This is the first year that the Gallup poll has included political affiliation in its survey, so there is less historic data than one might desire. However, taken together, the two surveys point out differences in attitudes that can be either a problem for higher education to confront or an opportunity to steer the conversation.
For many years, those in higher education have been hearing about the aging of our faculty members and the new hiring that should take place, if resources allow, to replace those who leave. The mass exodus predicted has been blunted to some degree by the end of age-related mandatory retirement and health care issues for faculty whose spouses and children require health insurance coverage. Years of poor salary increments and low investment yields, which have resulted in slow growth in retirement accounts, have made it difficult, from an economic perspective, for some faculty to retire on time. Although all of this together has reduced the bolus of retirements predicted, there are vacancies occurring that need to be filled.
It is quite possible that the three largest explosions you can create occur if you drop an atomic bomb, set off a hydrogen bomb, or utter the words “students are customers” in the presence of a college professor. Students aren’t really their professors’ customers, of course, and there are plenty of reasons why applying a business model to colleges and universities never works. Still, there has to be some reason why legislators, trustees, and even some parents keep this idea alive. Often, there tends to be the idea that institutions of higher education should pay more attention to the bottom line and stop running sections of courses that only enroll a handful of students—unless, of course, the speaker’s own son or daughter happens to want that particular course. Lately, however, it has seemed to me as though academic leaders can indeed learn a few lessons from business, at least from certain types of businesses that interact with their customers (college professors, please pardon the term) in particular ways.
In this era of “doing more with less,” institutions are searching for operational efficiencies and predictors to increase enrollment and retention, reduce cost, ensure students graduate, and improve the learning experience. Finding those efficiencies, evaluating their effectiveness, and then implementing those changes requires data.
Student recruitment is not the exclusive domain of admissions staff. There are many things that department chairs and faculty can do to promote their programs to potential major and minors. In an interview with Academic Leader, Victor Vallo, Jr., chair of the music department at Newberry College, offered the following recruitment techniques at the program level:
Improving student success, and thereby increasing retention and boosting four-year graduation rates, is a challenge familiar to all higher education institutions whether they are large or small, public or private. With the national four-year college graduation rate average hovering around 50 percent, the industry has an obligation to confront the issue and take steps toward solving it.
In 2000 I wrote an article for the Journal of College Admissions called “Admissions: The Job You Keep.” It was a tribute to the difference my admissions counselor made when I was choosing a college in the early 1990s and a reflection on everything I appreciated about the admissions profession after three years in the field. In the article, I told the story of how I helped advocate for an applicant in a way that took me full circle back to my own college search experience.
When it comes to boosting retention and completion, many colleges engage in predictive analysis to determine which students are “at risk” of failure—then focus most support resources on trying to turn these students’ fortunes around.
What if blended learning could do more than utilize in-class time more efficiently and increase student interest in a course? What if it could actually boost retention?
Retention is a critical concern for schools such as Long Island University (LIU) Brooklyn that work with populations that include at-risk and underprepared students.
Melissa Antinori Berninger is the assistant writing program director and Thomas Peele is an associate professor of English at LIU. In an analysis of assessment data collected over the past six years, Berninger and Peele found that:
I remember that when I started my first job as an admissions counselor, one of the interview questions was, “Do you see the role of admissions counselors more as counseling or as sales?” I had no experience, so I really didn’t know the right answer. Since the word “counselor” was in the title of the position, I imagine I said something about counseling students.