Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day 74 - The increasing cost of time

If there is one thing non-traditional students have a shortage of, it’s time. There are just not enough hours in the day, despite our best efforts to cram as much into 24 hours as possible.

With what feels like an ever-decreasing supply of time, and the simultaneous increasing demands for our time from professors, other students, family members – and marketers of all persuasions – we’ve installed filters on our computers to separate the “important stuff” from all the “noise.” It is my experience that all college students feel the same way about their email inboxes. At most schools, students are provided a free email account, but many don’t use that address at all; at best, they don’t check it often enough. This leads to missing pertinent info and often necessary messages.

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In speaking with many of my peers, traditional and non-traditional students alike, I’ve heard over and over that they simply “don’t have enough time,” let alone an interest in processing every message, announcement and newsletter the university sends them. Combine these with messages from professors, social sites, family members, the administration offices and the enormous amount of “spam” directed at college students today, and you’ve got a recipe for rampant miscommunication.

Given all these new computer filters, how can any company or university, “create" time for students to communicate with them?

The first thing they can do is understand why the filters are there in the first place. They protect our sanity and send one distinct message - don’t interrupt me and don’t bombard me with constant communication. Got it? Sometimes, the weekly newsletter is not worth the time it asks us to give. If something more valuable was offered, students might reconsider.

Colleges need to create programs that actually give value to their consumer - students. We want to share, learn, question and collaborate with our institutions, not simply “follow directions." We aren't here to purchase our degrees; we came to buy an education. A good place to start would be to investigate student interests and our communication spaces. Meet us where we live.

Find out what students are interested in (really) and then provide opportunities that match both students’ desires and university goals. One place to look is within social media. It's very easy today to study the content of numerous social sites and find out what your students are saying and doing with their time. Does the college or university website provide any good reason for students to visit it regularly, like tracking our individual performance against goals or receiving coaching on a regular basis? Is the website interesting, attractive or fun? Most important, is it user friendly?

Other questions colleges should be asking about their online presence, even in email communications with students, include: Could they be better targeted? Could they be more entertaining? Is a spokesperson accessible and responsive to the audience? Can students and faculty members participate in any way?

Students could and should serve as brand advocates who help universities tell their unique stories and attract future students. A great school is one whose students tell great stories about it. Who is talking about your university? Do the students have a voice? Everyone needs to be part of this conversation.

A successful college or university is a “brand.” No doubt, brands today have to work harder to provide value in exchange for students’ time. The trade for time (attention) works best when the university listens to what students are saying – and what they are not saying.

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