Writing About What’s Wrong and What’s Right in Admission

First, some interesting news this morning: Goucher College in Baltimore, a fine liberal-arts college, has announced it will no longer require a transcript for admission purposes.  Instead, students have the option of submitting some writing samples along with a short application and a self-made video of up to two minutes in length.

Predictably, comments on Higher Ed websites have equated this decision with all sorts of societal ills, some suggesting this is a sign of the downfall of civilization. More predictably, many people appear not to have read the news release or watched the video that explained it all, preferring instead to react to a headline suggesting a video was all it took to get admitted, or that you couldn’t still apply the old-fashioned way.  Of course, there is the usual selection of cynical comments (hey, I’m cynical, and these people have nothing on me…): Goucher is desperate, this is a publicity stunt, they’re open admissions anyway (because their admit rate is over 25%, apparently).  And of course, the famous, “This is to game the USNWR ratings,” a favorite of non-thinking people everywhere.

I’ve written before, both here and here and here  (and many other places) that there is a lot wrong with the way we do college admissions.  The system needs a good shakeup, at least in process, and perhaps, ala Goucher, in concept.

It’s no secret that, although we can tell with some degree of certainty who’s going to be able to pass academic muster in our universities based on an admissions file, we have very little capacity to predict which student is going to be the superstar and who’s going to just scrape by. The transcript is the best we have, but it’s far from perfect and it’s far from complete. It’s like minor league batting average and major league performance; yes, there is some connection, but it’s far from predictable. Or Heisman Trophy winners and NFL careers.  Or NBA draft picks. Despite all the science and numbers that go evaluation of future professional athletes, there are human elements that defy description, measure, and interpretation.  We should try, whenever possible, to get at that information, and try new approaches.

It’s curious how vested some people seem to be in what happens at colleges they don’t know much about.  As one commenter on one of the sites said, the only one with real skin in the game is Goucher; they’re taking all the risk, and this makes outside criticism very strange indeed.

Having gone through the crap of uninformed critics when we went test-optional at DePaul, I wish Goucher the best.  And I encourage others to take bold steps in this direction.  Higher Education is cursed with incremental change that lags behind society’s pace.  Something like this is exciting.

Onto the bad stuff: Flagler College recently released a report detailing the investigation and findings of the mis-reporting of admissions data over several years, and puts the blame solely at the foot of the former VP for Enrollment Management.  A hat tip to Jim Jump, former NACAC President, for posting this on the NACAC list today.

It points out all that is bad about admissions, and, to a lesser extent, the society in which admissions operates.  Extreme pressure in EM is not rare, and it often comes from boards or presidents or provosts who are driven by those input measures of prestige the industry is so focused on.  As is often the case, no one seemed to be able to tell that the numbers had been inflated for several years: No one said, “You know, this class doesn’t seem like a class with an average ACT of 24…I’d say it’s more like a 22.9.”  One professor did notice at the student-level that some of his students had in-class performance inconsistent with reported test scores, and the smoking gun was an audit trail in which the former VP actually edited student records to get the numbers, rather than just changing the averages, as seems to have been the case at most places.

Jim Jump discounts the conclusion of the lone gunman, and I do too, as I did in the Claremont-McKenna case.  But regardless, it’s clear that cheating happens because it gets rewarded.  And it gets rewarded because people who have a lot to say frequently don’t understand our business.  None of which excuses it, of course.

If you think about it, these responses are two sides of the same coin: In both instances, someone is responding to an admissions process that just doesn’t serve anyone except the ones it’s always served very well. And it’s a great lesson in how you respond to problems: Do you curse the darkness, or light a candle?

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Thinking–All Wrong–About Low-income Students

Maybe, I thought to myself, the problem is that we allow people who really have no concept of how higher education works to have too much say in the discussion.  Higher education is a fairly esoteric little world; even accountants find it hard to move to a job in a university because the way we do things is so different compared to the rest of civilization.  And before I begin, I admit: This might be the problem.

Warning: There are a lot of links here, and if you want to understand my points, you’re going to have to do a lot of reading and synthesizing. If the unexamined life is not worth living, then the unexamined newspaper article might not be worth reading.

This article in the New York Times, titled Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges is a great example. I suppose most people could read it and think, “Yeah, that makes sense.”  And yet, at almost every turn, there’s something that’s just flat out wrong, or, at least a conclusion not supported by the data or my experience (for what the latter is worth.)

Let’s start with the headline, and that word: Elite, a word that appears ten times in the article.  What, exactly, does it mean?  It probably means “selective” although it’s not clear.  Harvard is elite, of course, but not as elite as it used to be, if you believe the numbers.  As I’ve written before, our collective fascination with the term “selective” (an input measure) as a indicator of something important continues to baffle me.  Regardless, this tiny little sliver of the higher education world still fascinates us, and, I believe distracts us from the colleges where we do most of the working and paying and living and dying.  (That link is just for fun.)

We’re told that “This is partly because students are more likely to graduate and become leaders in their fields if they attend competitive colleges.”  Read this, about Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion of the difference between selection effects and treatment effects.  He says it very well: Social scientists distinguish between what are known as treatment effects and selection effects. The Marine Corps, for instance, is largely a treatment-effect institution. It doesn’t have an enormous admissions office grading applicants along four separate dimensions of toughness and intelligence. It’s confident that the experience of undergoing Marine Corps basic training will turn you into a formidable soldier. A modelling agency, by contrast, is a selection-effect institution. You don’t become beautiful by signing up with an agency. You get signed up by an agency because you’re beautiful. Sound familiar?  Change beauty to wealth.  Read again.

Second, the continual sense of surprise that somehow–against all odds–kids from low-income families appear to be, actually, not dumb.  From the article: “there are many high school seniors from low-income homes with top grades and scores: twice the percentage in the general population as at elite colleges.”  Mercy, who’d ever have thunk that? You think I’m exaggerating, of course, but consider these two snippets of wisdom, one I heard in a room of 200 or so people, and one from the Chronicle of Higher Education.  

First, a dean of admission at one of the Ivy League Institutions said this (from my memory, so not verbatim, but I’ve asked enough people who were there, and they all agree): “We spend all our time at <Ivy League Institution> trying to recruit low-income students, which we define as coming from family incomes of under $60,000.  (As an aside, the median family income in the US is about $55,000. But I digress.) But you have to remember, at <Ivy League Institution> you have to be able to write.  You have to be able to work on your own.  And you have to do an independent project.  And there just aren’t enough low-income students who can do that work.” (Emphasis mine, although it was of course, the punchline of the story.)  Second, Harry Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College, writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “What’s appalling is that so few low-income students can do college-level work anywhere. For example, in my home state, where people supposedly care about education, only 115 of 343 high schools had average total SAT scores above the “college and career ready” threshold of 1580. The lower-performing schools are, of course, disproportionately those in low-income districts. You would have to do more than redistribute admissions slots the way you want to redistribute wealth—”As far as I’m concerned, that money [the trillions accumulated by the 1 percent] belongs to the rest of us”—before you’ll have English professors at Harvard and Yale teaching Middlemarch to kids with 400 verbals.”  Of course, the equation of SAT scores–which really predict wealth a lot better than they predict freshman grade point–and academic ability is another matter altogether. 

Maybe–just maybe–the term “elite” means “uncluttered by poor people.”  And maybe that’s the problem?

There are also statements in the article that show a lack of understanding about how higher education finance is done: “Colleges generally spend 4 percent to 5 percent of their endowments per year on financial aid, prompting some administrators to cite this rough math: Sustaining one poor student who needs $45,000 a year in aid requires $1 million in endowment devoted to that purpose; 100 of them require $100 million. Only the wealthiest schools can do that, and build new laboratories, renovate dining halls, provide small classes and bid for top professors.”

Ugh.  So. Much. Wrong.  First, colleges may spend 4%-5% of the endowment value every year, but it’s likely very little of that is actually spent on financial aid.  There are several reasons for this, the first being that much of endowment income is restricted to certain types of expenditures.  The second is that most financial aid is not an expense like salaries or utilities; it’s a contra-revenue, or a discount.  The third is that the actual net cost of an average student is far less than the sticker price; and the fourth is the assumption, debated elsewhere, and too much for this blog post, that “top professors”–many of whom almost never see an undergraduate–should be a priority in the first place. (And no, I’m not saying universities don’t need high quality faculty.)

Of course, no article on the state of low-income kids would be complete without explicit or tacit swipes at enrollment management, and there are at least two here.  The first is subtle, suggesting that “merit aid” is the problem, despite the fact that universities that give “merit aid” (which is a meaningless term anyway on its face) enroll, on average more poor students, probably precisely because they give merit aid.  Additionally, we apparently don’t enroll poor kids because of enrollment management, if you ask Michael Bastedo of the University of Michigan: “But enrollment management is so sophisticated that they know pretty clearly how much each student would cost.”

And finally, we have reference to my old arch-nemesis, “Need-blind admission,” which I’ve written several times before, does not exist. “You can make big statements about being accessible, and have need-blind admissions and really low net prices for low-income kids, but still enroll very few of those low-income kids, by doing minimal outreach,” said Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College. “There has to be a commitment to go out and find them.”

And yet, it’s so hard to find them. Apparently.  If you’re looking mostly in New England prep schools, for sure.

Some hints about what the problem might be:

I believe many of the factors that exclude low-income students have a lot to do with things other than money, and they start with unseen and unquestioned assumptions people make.  As Morton Schapiro states accurately and with a bit of delicious irony: 

“I think we were a little naïve,” said Morton O. Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, a former president of Williams College and, like Dr. Hill at Vassar, an economist specializing in the economics of higher education. “Cost remains a barrier, but so does perception”, he said, adding, “It’s a psychology and sociology thing, as well as a pricing thing.”

Whether he means on the part of the students or on the part of the university is, I suspect, subject to interpretation.  But if I had to bet, I know where I’d put my money.

Disruption may be coming (at last)

A while ago, I wrote a guest blog post on the Washington Post, about using Google to manage the American college and university application process.  I got some good response to it: A lot of people thought there was some merit to the idea; some thought I was crazy, and many suggested that this was an example of the “McDonald’s Syndrome.”  That is, when you get into one of those situations at work where everyone wants to go to lunch, but no one can offer an idea, you simply say, “Let’s go to McDonald’s.” People are suddenly inspired to come up with something better.

I still believe the whole college selection process is–at least from my standpoint–backwards: Price is often the last consideration for many families, because it’s the most mysterious part of the process, on purpose. This hit home with me earlier this spring, when I sat down with a neighbor and her extraordinarily high-achieving daughter, who had six admissions but wasn’t sure they could afford any of them. Something seems wrong.

As I was thinking about this on my long train ride into the city this week, I recalled a conversation in the late-1990’s with Tedd Kelly, who was the founder of CERR, the Consultants for Educational Research and Resources. Tedd recognized that the way we do college admissions was backwards, because cost is the last thing that gets decided. (In fact, we purposely tell most students we can’t tell them the cost until April, after they’ve completed a FAFSA.)  Tedd set up a website and a business called “ECollegeBid.”  Students could indicate their profile, and how much they were willing and able to pay, and colleges could accept their offer to get them to enroll. Cost was right up front; the details flowed from it.

It was a disruptive idea that is like almost all disruptive ideas in Higher Education: It never seems to work when it comes from the inside, because the disruptors have too much to lose.

But as we go through another year of angst and agony about admissions, and now about financial aid and affordability, true disruption may be coming from another source: The Federal Government.  I’m not sure anyone I’ve talked to has considered how truly disruptive the prior-prior year (PPY) proposals could be.

The current financial aid process requires parents to complete the FAFSA in the spring of the senior year of their child’s high school education, after applications have been filed. It’s always a mad rush, and often must be completed before the parents have their taxes completed, which makes the results tentative.  If you’re applying for Fall 2014, you use 2013 income data.

With PPY, you’d fill out that form in the student’s junior year, any time you can, and almost always after taxes are filed.  You could get the FAFSA (or Profile) results before senior year begins.  You could talk to colleges about costs very early, even before applications are filed.

This could be very good for students, of course:

  • It could erase most of the uncertainty for parents.
  • Students might be surprised by the range of options available to them in the end; many students end up paying about the same at private colleges as publics, but never find out because of sticker shock.
  • It could radically revise the way in which merit aid is used.

But it could scare the daylights out of colleges. Consider what might happen:

  • Students wouldn’t have to apply to as many colleges to ensure they have an affordable option because they’d know costs up front.
  • Applications would fall, and colleges who define themselves by a low admit rate might struggle to make sense of the new reality.
  • Cost becomes an important part of the consideration process in ways it never has before, as most rational people think it should be.
  • Yield projections would be difficult if not impossible in the first couple years. Colleges would not know how many students to admit to make their class.
  • It would be difficult to work with parents who have income that varies wildly from one year to the next.
  • But most important, one of the most sacred of all the sacred cows–the May 1 Candidate’s Reply Date–might be a thing of the past.

Imagine that: If you no longer have to wait until May 1 to know final costs, colleges could institute several application cycles, and insist on earlier deposits: A sort of multiple Early Decisions on steroids.  As spots become filled in each cycle, fewer are available in the next.

Is this frightening?  Suppose we had always done it this way, and I suggested we switch things around, and make cost a total mystery until a month before you have to decide?

Tell me what you think. What else might be the unintended consequences of PPY?

Free Tuition: A Great Idea, right? Right?

There has been a lot of discussion recently about several free tuition programs that are under consideration. Because I frequently point out that we’re not sending enough poor kids to college in this country, you’d think I’d be all gaga about the possibility.  You would be wrong.

This is because of one simple reason: Free tuition would almost certainly limit poor students’ access to bachelor’s degree attainment.

In addition, most students from very-low income families can already go to college for free, or close to it.  In Illinois, by way of example, families with incomes under $50,000 who qualify for both Pell and MAP can cover direct costs (tuition, fees and books) with cash back for personal expenses at the community college in my home district. (This cash, of course, does not cover foregone earnings and the opportunity cost of it.)  It would also cover a considerable percentage of the bill at the state flagship here.  And I’d agree that those two sources should cover more.

The problem is not the idea: The problem is how it plays out.

First, lots of these programs are “last dollar” awards; that is, they’re offered only after all sources of state and federal government money are exhausted by the student.  This can actually make “free” a bad deal for students compared to the current method.

But more important, lots of economists have researched and written about “Free.”  It causes humans to react irrationally, at least based on an economist’s definition of rational.  It creates want in addition to demand (which is want backed up by the ability to pay.)  It creates want among people who otherwise wouldn’t purchase it: Even those who light their cigars with $100 bills (I’ve never really seen anyone do this, of course, but it’s still a nice metaphor.)  At Union Station in Chicago, I’ve seen lawyers in  $2000 suits line up for a “free” sample they wouldn’t pay one penny for.

If you want to see how “Free” has played out in Georgia, you can find lots of evidence to suggest that wealthy students benefit from free way more than poor students do.  Here. Here. And here. Since wealthy people vote more often, free tuition for the wealthy seems like a good idea to remain in office.

If the colleges offer “Free” to everyone who wants it, we have no problem.  But, of course, supply of anything is not unlimited; it’s constrained by lots of things at universities: Campus capacity, faculty teaching loads, and the government’s lack of willingness to give away too much of anything.

So what happens if lots of people line up for “Free?”  The thing being offered gets rationed, of course.  In a university, this is often viewed as a good thing: We just call it “increasingly selectivity.”  And when colleges and universities go into rationing mode, they start looking for rational ways to ration it.  From my previous post about why there is no such thing as need-blind admissions, look at the things that go into admissions decisions at institutions that consider themselves at least moderately selective:

Admissions Factor Wealthier Students and/or from Wealthier Schools Poorer Students and/or from Poorer Schools Advantage
Test Scores Wealthier students come from schools with access to expensive test-prep and can take the tests multiple time May not know how tests work, what the differences  Wealthy students
Advanced Courses/Rigor Wealthier students come from private schools or higher-income public schools with greater access to AP, Honors, IB and other courses  Likely to come from schools with fewer options for advanced courses; especially if prerequisites require planning from freshman year Wealthy students
Essays Essays may be written, edited, groomed, and polished, sometimes over a year’s time Unless the importance of the essay is clearly understood, there may be little or no editing or reviewing by adults Wealthy students
Letters of Recommendation Counselors and teachers are expected to write letters designed to give the student every advantage in the process Letters may be written by counselors or teachers who do not understand the game, or may not even know the student well Wealthy students
Activities Resumes are carefully designed to highlight leadership, volunteer activities, and activities tied to school and campus culture More likely to include jobs that detract from school activity options, but may be financially necessary  Wealthy students
Legacy Status More likely to have college-educated parents Less likely to have college educated parents Wealthy students
Diversity Less likely to be from an underrepresented group More likely to be from an underrepresented group Poorer students

And, as I’ve written before, when a public or private university raises the threshold on something like SAT Scores for admission (whether consciously or unconsciously,) poor kids get screwed.  They get screwed because when you’re selecting students, you choose the ones who have the educational benefits of wealth.

So, here’s the deal: If public universities won’t use “Free” as a mechanism to keep out the very students whom “Free” should help, I’m all for it.  I just don’t see that it’s very likely to play out that way.

One more time: “Need-blind admission” does not exist

The teaser in email from the New York times was promising:

ScreenHunter_01 Apr. 13 10.34

It’s generally a good article, pointing out the arbitrary definition of need and how it varies from one college to another.  It demonstrates how out-of pocket costs for any student can swing wildly, even among the institutions that claim to meet full need (do loans count?) But the article falls short in one important area: While there is at least one expert who casts some doubt on the concept of “need-blind admissions,” the premise largely survives the article unscathed.

I’ve said before, and will say it again: There is no such thing as need blind admissions.

There are two big reasons for this:

  • First, at the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities, enrolling the overwhelming majority of college students, there is no full-pay student waiting in line to take the spot of a poor student who is denied. Most colleges and universities accept the majority of applications they receive; it’s even more pronounced than that visual might suggest, because many colleges use “Fast Apps/Snap Apps/VIP Apps” and other mechanisms to artificially inflate application numbers from students who have almost zero percent chance of enrolling.  Others recruit students who have almost no chance of being admitted.  Rejected students are grist for the mill in the industry.  But in essence, most colleges have to accept low-income students if they expect to make the class. Thus, they are effectively need blind, but not on the basis of some moral principle; they really have no choice.
  • But at that very small sliver of universities that claim to be need-blind and that could swap a poor student for a wealthy one–the ones who wear “need-blind” as badge of honor–the term is fairly ridiculous on its face.  It’s probably true, of course, that the admissions officer does not look at family income or FAFSA results while reviewing the file.  But ignoring income, and ignoring the residual effects of low-income are two entirely different things. The way our current admissions process works, virtually every other factor considered favors wealthier students, and/or students from wealthier high schools. Don’t believe me?  Consider:
Admissions Factor Wealthier Students and/or from Wealthier Schools Poorer Students and/or from Poorer Schools Advantage
Test Scores Wealthier students come from schools with access to expensive test-prep and can take the tests multiple time May not know how tests work, what the differences are Wealthy students
Advanced Courses/Rigor Wealthier students come from private schools or higher-income public schools with greater access to AP, Honors, IB and other courses  Likely to come from schools with fewer options for advanced courses; especially if prerequisites require planning from freshman year Wealthy students
Essays Essays may be written, edited, groomed, and polished, sometimes over a year’s time Unless the importance of the essay is clearly understood, there may be little or no editing or reviewing by adults Wealthy students
Letters of Recommendation Counselors and teachers are expected to write letters designed to give the student every advantage in the process Letters may be written by counselors or teachers who do not understand the game, or may not even know the student well Wealthy students
Activities Resumes are carefully designed to highlight leadership, volunteer activities, and activities tied to school and campus culture More likely to include jobs that detract from school activity options, but may be financially necessary  Wealthy students
Legacy Status More likely to have college-educated parents Less likely to have college educated parents Wealthy students
Diversity Less likely to be from an underrepresented group More likely to be from an underrepresented group Poorer students

With odds like that, how can anyone say that need is not a factor in admissions?  And if you still need some more evidence, take a look at how this plays out even at public institutions.

So, can we please stop using this term?

Demographics: Numbers Behind the Numbers Matter

We hear it all the time: Demographics are changing.  And of course, they are.  But turmoil in higher education goes way beyond just the numbers of people who might be graduating from high school.

I’ve been doing a presentation on our campus to talk to people about how things are changing: Important economic and societal shifts that we in higher education cannot control.  These changes over time have buoyed, and now threaten to weaken or sink, many institutions of higher education in the US.

Let’s look at a few of them.  If you want these slides, they’re available for download via a link at the bottom. If you want to see the whole presentation, you’ll have to come work at DePaul.  Most of the charts come from data visualizations on my other blog, where you can see the sources of the data and other notes.

First, High School Graduates:

The light blue bars show WICHE data with the number of high school graduates in the US over time, from 1996 to 2027.  Years after 2012 are projected.  The lines show the composition of that number, broken out by ethnicity; purple for Caucasian, red for Hispanic; orange for African-American, green for Asian, and blue for Native American. As you can see, numbers are at a low point, which is bad.  They get better, which is good.  But the composition changes, which, from a purely statistical standpoint, is bad.

Click on any of the charts for a larger view

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 24 13.46

 

Why does the composition matter? Because race and ethnicity still matter in the US, for a lot of reasons. But statistically, different ethnic groups go to college at very different rates.

ScreenHunter_05 Mar. 24 13.47

In case you were not aware, income also matters in the US.  To no one’s surprise, students from wealthier families also attend college at greater-than-average rates.

ScreenHunter_07 Mar. 24 13.48

Do we have data on income? Yes, of course, if you look at PUMS Data from the American Community Survey (a 1% sample of the population, conducted annually).  This is children by age group for families in Chicago with incomes of $150,000 or more.  Note that these families have fewer younger children in (gold bars), and that parental educational attainment may be the single strongest predictor of a student’s propensity to go to and graduate from college :

ScreenHunter_12 Mar. 24 14.51

 

Now look at families in Chicago who will need aid–a lot of aid–to graduate: Based on parental attainment, income, and ethnicity, these students are far less likely to pursue any post-secondary education. And their populations are generally getting bigger.  This is driving the “rebound” in high school graduates in coming years.  Of course, this is just Chicago, but my visualization has all metro areas in the US (it’s too large to upload to the Tableau Public Server), and most areas look something like this, with local variance, of course.

ScreenHunter_10 Mar. 24 13.49

So, if you thought things were tough now, it’s not going to get any better in the foreseeable future, especially if universities continue to do things the same way they always have.

These slides are available for download here.

Sorry, everyone: Students are not customers

Most dumb ideas are hatched by men, so I’m going to assume that whoever it was that first uttered “Students are our customers,” was probably a guy.  I’d like to kick him on his butt, although since I’m generally a pacifist, I probably wouldn’t given the chance.  Still…

The idea has been floating around as long as I can remember, probably from the very beginning of my career.  When the dumb guy first spoke the words that shall not be named, he probably meant something like, “We owe the people who pay for their education some respect; let’s not serve crappy food in the cafeteria, or make them wait needlessly in line to register (this was a long time ago, remember), and let’s make sure we keep class content up-to-date with current research and thinking.  They deserve that from us.” And, of course, it’s hard to argue with that.  If that’s what you meant, dumb guy, I apologize for calling you a knucklehead all these years.  But I do wish you would have used a different word.

The debate,cicada-like, comes back to life every so often, usually by someone who thinks they’ve discovered a new concept; and it gets kicked around, only to die off quickly and leave a bunch of bug carcasses around your back yard.  Here are the remnants of the most recent iteration.

The most obvious problem, of course, is that students don’t really know or understand what they’re “buying” in the first place.  They come to us precisely because they’re generally ignorant of what they need.  If you’re feeling bad and you go to the doctor and say, “I have a virus; give me an antibiotic,”  the doctor has an obligation to first try to figure out what’s wrong, and then, should your self-diagnosis be correct, inform you that antibiotics don’t work on a virus.”  In a similar way, we say, “If you want to be educated, this is what we say you need to do.”  And of course, no university and no doctor is ever completely right about that 100% of the time. But neither treats the people who come to them as customers.

If students were customers, and they said, “We want a keg of beer on the floor at all times,” we’d oblige.  If they wanted to get an “A” by paying extra, we’d offer that for sale.  We do neither.

Mostly, though, my criticism stems for one undeniable fact: The transactional model of business/customer just does not hold up under closer scrutiny. Consider these three scenarios:

  • You walk onto the lot of the Toyota dealer, cash in hand, and point to the model you want.  The Toyota dealer says, “Hey, not so fast.  I need to make sure you’re capable of driving first, and that you’d benefit from owning this car.”
  • You do actually buy the car, but after two months, the dealer calls you to take it back, because you’re not keeping it up to their standards.
  • Or, ten years after you buy the Toyota, someone from the “Office of Proud Toyota Owners” calls you, asks you to remember the good times you had driving your Toyota, and asks you to write a check so that others can similarly benefit from owning their own Toyota.

Is there a better model, or maybe just a better word?  I don’t think we really need a new word; we have one: It’s student.  But if you somehow feel you can’t inspire people by saying, “We should treat our students like students,” how about member?

If we treat students like members, we retain the right to refuse their money if we don’t think they can benefit from what we offer.  We can insist they live up to certain requirements to keep their membership current and in good standing. We can strive to make their experiences in the cafeteria, or the registration (electronic) lines, or the classroom as good as they can be.  And, years after they’ve “purchased” their final goods and services from us, we can ask them to renew their membership at an affiliate level.

And I’ll never have to disparage the dumb guy with my silly rants again.