Academic Maps works with colleges, universities and business to improve customer service in order to increase enrollment, retention and morale. The President of Academic Maps is Dr. Neal A. Raisman, a past college and university president, dean and faculty member.
Keith Hampson: The “Higher Education Management Group” originated with my belief that real progress in higher education will require leadership from the management ‘side of the house’. However, colleges and universities don’t typically have a large pool of seasoned managers and leaders from which to draw on to lead institutional change. Where will this talent come from? What role can consultancies play in helping schools develop effective management?
Neal Raisman: That is really a key question. The numbers and talent are there. The issue is really one of what seasoning we use to develop managers and administrators in higher ed. Colleges and universities are really rather cloistered places with strong and unique cultures, customs, traditions, codes, and mores. These are all meant to preserve the academic status quo with its faculty rights and power structure.
There are very few programs that teach college or university administrators and managers how to do their jobs. There are a few good ones for future community college administrators, but not for universities. Most managers and administrators in higher ed come up, or down, from faculty positions so they are very aware of the pressure to maintain; not change. Being a change agent is a sure way for a president, for example, to anger the campus and lose a job.
As a result, colleges are extremely slow to make the changes they need in order to survive and succeed. Universities tend to be better at using their intellectual capital to tell the world outside of the university how it needs to change, than applying this knowledge to its own operations. Of course, there are many great presidents, trustees and managers who see the wisdom in my Good Academic Customer Service Principle 14: To every problem there is more than one solution. And they may be external rather than from academia. They are reaching out to experts and consultants. They are asking them to come in and help develop solutions to problems. Part of my work has been to teach managers and senior administrators how to increase student retention – for many, this has not really been a serious issue before. As a result, there is a need for consultancies to develop programs that can teach college and universities administrators and managers how to do their jobs better, easier and with greater success. Not easy to get in the door, but they are needed.
Keith Hampson: You recently launched The Administrator’s Bookshelf, a series of publications that provides ‘cliff notes’ for college and university management. What is the gap that this venture seeks to fill?
Neil Raisman: The Administrators Bookshelf is working to fill a knowledge and time gap for college managers and administrators. Many academic administrators come to their office and its demands without formal management or administrative training. They essentially get on-the-job training and often struggle, and sometimes fail, before succeeding. The Administrator’s bookshelf provides quick, practical and applicable how to’s and best practices – sort of administrative Cliff Notes – to guide administrators to complete the tasks and demands of the job successfully the first time. Each booklet contains vital information, a case study, and an implementation guide to ensure a thorough understanding and easy implementation of successful strategies in the topic area. These short booklets (15-20 pages) are written in direct, non-academic language by seasoned administrators. For example, a booklet on running successful meetings contains how-to’s and best practices for planning meetings, setting agendas, identifying the appropriate stakeholders, and establishing an environment that promotes constructive dialog. Useful techniques for engaging participants in discussion and a clearly defined decision-making process are included in the booklet. A case study illustrates implementation of the techniques and demonstrates how the techniques enhance the outcome of a variety of campus meetings. Thought-provoking questions at the end of the booklet encourage the reader to identify the gaps in their own practice and guide them in selecting the appropriate techniques for implementation at their campus meetings.
Keith Hampson: In your work you’ve suggested that great customer service has traditionally not been the focus of our colleges and universities. Why has this been the case? What are the obstacles to addressing this problem ?
Neil Raisman: The old joke in academia is that “This would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students.” I fear that my work over the past decade shows this is more true than funny for too many schools. Higher education is a multi-billion dollar industry that does not like having customers. Some of the reasons are traditional. Colleges want the PhD for faculty. The PhD is a research degree in which teaching is not a concern. We promote based on research, not teaching ability. One can win a teaching award and not tenure. In fact, spending too much time on students and teaching and your research suffers. Furthermore, colleges use what I call the “burn and churn” approach to new student admissions. Retention is an after thought. Just keep recruiting new students and don’t worry about those who leave. We’ll just replace them. Proof? The national graduation rate is at 52.8% of all students who start college. And that is over a six-year period for a four-year degree. That means just about 42% of all original students do not complete a degree. That is a huge loss to our society, our economy, and to thousands of families. The situation will slowly improve a bit, as the competition for students increases, the pool shrinks, and budgets atrophy. As colleges realize that there is a direct correlation between revenues and keeping students. Rather than paying over $12,000 to obtain a student, they will start to see the wisdom of academic customer service. Not retail, but academic – two very different things. And the tide is starting to turn, my books such as The Power of Retention (published through www.adminbookshelf.com) are selling very briskly and my zine picks up over a thousand new readers a week.