This series of mini-briefings is based on generalizations arising from the study of elective drops in non-residential (AKA: in adult-centered, non-traditional) higher education programs of study. Among the central generalizations are: (a) elective drops are most accurately modeled as critical events that can progress in a matter of days from initiation to execution; (b) trying to improve retention with predictive modeling, a method growing in popularity largely due to sales initiatives, is unlikely to produce results above chance levels in a well-controlled experiment; importantly, predictive modeling's tagging of potential drops cannot predict specific drops within the actual event horizon; (c) the most effective way to improve retention is to develop a genuine relationship with students such that they feel comfortable to, and will, reach out for help early in a rapidly developing drop event.
Tips in this series describe something you can do to improve retention that does not require adopting a complete system with which to manage retention with precision. At the same time, each tip is congruent with the kind of precision managed system we know to be most effective.
Tip: Respect Your Counselors
The Retention Counselor role is at the center of the precision managed retention system. The Counselor creates and maintains relationships with students, and is the first line of response for any student problems or concerns. Creating and maintaining an effective retention-focused relationship requires strategic and tactical outbound communications and depends upon the Counselor's judgment regarding the state of the relationship.
Not a Call Center
The goal of InterEd's precision managed retention system is to establish relationships with students such that when they feel pressures to withdraw (academic, family, work, etc.) they reach out to discuss the matter with their Counselor. When this occurs, the Counselor must be able to assist the student and talk honestly and openly about choices and consequences. People who can perform this role effectively are empowered professionals. We are surprised when schools characterize this approach as a "call center" that they think they can staff with student workers or when they assert that their new automated email or texting system can address this need.
Qualifications & Longevity in Role
Retention Counselors grow into their role in six to 12 months and remain effective for several years thereafter. For this reason, a relationship-oriented retention program cannot become effective with the turnover rates generally associated with call center business rules and compensation. Compensation, advancement, and other incentives should be developed around a two to five year longevity projection.
The importance of longevity does not ignore the fact that retention counselors are typically young and/or near the start of their careers in higher education. Recognizing the needs for maturity, some institutions prefer to hire mid-career professionals with advanced degrees but attempt to compensate at the level of entry positions. This decision can increase turnover which, in turn, diminishes results. In addition, institutions mistakenly tend to prefer individuals with previous higher education experience despite evidence that experience in strong customer service organizations is a better predictor of success as a Retention Counselor.
How to Show Respect
The most common mistake we see is treating Retention Counselors as non-professional staff. Even if you are restricted in your compensation options, other benefits, considerations, and signs of importance and respect can be implemented.
- Make them salaried employees.
- Provide them with offices of equal status compared to staff members at similar levels (Admissions Advisors, for example).
- Empower them through training and information access to address a variety of student problems.
- Celebrate wins 51%; manage shortfall 49%.