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Students as Customers | 4 minute read

Are You Doing Everything You Can To Deliver On Your Access Mission?

Adult learners are looking for three things from their education experience: speed, affordability, and relevance. 

The reason community and technical college leaders need to pay attention to all three factors is because today’s learners are discerning customers, and frankly aren’t swayed by program quality alone.

Additionally, the factor we all need to be aware of is that for these learners, if their expectations aren’t met they won’t necessarily find another education provider who can better meet their needs. They’re vulnerable to predatory players in the space, or may decide to simply forgo their education altogether.

“Coming to a community college means much more than completing a couple of years of coursework at a reduced tuition rate,” wrote Eric Friedman, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Hudson County Community College. “It means planting your feet firmly on a path to advanced degrees and a life previously unimagined.”

To ensure community colleges continue to support the growth and development of their communities—and protect their citizens from making potentially harmful decisions—it’s therefore essential to ensure the college is able to meet all three expectations of their prospective students.

This means beginning to think less like Harvard, and more like Amazon. We all know there are prestigious universities that will continue to receive more applications than it has spots and they’re able to be incredibly picky about who they accept. We also all know that community colleges don’t operate this way. As open access institutions, colleges have a responsibility to provide access to critical learning opportunities to those who need it.

So why do colleges insist on building processes and approaches to enrollment management and retention that mirror the Ivy Leagues? If access-focused institutions are going to meet their mission of serving their communities, they need to simplify the pathways to the outcomes students expect.

“Community colleges are traditionally built on a one-size-fits-all strategy. We build programs and systems that are predicated on the past notion that the majority of our students are coming to us right out of high school and can attend our institutions full-time, and that the world revolves around a semester-based academic schedule,” said Ian Roark, Vice President of Workforce Development at Pima Community College.

“The reality is that the vast majority of our students are not of that age group. They’re working adults and they need customization—not out of a sense of entitlement, but because their lives are complex. Customization is about access—something we educators often value from a social justice standpoint—and the customer satisfaction that comes from it is an added bonus.” 

In short: if community and technical colleges want to increase their enrollments and retention, they need to meet learners where they are and deliver an experience that meets their high expectations.

But how to go about that?

For a start, look at and mirror the best practices of the most customer-centric organizations on earth: Amazon, Uber, GrubHub and other companies that provide convenient access to critical products and services.

 These companies go out of their way to make it as easy as possible for their customers to access their desired endpoint. For GrubHub, that’s a meal delivered to your door. For a community college, that’s the ability to learn skills and abilities that can transform your life.

 And, once customers are on-board, these companies go above-and-beyond to ensure they stay engaged. But that doesn’t mean selling branded Amazon or Uber clothing for customers to wear, or inviting them to occasional social events. They simply ensure customers have a great experience, get what they expect, and want to continue using the service.

For community and technical colleges this is absolutely in scope. You can offer stackable programs. You can forge ties with employers through your career services and workforce development divisions.

 But most importantly, you can—and should!—offer students a great experience that makes them feel comfortable with their enrollment decision. And this starts with allowing them to own as much of their experience as possible.

 Your students should be able to register themselves quickly and easily, and gain immediate access to as much course material as possible (regardless of the start date). They should be able to check their progress toward completion, print off their receipts and access their transcripts without having to wait for staff help.

 These are the hallmarks of a modern customer experience, and they’re within reach for every community college.

To learn more about how you can offer your students the control over their experience that they expect, download our whitepaper here.