The College Board Forum 2010, Washington DC

October 30, 2010 –

RPI’s Jack Mahoney provided a quiz to attendees at Friday’s College Board Forum panel entitled “Reflecting on Retention: What Are People Thinking?”  Relax.  It was True/False exam. 

Jack was attempting to explode some myths about retention.  Here are four of his questions to see how you might have done with the test.  Check for the answers below.

  • Since 1970, retention rates in the United States have been falling?
  • Eighteen-year old males are more likely to be retained than eighteen-year old females?
  • Non-athletes are retained at higher rates than athletes.
  • The first six weeks of the first year in college are always the greatest period of risk for new students.

Jack was joined on the panel by Doris Tegart of Bellarmine University and Maguire Associates’ Pat Casey.  Doris and Pat each briefly discussed findings from our recent Leadership Retention Survey (click here for Insights coverage of the survey).  In commenting on how institutions frequently use committees to manage retention issues, a topic explored in our retention survey, Doris underscored the strength of taking the opposite approach.  “Xavier University has a retention czar; that’s what they call him.  That kind of empowerment really works,” she added.

Pat described Maguire Associates’ holistic model for retention, identifying eight dimensions in which institutions should excel:

  1. Organize to address retention issues,
  2. Know why students leave
  3. Track at-risk students
  4. Intervene to prevent attrition
  5. Promise only what the institution can deliver
  6. Deliver the desired experience
  7. Enroll students likely to persist, and
  8. Reframe the significance of attrition.

Jack then created quite a stir when he showed attendees RPI’s award-winning data warehousing system and its associated dashboards.  From our vantage point, RPI’s work here represents a definitive best practice.  The interest expressed by attendees in this remarkable system certainly validated our opinion.

And by the way, the correct answer to all four of Jack’s questions is False.  

Click here for a copy of this presentation.

Jack Mahoney of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Doris Tegart of Bellarmine University


Day 3 – October 29, 2010

What Is Educationomics?

We believe the term “educationomics” was coined by our good friend, Jon McGee of the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University.  It captures in one concept the choices, challenges, and new frugalities in higher education born of the Great Recession.  After all, we’ve had 15 years of unprecedented good times in higher education that officially ended in 2008-2009.  In the span of just one year, the demographic and economic wave our industry surfed to great new heights had crashed ashore. 

Jon was joined by Joe Russo of the University of Notre Dame and our own Kathy Dawley, President of Maguire Associates, for a College Board Forum 2010 panel discussion yesterday focused on these shifting economic trends.  To access their presentation, click here.  Joe suggested that the changing economic landscape has created a “forced frugality,” not only for students and families but for institutions and governments, too.  He added that as typically happens when economies emerge from recession, consumers are now even more informed and empowered.  Joe spoke of the new transparency made possible by the Net Price Calculator (NPC) mandate, in that context, comparing the coming wave of transparency – complete with its share of consumer confusion, too – to other epochal changes in higher education such as the GI Bill and Sputnik.  For more on the Maguire Associates white paper on the NPC and the Second Wave of Consumer Transparency in Higher Education, click here

Jon illustrated how the new economics combine with ever-changing demographics to create a “tidal pool of uncertainty” for college and university administrators.  Now more than ever, the burden is on institutions to listen carefully to market signals in order to make sense of these uncertainties.  This was a point illustrated by Kathy Dawley later in the presentation, too.  Jon identified four “pressures” that administrators are experiencing in the current environment: 1) affordability, 2) accountability, 3) sustainability, and 4) differentiation and value.  Interestingly, he added that accountability pressures are forcing institutions to focus even more on outcomes.  “If we don’t describe these outcomes for them (students and families), they’ll prescribe them for us,” he warned.  On the sustainability front, Jon told the audience of something Joe had said to him years ago, “We’re not for profit, but we’re not for loss, either.”  The chuckles and murmurs in the large audience illustrated the uncomfortable reality that institutions must keep an unrelenting eye on income and cash flow in order to fulfill their missions.  Jon concluded that the traditional enrollment management funnel could be replaced by a consumer-oriented continuum, moving from Discovery to Consideration to Selection.  He spoke in some detail as to how the “three E’s” – the Emotional, Experiential and Economic – fuel how people learn and make decisions about an institution.

Kathy helped Jon and Joe’s points come alive with reference to Maguire Associates’ College Decision Impact Survey 2010 (click here).  She underscored how important it is for institutions to differentiate themselves, especially in tough times, and to communicate vigorously their underlying value.  Whether or not colleges and universities are actually listening to their key constituents with market research and other tools, it is abundantly clear that those audiences are listening to what institutions are saying and watching what they’re doing.  Kathy detailed CDIS findings in the new world of Educationomics, such as:

  • Many prospective students are focused on net cost and the makeup of their financial aid package in their college decision making.
  • The majority of students expect financial assistance that covers most of their need.
  • Many students are willing to invest more in what they believe to be a higher quality education.
  • More than one-third of students do not enroll at their first choice school.

Joe summarized the session with a typology that consumers can use to measure value, and for institution’s to use in making much stronger value arguments: Transparency, Competitiveness, Sustainability, Value, Responsibility, and Measurement.  Joe’s discussion of the list echoed a critical point Jon had made earlier in the program, and something all institutions should embrace  “We need to get much better at answering the question, Why us?” 

 Day 2 – October 28, 2010

Michelle Rhee and Education Reform

NBC’s David Gregory initiated a spirited panel discussion today at The College Board Forum 2010, suggesting that “education is the new front of American patriotism.”  If that’s the case, and who’s to disagree with such a common-sense assertion, then we have much work to do to fortify this strategic front.

In that context, and painfully so, College Board President Gaston Caperton reminded us today that the United States ranks 12th among 30 developed nations in college-degree attainment, and 21st and 25th in high school science and math performance, respectively.  Against such odds, Gregory offered that attempts to reform education in this country present a very “bumpy road” – to say the least!  Indeed, fellow panelist and outgoing Washington DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee declared that, “we have a public school system in this country that’s been getting worse and worse for a number of decades now, and there’s no accountability for it.” 

Rhee said that when she assumed the DC chancellorship in 1997, 92% of the District’s public school students could not perform at grade-level mathematics.  And yet, she added, 90% of the teachers in the system thought they and their colleagues “were doing a great job.”  Rhee punctuated this point by adding that “it’s our responsibility to get real, or we’ll continue to fall further and further behind.” Everybody in the room today knew well that Rhee – America’s most controversial education reformer – is now leaving office with the recent defeat here of Mayor Adrian Fenty, her boss and chief advocate.  Most observers attribute Fenty’s loss to the very fear and opposition generated by Rhee’s necessary and sometimes quite effective reforms as well as her sometimes heavy-handed style.

This produced the perfect question from Gregory who asked, therefore, how one can possibly undertake painful reforms without getting kicked out of office.  Many folks in DC understand that Rhee lacked the “bedside manner” needed to engage large numbers of diverse people with conflicting agendas and to engineer their sense of ownership for change.  She readily admits to making mistakes in failing to do a better job in these areas.  And yet, happily, she remains unapologetic about the rightness of the cause and an unwillingness to limit or slow down her vision and passion in order to make others more comfortable.

While some on the panel spoke of the need to build sustainable reform efforts, engaging in the art of political compromise and reducing the number of opponents fearing and resisting change, Rhee’s response might well have been, phooey!  She said “sustainability to some means not ‘alienating’ (she used a stronger word) people, which is impossible. You will have to make some people mad” – and she certainly did!  Rhee believes that Gregory’s “new front of American patriotism” cannot afford slow, incremental change.  With a palpable and justifiable sense of urgency, she concluded by saying that “incrementalism is not going to produce the results our kids and their kids need and deserve.”

It will be fascinating to see where Rhee now lands, likely in California to be closer to her future husband, Sacramento Mayor (and former NBA great) Kevin Johnson.  There is a government entity somewhere out there that will benefit tremendously from a Michelle Rhee who has learned some painful lessons about interpersonal relations, but nonetheless possesses the passion and towering vision needed for us to have any chance of undertaking real and lasting school reform.


The College Board Forum 2010 panel entitled, Vision 2020: College Completion and the American Future. 


Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.


David Gregory, moderator, NBC’s Meet the Press.


Day 1 – October 27, 2010

The College Board Forum 2010 has opened in Washington DC.  Our own Jessica McWade moderated a panel this afternoon entitled, “Flying Blind: College Admission After the Economic Downturn.  The panelists provided useful, stimulating insights to an audience of nearly 100 Middle States Region attendees and included Stephanie Balmer, Vice President for Enrollment and Communications and Dean of Admissions at Dickinson College; Tracy Harris, Dean of Enrollment Services, Prince George’s Community College; and Anne Rohrbach, Executive Director, Undergraduate Admissions, Penn State.

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