Kristin Van Dorn:
So Joel, this week you were talking about how retention efforts start now.
In many cases, the first week of school. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your thoughts on what we can do early on in a student’s career to retain them throughout their journey.
I think on campus, when we think about trying to fix retention issues. A lot of times the focus goes into what software can we put in place. You know, it’s how can we figure out when the early warning signs that someone’s not going to make it through their program or that they’re flunking out of a class or something. How do we get this software in place to notify ourselves of all this stuff?
And well, I think a lot of times, you know, the early warning sign stuff is super important. I don’t I think we’re really considering all of the things that go into what makes that, you know, those people have a difficult time in their classes, have a difficult time in learning. We think of a lot of different things, but one of the, I think, more obvious ones and probably one of the harder ones to tame really comes down to the student experience. And as you said, like that starts now. It starts as students are coming onto campus.
Today’s students, today’s undergrad students in particular, are using dozens and dozens of web experiences and digital experiences and they interact with customer experience type of programs that are not accidental. The really good brands out there put a lot of focus into how they treat their customers and how they treat their buyers. They get to a college campus and they’re kind of just left to figure out how to do the stuff, you know, and I think it’s a big issue.
I mean, I think there are, and by big, I mean, like I think there are a lot of different moving parts to this. It’s not just like, oh cool, we’re gonna make our onboarding better. We’re gonna make sure that new student orientation is something that’s a little bit more thorough. I mean, that definitely helps. And at Bravery, we’ve contributed to improving some of those for clients in the past.
I think it really comes down to how you train your staff and how you build your business processes on campus. And instead of throwing money at some new software that’s supposed to like you know be an all-in-one events platform blah blah blah blah blah, you can look at the things that you do well, on signage, on how you’re telling people where to go, on even just your staff’s demeanor.
Like this new students interacting with a grumpy registrar, doesn’t really go to help your case and just adds to the stress levels that they have. It’s really about meeting them as humans where they are versus trying to force them into something that you have already set up for the last 30 years, right?
And if you are trying to do that they’re more likely to end up not completing, like not staying at your school, looking for some other institution that’s going to treat them better and treat them kinder, and make them feel more confident. And I think that’s the key. The more confidence that you can build up in a prospective student, in a current student, in a staff person, in a faculty member, the more easy they’re going to find their job, or their academic career or that sort of thing because they know how to face it. They feel equipped to go through those different processes.
Yeah, I think about the email overload that especially incoming students feel, because all of a sudden they’re bombarded with emails from the campus bookstore about sales on sweatshirts and from athletics about getting your football tickets today, and about the classes that are still under enrolled, and about messages from the dean and messages from the provost and messages from the president.
And then there’s always you know, undergrad offices that want to make sure that they know about study spaces and about financial aid questions and make sure that you’ve done this and that. And so there’s so much messaging that happens right in the end of August, the early part of September.
And there are so few emails that go out to students that just say, hey, how’s it going? Do you have any questions? Is there anything I can do for you? Now, we tack those on at the end of these big, long messages that run like punch lists of things that they’re supposed to be thinking about, but those rarely come across as like a personalized, I’m thinking about you specifically.
I wanna make sure that you’re doing okay. I wanna make sure that you have everything that you need this semester and that you don’t have anything that you’re worried about. And I don’t think our staff are equipped with the time or trained with the idea that maybe those emails could go a long way.
Right. And I think it just kind of underscores the thought process that, you know, mental health isn’t something that you need to just like address after there’s a problem, right? And that’s part of it. Like that amount of stress and that amount of burnout, that amount of newness on someone. It’s a lot to take. And if you can make sure that they don’t develop these, these kind of discomforts and fears and things by simply checking in as a person to a person with your new students, it can go a long way to making sure that their academics stay up.
I mean… you know, a lot of times that’s the problem. It’s the, and I mean, we see this in student affairs, you know, research studies, a lot of the people that are stop-outs or that leave and transfer somewhere else or that, you know, end up just not finishing at all, it comes down to not necessarily that they’re bad students. I mean, maybe some of them weren’t really prepared to go to college in the first place and you didn’t have support systems in place to help them out, but a lot of times, it’s because they didn’t find their community, or feel like they knew what they were doing.
It wasn’t that they didn’t feel ready academically, it’s that they didn’t feel ready as a person living in your systems and your bureaucracies. And so how much farther can we go in supporting students to figure out how to college, how to university, how to be that student? I think it’s more than an intro to college class. I think it can be built into the service design of what we do on our campuses.
Yeah, well, and I think it can be just as simple as letting them know, you know, college takes a little bit of administrating on your own behalf. Like you have to not only take your classes and be successful academically, but you have to learn how to sort of manage yourself and like the very business of being a student.
And that takes a certain skill. It takes a skill for planning how you’re gonna move through your academic program, for planning out your finances. for planning out your academic path, and for being open to the slings and arrows that happen in everyday student experience. And I think the better we are at setting that table for students, that that’s gonna be an aspect that they might not be used to, the better off they are at understanding that their experiences are not unique, that other people are going through similar things, and that it’s okay to raise the issue when they encounter a problem that there are services and supports that will help them through it.
Some of the feedback that I hear from other administrators is that most of the biggest problems come when students feel like they don’t know who to approach when they do encounter a problem. And so they wait till it’s really a crisis before they approach someone in financial aid to say that they’ve run out of money that semester or their professor when they don’t think that they’re gonna pass the class that’s so important to their academic program.
And I think creating the environment where they feel like it’s okay to raise those issues earlier will give them the support that they need to continue on in their program.
You said this to me a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t remember where you got it from, but this idea that all learning involves some level of pain.
And if your whole business model is around teaching and helping people to learn, why inflict more stress around them in the rest of the administrata experience? Like make that stuff easy.
If they’re already going to experience pain like, encountering new ideas and being in the classroom and you know doing the important work of higher education, don’t make it harder for them like especially you know yeah maybe we’re all softer now that we’re living in the modern times with all these digital tools, but make that experience side, make the living side of it, and the administration side of it easier for your current students.
And that’ll make the education side that much more powerful and that much more effective for them going forward.