It is the season for college fairs. Do you actually like that university? Most 16-17 year old students are very familiar with the notion of looking forward to acquiring a car, and thereby considering the prices of cars. Going to college is also an expected next phase in the life of many after graduating from high school. However, these students do not have the daily exposure to college (as a product and service) in the manner and frequency with which they are exposed to cars. So, while only a minority would experience sticker shock upon entering an auto showroom, the majority would experience sticker shock upon seeing the real cost of college (tuition, fees, books/materials, cost of living, cost of funding, loss of earnings potential while in school, etc.). As such, the car salesperson's presentation is generally as expected. But, how about the presentation of the college recruiter/representative?
Let us assume that institutions in which you are interested actually have quality facilities and faculty. However, it is your opinion that the tuition and fees differ dramatically. Generally, prospective students and parents do not simply reject schools on the basis of price as much as want justification for paying the asked price or expect money (from the schools) to offset high versus low cost institution differences. Additionally, in general markets people are usually faced with “buyer beware” manners, asking potential customers to substantially, independently assess alternatives. Students and families want more transparency from colleges, not just more glossy marketing presentations and materials.
To the College Representative:
- Does the product (four year education at your school) cost substantially more than average?
- Why do the costs at your institution differ significantly from those of competitors?
- How well can you describe the benefits (not features) of your school's assets?
- Can you clearly differentiate your college in terms of graduation rate, post-graduate job placement statistics, and student debt/obligation upon graduation?
- When was the last time the college that you represent asked customers (current students and graduates) how satisfied they are with their ongoing education or post-graduate success in the market versus their expectations?
- Consider the state of the economy. Are you, as a college and university marketer, attempting to maintain good numbers of applicants from a similar pool of candidates, or are you experiencing a significant demographic shift, requiring a new message to capture replacement students?
- Is your institution attempting to attract applicants by adjusting the net price to students downward (more scholarships, grants, etc.), or working to create more value so as to justify prices to more financially capable in-state, out of state and foreign student prospects?
- Do your students really like their college experience or does the university stay ahead of non-supportive feedback by finding new students in time to replace those they lose, or from whom they have become meaningfully dissociated? How do you know?
- Presuming that the college provides high quality courses, services, and assets, how does it otherwise pursue customer feedback and look to customer interest satisfaction versus primarily taking care of its own interests and plans?
- Primary and secondary schools have parent-teacher-student organizations (PTSOs) that function with the objective of generating proactive and reactive customer (parent, student)-system dialog to efficiently address behavioral, service and environmental issues in real time, to make the schools better for all. What does your college do in a similar manner?
- Just as in other businesses, most colleges presume that if quarter over quarter enrollment and related net income/fundraising continues to increase, all is well. In many student/family opinions, it is not well. Ask any advanced level student who cannot enroll in courses required to graduate because institutional budgetary decisions resulted in reduced class offerings. If such administrative decisions can ultimately delay students' graduation dates, how would your institution respond to create alternative plans and/or to compensate the students in some manner?
- Does your institution act in a fiduciary manner towards the students or are its primary allegiances to the institution rather than the well-being of its customers?
- At your institution, would students be invited to participate in meetings regarding reductions/alterations of services, course offerings, tuition and fee issues, etc.?
- Students/families and colleges engage in a covenant relationship. How does your institution define integrity when considering: plagiarism, test-taking honesty and grade tampering, and other student behaviors that are generally considered adverse compared to non-transparent university business decisions such staff expansion and raises, new construction, course offering changes, and creation/adjudication of social/sexual policies related to the campus environment? These and other decisions made by the institution without student input may compromise personal values or adversely affect the financial relationships subsumed by the students' matriculation.
It is the season for college fairs. After investigating beyond locations, superficial histories, "ranks and reputations”, majors, athletics programs, dorm food, housing and demographics, do you actually like that university?