Monday, June 28, 2010

It's the Students, Stupid

by Daniel L. Bennett

Keith Hampson of Higher Education Management recently posted a Q&A session that he had with John Lowler -- who founded the Lowler Group, which is a higher education marketing firm. When asked,
"What parts of the student experience are we not paying enough attention to?"
Lowler responded:
"...Students are seeking serious and relevant counsel about courses of study along with meaningful career counsel. The colleges that provide this type of meaningful advising will generate plenty of positive word-of-mouth endorsements, improve retention, and most likely, enhance their value proposition."
Like it or not, students increasingly attend college to enhance their career opportunities, as a recent CIRP Freshman survey indicated that the top 3 reasons that students gave for attending college were:
To learn about things that interest me
To get a better job, and
To be able to make more money
A focus on customer service, similar to that suggested by Lowler, has permitted career colleges (aka for-profits) to capture 10% of the postsecondary education market, and continue to grow at rates far exceeding that of traditional colleges and universities. Neal Rasmussen explains how this has occurred:
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.

...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

...[A good career college will] provide two things that make the usually high financial investment worth it. One – a quick 18 or 36 month to degree. Two – real career and placement services that make a job probable not just possible.

Many career colleges have benefited by understanding this aspect of the market and in turn, have made a profit. Despite the fact that many career colleges are heavily reliant on the ability of their students to pay tuition with federally funded aid programs, such schools must offer a product or service that customers are willing to pay for (primarily by borrowing) and satisfied with in order to persevere. If the majority of a career college's students were not satisfied with the service they received, that school would soon be out of business (barring a government rescue package similar to that received by Wall Street and Detroit). By offering students what they want out of education - career guidance and help getting a job, for-profit education has become largely successful. In other words, it's the students, stupid.

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