For one reason or another, there seems to be increased attention among those involved with higher education on how to minimize dropouts or “churn” within their student bodies, how to recruit students, the ever-escalating cost of attending a top-grade traditional college or university, the role of for-profit schools and the role of community colleges and technical schools.
Recent headlines report: “Regents size up for-profit rivals,” “The intentional gap … taking a break between high school and college works out well for some students and results in their being more focused and set for higher education,” “New studies weigh college value, cost” and many others with similar messages.
Members of the Kansas Board of Regents apparently spent considerable time at their recent retreat “expressing concern over the ever-increasing number of students attending for-profit colleges.” Another way of putting this concern might be, “Why are students going to for-profit schools rather than to one of our schools?”
News reports indicated there were varying opinions among the regents relative to the reasons (or excuses) for why this might be the case in Kansas. Fortunately, Regent Ed McKechnie said, “They (high school graduates) are potential customers and taxpayers. If they don’t fit us, that’s not their problem, that’s our problem.”
The last paragraph on this story said, “Several higher education officials said they would study the issue more and possibly contact some of the students who chose a for-profit school over a regents university or community college to see why they made that decision.”
It doesn’t sound like the “several higher education officials” were really too concerned or alarmed over the situation.
This casual attitude causes this writer to report the observations of two Kansas University graduates who brought their daughters to Lawrence within the past several months to visit KU and consider it as their choice for a college education. These families live in other states but both have maintained close ties with KU and are extremely proud of their university. They were enthused about bringing their daughters to visit KU and wanted KU to shine.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad, embarrassing experience. These were two separate visits by two high school juniors and their mothers. These comments came from the mothers:
“First of all, the faculty assistant didn’t use correct grammar when welcoming the students and parents.”
“The student ambassador’s dress was terrible. The tight and short short-shorts were almost underwear. The top was almost the same and there was nothing KU or Jayhawk displayed on her outfit.”
“In addition to the manner in which she was dressed, she seemed uninformed and was not able to answer questions.”
One mother who hadn’t been back to campus for several years wanted to know more about certain buildings, new and old, “and the young lady had nothing to offer. In fact, she said she didn’t know. She couldn’t answer basic questions.”
“The boy who led our tour didn’t take us into any building.”
“The attitude at KU seems to be, or appears, ‘If you don’t already bleed KU and are counting on attending KU, then we don’t intend to try to woo you. There’s almost an arrogance about the university that they don’t really need or want you.”
One mother said there wasn’t any follow-up or anything in the way of saying, “We hope you enjoyed your visit to our university and we appreciate your interest in KU. Nothing!”
Compared to the situation at KU, these mothers told of their daughters’ visits to other schools, Missouri and Wisconsin, for example. “We and several of our friends who also are KU graduates, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but our daughters had the most fun at these other schools. KU did not compare. These other schools, particularly Missouri, made us and our daughters feel ‘wanted’ and this wasn’t the case at KU. We were terribly disappointed.”
One or two or even three, four or 10 such experiences don’t necessarily reflect the overall attitude of the recruiting effort at KU, as this writer knows of situations where deans and others have gone out of their way to present KU in an attractive and enthusiastic manner. Nevertheless, KU is not known for rolling out the red carpet and making a student recruiting visit to KU a true highlight of that student’s process of trying to decide which college or university to attend.
KU officials are rightfully proud of the number of new students this year, and they are quick to point to their successful recruiting efforts, but, based on the spontaneous and candid reports of several long-time, loyal KU alumni, perhaps KU might get an even higher number of top students if more attention were given to the selection, screening and training of those who meet, visit and guide parents and their sons or daughters on tours of and introductions to the university and the campus.
There’s no reason KU should take a back seat to any university in how it prepares for visits by potential students and how it treats the students and/or parents while they are on the campus.
They may decide to attend some other school, even a for-profit school, for any of a number of reasons, but it shouldn’t be because of an arrogant, we-really-don’t-care-if-you-come-to-KU attitude. The KU visit should be THE best-planned, most informative and most pleasant of any college visit. It should remain a pleasant memory no matter where the young man or woman may attend school. It should be something the accompanying parents will remember and tell their friends about.
McKechnie’s attitude and approach is right on target, and it’s unfortunate all regents and university officials and faculty do not mirror his concern.