Of Napoleon and University Retention…

Apparently Napoleon and today’s higher education system have something in common…really.

According to Associate Provost for Curriculum Gregory Heileman from the University of New Mexico in the article ASUNM talks retention rates, “Student retention and graduation rates are similar to Napoleon’s march from Paris to Moscow in 1812. It started out with 400,000 soldiers but ended with only 10,000 soldiers.”

The point is – many students come in, but comparatively few graduate. Based on enrollment data from 2005-11, only 45% of students who had first enrolled in 2005 had graduated by 2011.

To resolve this, UNM plans to modify courses that have high failure rates to enable all students to “choose the pace of the course.” This teeters on the brink of lowering standards (or at least expectations) to make sure people keep moving through the system, but UNM assures that they “won’t let you move forward without knowing a concept.”

What else is interesting in the article is that the #1 cause of student loss if the cost of the education, but the main tactic being employed to address this is offering more extended pay plans.

It seems like UNM has decided not to focus on ways to build value but is instead trying to remove the near-term causes of pain (i.e., failing a class or having a higher short-term tuition payment). While these might concepts work to a point, they primarily support the philosophy of making things easier for the student as opposed to making the experience better or facilitating the student’s academic growth.

So let’s broaden this topic to ask a key question – What would you do if your customers were leaving because of an issue with a product or because of the product’s cost?

Would you look to build value or just extend payment terms? Would you look to make the experience better for the customer or remove their hassles? These are tough questions because a university which understands its role fully realizes it needs to grow the person (their willingness to take on challenges, be responsible, and hold themselves accountable) as it helps to build the student’s knowledge and abilities. Most other businesses aren’t trying to effect core changes in the makeup of their customers – such as making them more responsible or accountable.

So this is the approach that UNM is taking. What do you think of it?

Listen to our latest podcast episode of “Stepping Up Service” on The MESH Network at http://themesh.tv/stepping-up-service/

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