Thursday, July 2, 2009

School's Out

July 2, 2009- Here in the Northeast, the mounds of snow, icy roads, and howling winds are months behind us, yet they echoed in the halls of every school that had to wait until the end of June for their final day. Despite the 50 degree weather and incessant rainfall around me, it’s officially summer and school’s out.

That got me thinking about how some decisions in education are rarely challenged- how change is so hard to muster when it comes to systems that were put in place long before our time. Take summer vacation. I don’t know many school age kids who still hit the fields to help their Ma and Pa plow the land or harvest the crop - and I grew up in a place where that really means something. There was a time when from sun up 'til sun down, during a period in which we were developing our education system, that students stopped going to school and made their way to the fields. It was a matter of survival. The result was a summer vacation, still unchanged today except hoes and pitchforks have been replaced by sunscreen, beach towels and summer camp.

This week at the National Association of College and University Business Officers’ summer meeting in Boston – aggressive models for change were discussed in an effort to deal with the financial crisis. One such model coming out of Arizona is a proposal to create a “no frills” education where the student experience is modified or stripped down, depending how you look at it - meaning greater student/faculty ratios and less services. Reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The program is envisioned as a middle ground between the state’s research universities and its community colleges. Students would receive Arizona State degrees, but they would not have the student-life or research opportunities available to students on the main campus. Tuition would be lower than the cost of attending one of the existing campuses…” And, in New Hampshire they already have a similar model underway with the University of Southern New Hampshire.

The good news is that colleges are thinking about large-scale changes – changing the way they’ve been doing business for decades. And, this new approach seems to be in stark contrast to the over-building era of the 90's and early in the current decade when colleges competed with state-of-the-art fitness facilities, student union game rooms and bowling alleys. Far gone are those days!

Of concern is whether or not these proposed changes are at the expense of the student; perhaps not a monetary expense but at the expense of outcomes. Anyone who’s studied Vincent Tinto’s research, knows how an engaged student experience leads to positive retention outcomes... and therefore completion rates. Minimizing these initiatives, or the “thrills”, may lead to a greater retention issue than that which already exists.

So why in education are we always focused on change at the most drastic of levels? Why not evaluate our operational processes and look for savings and efficiencies in the way that we conduct business... things like admission processing, better yield prediction models, leveraging of endowment and state funds to create capital risk pools and drive down the cost of an education, moving our utilization of our capital expenditures (buildings) beyond the 15% utilization rate that is so commonly accepted today. Aren't there some more basic measures that we can be taking?

At ConnectEDU, we continue to explore cost-saving solutions for colleges including how they connect with students. We’re committed to finding solutions that help colleges save money by using accessible technology for admission and enrollment marketing. We want to improve the admissions process so MORE students have the opportunity of getting into school and colleges can further concentrate on helping students get out of school… with a degree!

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