in now, worry about dealing with the shocked student later.” Do not lump grants and loans together as seventy percent of colleges did in the study noted by The Wall Street Journal. And don’t do what Northern Arizona University did when it sent a letter stating that their aid offer resulted in “Total Unmet Need: $0” implying that loans included in the aid package were somehow free.
You can differentiate your institution in two ways. One is to create a marketing message that says your school is different because you clearly spell out actual costs and whether financial aid is a gift or has to be paid back. The other way is to use the aid letter version created in 2012 by the Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Most colleges don’t use this version and it might be concluded that the reason is that it does not provide room for their usual obfuscation tactics.
Our organization, CollegeLeadExchange.com, soon to introduce what we’re calling the “eBay of prospective enrollee leads,” will blacklist any college or university whose financial aid letters to enrollees sourced from us are misleading or deceitful. Should we be made aware of such practices by a school we will prohibit that school from using our platform. Ever.