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  • signaltonoise 1:23 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , education,   

    Old Spice University 

    By now, you’ve no doubt seen the latest internet meme to take the world by storm…the Old Spice Man and his personalized responses to just about anyone asking for his advice.   As reported by PC Magazine, “Old Spice this week capitalized on the popularity of its recent TV advertisements with a series of YouTube videos in which “Old Spice guy” Isaiah Mustafa answered questions from the Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit communities.”  The response has been wildly popular and blogs ranging from Techcrunch and Mashable to the Huffington Post have picked up the action.

    The Old Spice campaign is surely an excellent case study on integrating your social media efforts across various sites (as one publication puts it…they actually found a way to make YouTube social).  

    However, while Old Spice Man has found it in his heart to dish out advice on everything from grooming to relationships,  the one thing that’s been missing was some advice for college recruiters.  Until now…

    Finally, Old Spice man chimed in on how his followers should select a college.  I hope your school’s prepared to offer a B.A. in One-Handed Ship Building and a Minor in Philosophy/Bazooka Shooting.


    What’s a case study without results, right?  Well as of this writing, the stats speak for themselves….1,860 mentions on Google News, 580,000 + likes on Facebook, and nearly 6 million views on Youtube.  And it’s all happened practically overnight…just look at this one stat from Tweet Stat which shows a spike in @oldspice followers on Twitter in just one day after the response videos first started getting posted.

  • signaltonoise 1:19 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , education,   

    Student Experience Resolutions 

    Some good food for thought posted today by Forrester Analyst, Bruce Temkin on his blog.  He offers up his annual top-ten list of resolutions that companies should consider this New Year.  Surprisingly, there’s no mention of losing weight, quitting smoking or better managing their budgets (though that would be a good one).

    Here are his Customer Experience Resolutions for 2010:

    1. We shall put in place a robust voice of the customer program
    2. We shall stop playing with social media and put it to good use
    3. We shall treat customer service as a loyalty-driver, not a cost center
    4. We shall go beyond just fixing problems and inspire brand promoters
    5. We shall establish clarity in our brand, internally and externally
    6. We shall identify a senior executive to lead the transformation effort
    7. We shall help new customers get value from us faster and easier
    8. We shall improve the usability of all self-service interactions
    9. We shall communicate more clearly with customers across all channels
    10. We shall make our culture more customer-centric

    How are these points relevant to higher education?  Here are a few thoughts on how Bruce’s suggestions could be applied at your college or university (feel free to add your own):

    1. We shall put in place a robust voice of the customer program – 

    Many institutions still wrestle with the notion that students are in fact customers that are purchasing a service from the college or university. As a result, institutions sometimes forget to gather feedback from constituents about their experience.  How can you be expected to improve your service if you don’t bother asking those you serve? It’s time to start hearing the voice of YOUR customer – students.

    2. We shall stop playing with social media and put it to good use

    2009 was the year of Twitter and of course Facebook continued to exert its massive force across the universe.  Despite having a reputation for being laggards with respect to technology, few industries have been as quick as higher education to adopt social media.  A study conducted last year by UMASS-Dartmouth found that 13% of the Fortune 500 and 39% of the Inc. 500 currently have a public blog, it is interesting to note that college admissions departments continue to lead the pack with blogs at 41% of US colleges and universities.  Social media has arrived on campus in a major way.  However, 2010 will be the year where colleges and universities must stop viewing social media as a “rogue” channel and start integrating it with their other marketing channels.

    3. We shall treat customer service as a loyalty-driver, not a cost center –

    What’s the average cost to recruit a new student? About $2,500 (according to NACAC).  How much are they worth to your institution over 4-years? In many cases well over 6 figures.  Ironically though, particularly for public institutions, having students stick around too long could result in diminishing returns and extra costs to both parents and the institution. You should start thinking about retention and student success before you even enroll a new student.  The more you know up front, the better prepared you’ll be to ensure they’re the right fit for your institution and that you’re prepared to make them successful.

    4. We shall go beyond just fixing problems and inspire brand promoters –

    Don’t strive to just meet expectations…strive for greatness.

    5. We shall establish clarity in our brand, internally and externally –

    Are you afraid you won’t be able to differentiate your institution from the competition?  It’s probably because it’s true.  Differentiation is hard. And as some think, it may not even be what you should be shooting for as “uniqueness is overrated.”  However, ensuring consistency of your brand can go a long way towards helping your constituents make positive associations with your institution which may be enough of a differentiator (especially if your competition has lousy branding).

    6. We shall identify a senior executive to lead the transformation effort – 

    We often hear about how difficult it is for those at the lower levels of higher education administration to affect change at their institutions.  To that I say, “hogwash.” That’s right, hogwash…not a word I use lightly. You’re in the position that you are in because someone, at some point, trusted you.  Leverage that trust to help implement change. Take your ideas to senior executives.  You never know which ones may stick.  The reality is that you sometimes need to know people in high places to get things done. Get heard by finding an executive champion for your ideas.

    7. We shall help new customers get value from us faster and easier – 

    As I alluded to on #3, shaping your enrollment properly, and providing excellent service and first-year learning experiences goes a long way toward delivering a life-long fan of your institution.  It’s never too early to start thinking about how you’re going to prove a ROI to your students. 

    8. We shall improve the usability of all self-service interactions –

    It’s important to help customers help themselves, but make sure you’re consistent with your offerings.  Provide access to the information they need without re-inventing the wheel and forcing them to sign up for a different site for every stage of the student lifecycle. 

    9. We shall communicate more clearly with customers across all channels –

    Marshall McLuhan is known for saying, “The medium is the messsage,” meaning that a medium influences how a message is perceived.  However, try not to let the medium control your message too much.  Whether it’s social media, email, traditional or paid search advertising, your customers want a continuity of experience across all channels.  

    10. We shall make our culture more customer-centric – I think this one speaks for itself.  Try to make your culture more student-centric.  Otherwise, why bother having students to begin with?

  • signaltonoise 1:17 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: education,   

    Enrollment Funnel or Bottleneck? 

    We’re all familiar with the image of an enrollment funnel.  Many individuals enter as “leads” and hopefully a few make it all the way through to become enrolled students.  Traditionally, you’d want as many leads at the top of your funnel so that you can have your pick of hot prospects to convert into enrolled students.  Ideally, you’d want your funnel to look something like this. But in today’s recruitment environment, more leads may not necessarily be such a good thing.  In fact, too many leads (especially bad leads) could turn your enrollment funnel into an enrollment bottleneck. According to Wikipedia:

    bottleneck is a phenomenon where the performance or capacity of an entire system is limited by a single or limited number of components or resources. The term bottleneck is taken from the ‘assets are water’ metaphor. As water is poured out of a bottle, the rate of outflow is limited by the width of the conduit of exit – that is, bottleneck. Increase the width of the bottleneck, and you can increase the rate of which the water flows out.

    This week, I’ve noticed two trends that are impacting a number of institutions and creating bottlenecks in their recruitment funnels.  

    1) The first is a simple matter of not having the supply to meet demand.  This was a point highlighted last week by the New York Times in a story that showed how many of New York’s community colleges are having to turn away students because applications have increased so dramatically.    

    2) The second is the fact that while many schools are seeing increased applications, they’re not changing their admissions standards.  This means that schools are having to manage many more applications without any way to facilitate the selection of candidates.  Some schools that have traditionally guaranteed admission to students living in so-called service areas are now turning away those applicants in favor of non-local students to make sure they reach their recruitment goals. The logic is that schools that are concerned about yield will still hit their numbers if they admit more students.  However this could have the end result of forcing institutions to turn away more qualified candidates than ever before.

    In each scenario, the admissions process is made more difficult for both students and administrators due to limited resources.  Additionally, each scenario also poses these questions:

    If you’re facing more demand than you can meet, how are you directing students to other options or making it possible for them to stay connected to your institution for when a spot does become available?  If your mission is to provide access, how are you ensuring that students have access even if you’re not able to provide it?

    If you’re taking in more applications than ever before simply to make sure you hit your enrollment numbers, what are you doing to analyze your yield and how are you ensuring that you’re still enrolling (not just admitting) the caliber of student you ACTUALLY want?

    So what are you doing to keep your leads flowing and at the same time avoid bottlenecks? In both cases it may help to NARROW your funnel rather than cast a wide net.  As I noted a few months ago, this pre-qualification could help minimize a lot of the cost an effort associate with recruitment and ultimately lead to better results in terms of admissions and retention.  

    Additionally, at a time when many institutions are trying to battle the forces of supply and demand, some are asking if there’s perhaps an over emphasis on the importance of college to begin with.  GOOD Magazine’s blog recently summarized a discussion at the Chronicle of Higher Education where participants were asked “Are too many students going to college?”  According to GOOD, the responses basically fell into two camps:

    Camp one: Postsecondary education is a practical necessity that everyone should pursue and have access to. Sample quote from Daniel Yankelovich, a public-policy expert: “In today’s society and economy, virtually everyone who has the motivation and stamina should acquire some form of postsecondary education.”

    Camp two: Traditional bachelors degrees are not actually the best move for most students; they can be a waste of money; and statistics (and anecdotal evidence, surely) show this, over and over and over again. Sample quote from Charles Murray, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute: “We have a moral obligation to destroy the current role of the B.A. in American life. It has become an emblem of first-class citizenship for no good reason.”

    If what members of Camp one say is true then more students should be be seeking higher education and institutions should do everything in their power to give them access.  If what Camp two says is true then more unqualified students are seeking education than ever before making it more difficult for selective institutions to sift through the crop and/or there is additional  burden on less selective institutions who are now forced to deal with students that should not be there in the first place.


    For many institutions, particularly public institutions, budget cutbacks and orders to limit enrollments have made it more difficult than ever to manage their traditional marketing funnels and created bottlenecks for both prospective students and administrators.  Add to that a mix of new technologies and evolving customer expectations, and you may find that your funnel may have several bottlenecks at each stage of the recruitment lifecycle.  In fact, your bottle (funnel) probably looks more like a pretzel as the chart below from Forrester Research illustrates.


    So how exactly do you narrow the funnel to avoid bottlenecks (or some of the twists and turns above)?

    That’s the hard part.  However, there are things that can be done at each stage of the recruitment lifecycle that can help narrow the funnel.  Branding plays a big part.  Ivy League schools, for example, have an inherently narrow funnel at the top because most students know they have to meet certain criteria in order to even be considered. However, while most institutions don’t have that luxury, there are other ways to brand and position your offerings in order to attract the right student for YOUR institution and avoid some of the noise associated with the front-end of the funnel.

    For others there may be opportunities to narrow the funnel at the inquiry stage. For example, what if an inquiry comes in and you discover that the student may in fact be a better fit for another institution?  Do you keep engaging them or do you recommend that other institution? 

    The point is that there’s an opportunity at every stage of the marketing funnel to make sure you balance the needs of the market with what your institution has to offer.  Selectivity and segmentation should begin long before that first inquiry form is submitted or before that application is filled out.  Doing this can help you avoid a lot of headaches and bottlenecks.

    For those on the front lines, what are some bottlenecks you’re seeing?

  • signaltonoise 1:13 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: education   

    What’s that they say about death and taxes? 

    I swear when I first saw the news I thought it was a hoax. Then when I saw this post on The Onion, I KNEW it couldn’t be true. But sure enough…it is true.

    By now, you’ve probably also heard the story about Trina Thompson, a graduate of New York’s Monroe College who is suing the school for $72,000 because she was not able to find a job after graduating.

    The seemingly odd move has raised eyebrows throughout the higher education industry with most agreeing that the lawsuit seems silly. While it’s true (or at least documented as being true) that higher education improves one’s chances of finding a job, and getting more education improves your chances of getting a better job, there’s certainly no guarantee…especially in uncertain economic times.

    However, Slate’s The Big Money published a counterpoint yesterday that may not necessarily defend Trina Thompson’s suit, but certainly offers a scathing critique of Monroe College as well as proprietary colleges in general. The article state’s, “The very point of an institution like Monroe is to improve its students’ standing in the work force, but the irony is that in comparison with traditional institutions, Monroe seems to do quite badly at helping graduates make a living.”  The author Mark Gimein suggests that these schools are misleading the public by referring to themselves as colleges when really they’re vocational schools.

    But regardless of what you call it, should you still be guaranteed a job after going to a vocational school? Hopefully the institution will provide you with the skills needed to land a job in your field of study, but ultimately the burden is on the individual not the institution.  This holds true for any type of institution whether private, public or for-profit.  However, what does Gimein’s story say about the perception of career colleges in general? Are they failing to fulfill their promise to students?  Not according to the Career College Association (CCA).  

    According to the CCA’s site, “Seventy-six percent of those earning an occupational associate’s degree found employment in 2008, while 72 percent did so with academic associate’s degrees, 65 percent in bachelor’s degree programs and 76 percent in master’s degrees programs. Placement rates for certificate and diploma completers were over 72 percent.”

    Not 100%.  But certainly a lot more people leaving with jobs than not.  As I wrote in a post a few months ago, even traditional institutions are struggling with finding jobs for students after graduation.  For career colleges, there may just be a branding or perception issue that they’ll need to combat.  To lump all of them together as Gimein seems to do is unfair and inaccurate.  

    However, for most educational institutions, the question remains…what responsibility do you have to your students once they’ve graduated and how are you delivering value to them beyond the diploma? It’s not just the Trina Thompson’s of the world that are demanding more.  Many students today are thinking about the ROI associated with a college education and it’s getting tougher for institutions of all kinds to even attempt to prove it.

    It may come down partially to managing expectations.  There are no guarantees in life.  But one thing is certain, your chances are better with an education than without.

  • signaltonoise 1:11 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: education   

    Deal or No Deal 

    What do you do when long-held beliefs no longer turn out to be true?

    This is a question many higher education institutions have been forced to ask in recent times as the economic picture remains fuzzy. For years the conventional wisdom (backed by Census data) has been that higher education was a recession-proof industry for the simple fact that those who receive a college or graduate degree are likely to earn more than those who don’t.  It was this promise of a return on their investment that kept students coming back to school.  As one industry analyst puts it, “Education pays. And more education, pays more.”

    But we live in unconventional times.

    While this basic fact that “education pays” holds true, these uncertain times have thrown a wrench in the machinery that has kept some colleges and universities packed with co-eds for years. The new reality is that while students do leave college and graduate school equipped with the skills to help them earn more, the jobs required for them to realize this ROI are no longer there.

    Slate published an article this week that looks at the plight of some twentysomethings as they look to traverse this uncertain terrain. Not uncommoon today are students like Gordon. As the article explains:

    Gordon, who is 29, has an undergraduate degree in computer engineering from Boston University, three years in IT, and an MBA and a master’s in information systems. How much more sturdy and practical can you get? But after a year and a half, he lost the job he got after graduation. He has $60,000 in student loans even though he had full scholarships for both undergrad and grad school (living expenses). That comes out to $500 a month for the next 10 years. “I would describe my current state of fear as a dull persistent thing that colors all of my life decisions,” he writes.

    So what are institutions to do? How can they justify having students pay tuition when the outcome looks so uncertain?

    Many institutions have come to rely on the “higher earnings” value proposition for quite some time, but they may have to start thinking of other reasons why students should invest in education. And, as thisletterfrom an angry parent shows, the challenge for private institutions may be even greater than cheaper public institutions.

    The Slate article adds that Economists like David Autor of MIT (and I suspect most colleges) counter today’s doom-and-gloomers by reminding them,”When things recover, it’s going to be the highly skilled who are still in greatest demand (as has been true for the last three decades).”

    Unfortunately, the short-term outlook makes this kind of pitch a tough sell for many. With budget cuts looming and students struggling to justify costs, it may be asking too much of institutions to just weather the storm. However, those that have used the “higher earning from higher learning” rationale for attracting students may need to shift course or at least modify their approach.

    So, given today’s circumstances, when students ask you, “Why higher education? Why now?” are you prepared to answer?

  • signaltonoise 1:09 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: education   

    The Paradox 

    Applications surging at public universities, but budget cuts make it difficult to keep up with demand.  Good interview this morning on CNBC with the presidents of the University of Arizona and SUNY New Paltz. Thanks to @rachelreuben for sharing this on Twitter.

    Earlier this month, the New York Times looked at how schools like SUNY New Paltz are handling this increased interest from budget-minded prospective students.  

  • signaltonoise 4:38 pm on September 14, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital divide, education   

    Bridging the Digital Divide 

    Ever since my first job out of college where I had the opportunity to work on a project (indirectly) for America’s Promise Alliance, I have always been fascinated by the “digital divide” in America and looking for ways to help close the gap between the technology haves and the have-nots.

    For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here’s a summary from Wikipedia: “The term digital divide refers to the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access at all. It includes the imbalances in physical access to technology as well as the imbalances in resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen. In other words, it is the unequal access by some members of society to information and communications technology, and the unequal acquisition of related skills. The digital divide may be classified based on gender,income, and race groups, and by locations. The term global digital divide refers to differences in technology access between countries or large regions of the world.”

    Now, my interest in the digital divide has much more to do with my personal opinions on what is just and what is not, but from an e-marketer’s perspective it has some relevance as well.  Due to the digital divide, many have always viewed the internet as a domain meant just for the most educated and the most affluent.  Naturally, this made it an ideal place for marketers to target individuals with the money to buy expensive products and services, including education.  However, there are signs that marketers may have to change their way of thinking and broaden their horizons when it comes to whom they target with their e-marketing.

    MarketingVox reports this week on a new poll that finds the digital gap may be narrowing.  According to the report, “48% of adults — many in groups that were historically less frequent users — now report that using the ‘net over an one hour per day, compared with 26% in 2002.”

    While age, income and gender gaps still exist, several demographic groups in the lower income, lower education and older age brackets posted gains in frequent internet use in the past year that were significantly greater than the five-percentage-point gain measured among adults nationwide.

    This could prove to be a big opportunity for institutions that traditionally target less affluent students, but have been reluctant to leverage e-marketing due to the belief that their constituents are not online.  While the Gallup poll does not mention specific demographics or races, another report by eMarketer predicts that as more minorities gain access to the internet via PCs and Mobile phones marketers will follow.

    The gap may be narrowing.  Are you prepared to cross it?

  • signaltonoise 4:38 pm on September 14, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: education   

    Are more students playing “The Price is Right?” 

    According to a story released this week by the Associated Press, a new survey by the groups Public Agenda and the National Center on Public Policy and Higher Education, underscores the uptick in public anxiety about college affordability during the current recession.

    The survey indicates that consumers recognize the value of a college education more than ever with up to 55% of respondents saying the best way to get ahead in America is with a college degree.  However, combined with this awareness is growing concern over the cost of education.  The AP story notes, “College prices rose 6.4 percent last fall, and a recent, separate report by the National Center flunked 49 of the 50 states on college affordability.”

    What options do institutions have when faced with these realities? 

    1) Prove they are worth it: In today’s economy, students really have become much more discerning consumers when it comes to selecting a college or university.   These consumer-minded students require constant communication on the value your institution can bring to them as students and as graduates of your programs.  And, it means your institution has to deliver on that promise.  Do you have studies on the average salary of your graduates?  How does it compare to other schools in your region or other programs with a similar focus as yours?

    This may not be a deciding factor for every student considering your institution, but it may be for some.   As a result, it may be time for institutions to start thinking more about the ROI their students will experience after attending their school.  That ROI may not necessarily mean bigger paychecks, it could be something else that only your school can deliver (like a leg up in a particular field, or access to a broad alumni network, etc.). 

    Whatever value your institution can deliver after graduation, make sure your prospects know about it.

    2) Be frugal/Conserve Energy: This article from the Boston Globe introduced me to an interesting model that seems to be gaining some momentum and is making education accessible and affordable. Southern New Hampshire University offers a satellite campus in an office building with no frills whatsoever, but where students can learn anything from greek to business statistics…cheap. In addition to offering cheaper classes, by having a location in an office park, the university is extending its presence and brand outside the area of its main campus, which is 20 miles away.

    With the economy in its current state, more students are probably considering these options than ever before.  If you’re looking to attract these budget-minded students, how does your institution compare?

    Now, I’m not necessarily advocating a store-front approach to higher education, but this option reminds me of a post I wrote last month on operational efficiency and another post from Todd Gibby where he looked at the amenities arms race that many institutions are involved in. 

    The point is that every dollar spent outside of the classroom matters more and more.  The key differentiator for some consumer-minded students may no longer be what frills you offer on campus, but the value you deliver in the classroom and how you can affect their bottom line once their time at your institution has ended.

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