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Know it All?

Janet Sieff

Posted by: Janet Sieff
Monday, April 14th, 2014                  



Recently a college president told me “You don’t know what you don’t know.” It sounds philosophical and it is.  We were talking about a consulting project to assess the admissions and marketing operation on his campus.

Admitting to not knowing everything is open-minded and prudent.     I don’t hear this confession everyday!

The process of an assessment is a good step in knowing more.       In truth, assessments are not conducted often enough in higher education enrollment and marketing.   Engaging in this kind of consulting, for some, is an extra layer, too much work, an expense, and an obstacle.

Consider these questions:

  1. What is the gross cost of your institution’s admissions and marketing operation?
  2. What is the expected outcome of the operation – i.e. what is the tuition revenue expectation?
  3. What is the actual tuition revenue?

With these dollar amounts in hand, you can weigh the cost of an assessment.  There is no magic formula for analyzing the expense of an assessment against the revenue for ROI.  The decision is variable.   It’s like getting your furnace checked before winter or your car checked before a road trip. The investment of “knowing what you don’t know” is worth it.

And just like the furnace and car analogies, it is best not to wait until the middle of winter or a road trip.  Do not wait for admissions and marketing to miss enrollment goals before conducting an assessment.  The best practice is to conduct the research every 3 to 5 years or so.

Assessments help to almost know it all.

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Tumultuous Higher Education World

John Stapleton

Posted by: John Stapleton
Friday, April 4th, 2014                  

MOOCs are passé.  The new new thing is competency-based degrees.  Read more to see how competency-based programs work and what the author of College unBound thinks of them.

Sebastian Thrun, one of the founders of Udacity says that his platform does not work.  Faculty across the country who do not like MOOCs crow.

Peter Thiel is the man who has offered students $100,000 not to go to college if he believes in their idea.  But his foundation still has no winners whose ideas will change the world.

Well MOOCs are one thing and hacking education via a Thiel Fellowship is another but according to the author of College unBound, Jeffrey Selingo the real news is competency based education.

That means you get your certificate or degree when your test score shows you have mastered the work.  You do not need to sit in class for 14 weeks to pass go, you just need to pass the final with a B or better.

That’s the way it works at Western Governors University, a school who has been offering competency based degrees for several years.  Sheryl Schuh tells the story of how mastery works.  Her shortest class took two weeks before she worked to the standard but her hardest took 14 weeks before she passed with a B.  And that mastery is what employers like. With your normal degree all that an employer knows is that you sat through 120 credits, you persevered; with a competency-based degree an employer knows the person mastered the knowledge to a standard.

SNHU’s poster child  Zach Sherman completed his degree in 100 days.  So if you are the right kind of person in the right circumstance you can cut both time and money to degree completion.

Are competency-based degrees going to kill the traditional 4-year, on-campus experience -  No.  No amount of enrollment marketing is going to convince the traditional prospect that four years on campus is not the best thing for them.  Competency-based programs are just one new wrinkle in the decentralizing of higher education.  In my world of marketing TV was supposed to kill radio, the web was supposed to kill TV, on an on but nothing kills anything; the channels just keep getting more and more diffuse, inter-connected and complex.

As a dad of a high school sophomore I like the idea of competency-based programs because they enforce rigor on any school’s curriculum.  If you are not certified as good enough until you have a B or better that means a lot to employers or grad schools.  Research from “The Smartest Kids In The World and How They Got That Way”  proves the point.  In schools where rigor is the be-all, end-all kids learn better and perform at a higher standard.  Teaching to competency certainly seems that it would increase the enrollment health of any institution but what a change in methodology for most schools.

But to keep things in perspective, my daughter and her classmates avidly follow the US News Best Colleges issue because brands and marketing count for so much in their world.

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Rinse & Repeat: James Carville’s NCMPR Keynote

John Stapleton

Posted by: John Stapleton
Tuesday, March 25th, 2014                  

James Carville speaking at NCMPRI remember James Carville as the always-on political operative that managed Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Since the time he arrived on the national scene he has often been seen as controversial. As the opening speaker at the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations 2014 National Conference, he was anything but. One attendee even asked during the Q&A session, “Where is irascible James Carville, we have lovable James?”

I did not know what to expect from him as an opening speaker, but what we got was some sound advice in some great sound bites. And, of course, sound bites are one of the things he was famous for. Carville delivered some inspiration from the bible and his Daddy as well. It was one of the most entertaining keynotes I have seen.

Carville was wiry and full of energy, so much so that when he started to talk “Nawlins” fast it was sometimes hard to understand what he said. He must have seen the blank faces staring back at him because he would then repeat his message, this time a little slower, and the audience caught on and laughed.

Four hundred people attended the opening keynote, all community college communicators. His message to them was this, “you have a great story to tell, and for the good of the country you must tell it.” How do you tell a great story Carville style? Set-up, conflict, resolution. You keep it simple, relevant, and repetitive. If you are as good as James Carville, you can make it funny too.

As communicators we are sales people. According to him, almost everything is “sales” because the world just doesn’t work the way many administrative types want it to. It is not enough to say, “I have done the research and it tells me this is the right way to do it” and expect people to do it. The key is to turn your point into a simple story that anyone can understand and relate it to your audience. Then repeat it over and over again.

Every community college has stories of success, and to survive in this competitive world those stories need to be told to potential students and their parents, to potential faculty (Did you know that Carville taught at a community college in Northern Virginia?), and the politicians that have the power to financially support the community college system.

When asked about sound bites, Carville went on a riff about world peace and shared some facts, figures, and logic. He said, “if every man just treated his neighbor the way he wanted to be treated we would have world peace. How old is that message? 5,000 years? Every culture has a version of it. Now that is a sound bite.”

He acknowledged that while that sound bite has survived, obviously this is something that is easier said than done. Carville then discussed how important salesmanship is when trying to accomplish anything, least of all world peace. He said his Daddy’s advice was, “Never is a man so tall as when he is bent down kissing ass.” That got a lot of laughs, some a little uncomfortable, but a lot of head nodding.

In closing, James Carville’s message was that we all have great stories to tell. Take those stories, make them simple, make them relevant to your audience and repeat.

Rinse and repeat.

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Shopping for College: Cost vs. Value

Janet Sieff

Posted by: Janet Sieff
Friday, March 14th, 2014                  

“Students are becoming savvier shoppers,” said Kevin Eagan, interim director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, part of the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.   This comment and the supporting data are reported in their annual Freshman Survey.  A recent article about the research in the CHE focused on the report’s findings about cost, financial aid, and college choice.

Savvier consumer behavior is a logical outcome of the big spotlight that’s been shining on college price and financial aid the past several years.  The point of tuition calculators and cost comparison tools has been to heighten awareness.    If you are the parent of a college bound student, terms like tuition discounting, tuition freezing, and tuition reduction can certainly make college selection feel like shopping, as well as create certain consumer behaviors.

I hope that no one is too surprised at the concept of prospective students shopping and being influenced by price.

How can we prepare for students shopping based on price?

The operative word here is prepare.  Everything about communicating cost should be strategic.  When prospects discover the cost of attendance they will correlate it to the value of that institution and make one of two judgments:  “too expensive” or “affordable”.

Ahead of cost, the Freshman Survey found that academic reputation and graduates’ job opportunities are the most important considerations in college selection.  Theoretically, if you can prove that your institution has these things then the price tag is not perceived as “expensive”.  The onus is on institutional marketing to demonstrate value through features, benefits, and proofs.  Then everyone on campus must be able to understand and articulate the value.

Remember  – expensive is in the eye of the beholder.

The cost value equation in higher education is an intriguing subject for me.  Your comments and questions are welcome!  Please contact me (412-904-3133) or to continue this conversation.



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Undercover Boss on Your Campus

Janet Sieff

Posted by: Janet Sieff
Monday, February 24th, 2014                  

Have you ever seen the reality TV show where the CEO is disguised and joins the ranks to spy on employees?

In higher ed market research this is called ”secret shopping”. The objectives of secret shopping are similar to Undercover Boss – to get an inside view of what really goes on and to have a real customer experience.

How ever threatening and sneaky this seems, the reasons to secret shop are pretty sensible.  Colleges and universities are multi-million dollar operations where brand is everything, — knowing what really goes on is critical.

Secret shopping is done to look and listen for consistency and accuracy of information, both factual and anecdotal.  Secret shopping is also useful for detecting customer service levels.  Stealth research to hear and see what competitors are doing is common and an acceptable practice. Secret shopping conducted by someone who has never visited your campus before is especially effective because objectivity is almost guaranteed.

I recall a story shared with me by an Interim University President who was responsible for reversing a severe enrollment and retention problem.  He made arrangements to tour the campus with the Director of Facilities on his second day on the job. He did not want to wait any longer because he feared that he would loose his objectivity and fail to see the flaws.  He found dead trees, dumpsters in plain view and poor signage – he knew he would get used to these problems in short time and not notice them again.

Here are 2 secret shopping expeditions that you can do. Complete objectivity is not required, but the experience will put you in the shoes of your prospects and their families. For both of these expeditions, select 3- 5 of your top competitors and make a chart to track the questions and your findings.

1.  Using Google, look for your school’s (or competitor’s) website.

  • Is your school at the top of the list?
  • Go to the main page of your college website and look for tuition – how many clicks does it take to find it?

2.  Using an outside phone line, call into your (or competitor’s) main phone number.

  • Did a person or automated service answer?
  • Is connecting to the admissions office intuitive?
  • How many minutes and seconds did it take to get connected to the admissions office?
  • Did a person or an automated service answer the admissions line?
  • Ask to speak with someone about applying and experience the process.

Your results should be very revealing. How would your web and phone score on ease of use and customer service?   How do you compare to your competitors?

Let me know how your secret shopping goes and contact me to find out ways we can help you with more extensive investigations, as well as on-campus customer service solutions.

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