***This is the fourth essay in a series on value in higher education. This one is focused on the role of the admissions counselor, but I’d argue that all of us (faculty, staff, administrators and board members) could benefit from focusing on the same objectives.
In preparation for a recent admissions staff retreat during which I was asked to speak about value and the value proposition we offer at Augustana, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about we do as admissions professionals and how it relates to emphasizing the value or worth of our product. I concluded that the increasing emphasis placed on recruitment has distracted us from the fundamentals of convincing a student or parent of our value.
We spend more time on “send” than we do on receive. We seek effective communicators–those who can wow during a public presentation. We seek convince based on the evidence we think is most compelling.
In order to genuinely convince people of our value and worth, we need to have a better understanding of their values and what they value, which means we need to be on “receive” more often than not. Then we need to connect the dots between what we learn and what we offer.
So, in preparation for this recent retreat I put together the following steps which I believe are necessary for admissions counselors to follow who really want to discuss value and worth.
Please let me know your thoughts and your appraoch.
W. Kent Barnds (a.k.a. bowtieadmission)
Value in Higher Education is Dependent upon Understanding Values: The role of an admissions counselor in discussing value and worth.
With credit to my friend Bob Massa (Lafayette College), I offer the following, which he often says:
Value does not equal price. Low price can be a poor value. High price does not assure value.
The role of the admissions counselor is to do the following:
Objective 1: Seek clarification of values
Before it is possible to make the case that an Augustana experience is more valuable, worth more, better, or more compelling than another college experience, we need to know what the students who we are trying to convince to invest in what we do value. We must help students and families clarify their values.
Without the knowledge of what is valuable and valued we can’t influence behavior in any meaningful way.
Do you appreciate the need to understand what a student and family believes is valuable?
Objective 2: Ask and listen
There are questions that can help us learn about value and what is valuable and we need to commit asking these questions on a regular basis. While these questions may not be asked directly as written, each counselor should seek the answers, read signals and works tirelessly to gather this information from those who we are recruiting.
- Why does the student want to go to college?
- What does the student wish to get out of a college education?
- What is the student most passionate about?
- What will make the college experience the best possible experience?
- What does the student’s parent(s) want out of the college experience?
- Has the student discussed the cost of attending college with his or her parents?
Based on the answers, direct or indirect, we should develop a “value profile,” to which we can refer throughout the recruitment process, for each of our recruits. This value profile, guided by the answers to the questions above, could be one of the most valuable recruitment resources in our arsenal as we develop closing messages. The value profile will enable us to refer to those things upon which a student has placed value.
Do these questions seem reasonable to ask? Does a value profile, guided by these questions, have merit?
Objective 3: Position what it is that we believe represents the worthiness of an Augustana education and help shape the values of those who we recruit and counsel.
It is likely that many students will struggle to answer some if not all of the questions identified above. If that’s the case, how can we develop a value profile? How can we clarify the student’s values?
The answer is pretty simple; we have the responsibility to help shape and clarify their values.
How can we do this? And, how can we do this ethically? We can ask questions that will help a student clarify values and test for a “value match.” Certainly this list of questions in endless, but some guiding questions might include:
- Is graduating in four years important to you?
- Are small classes important to you?
- Are you seeking a residential campus?
- Is expert faculty advising important to you?
- Do you want to pursue an internship? International Study? Research?
- Do you want to attend graduate or professional school after college?
- Are high job placement rates important to you?
- Are high retention rates important to you?
- Does the college reputation with employers and graduate schools matter to you?
- Are you interested in gaining broad knowledge through the liberal arts and in-depth skills in a career field?
- Is career counseling important to you?
- Is continuing (you name the activity) important to you?
- Is participating in a project that equips you to stand out from others important to you?
- Is having a mentor really knows you important to you?
- Are there other things that are really important to you?
- Does the cost to attend college supersede any other things you are looking for in a college?
See how easy it is to help guide values?
Do these questions make sense? Are they relevant? Do they position what we do successfully? Do you have a good news story to tell about each that would positively distinguish Augustana from a less expensive competitor?
Objective 4: Repeat the values you’ve heard to help the student understand his or her “values profile”
Because we all struggle to describe our values (because we it’s pretty personal stuff), it’s very important for us to repeat out loud or in writing the student’s values as we understand them. This is a key step in counseling and recruiting. We all need to take time to say…”I think I heard you say that these (insert those values you’ve heard) are the most important things when you think about choosing a college.”
Seek agreement and acknowledgement.
Do you understand the need to repeat and clarify?
Objective 5: Begin to connect the “dots” between the student’s values and ours.
Once you know the values of the students and understand the value profile you can begin connecting the dots to make a case to the Augustana experience.
Objective 6: Remind a student of his or her values periodically.
This is self-explanatory, but worthy of identifying because it is critically Important to revisit values throughout. We will plenty of students whose values may shift during the recruitment process, but it can’t hurt to remind them that they identified x, y or z as being very important to them when choosing a college.
If we have the information, we should not shy away from using it.
Objective 7: Let your story-telling be guided by the values you’ve discovered. And, find the right person to tell the most meaningful and impactful story.
Values are personal and your story-telling must connect personally and emotionally to the values that a student has identified.
We must learn enough to properly align the things that matter most when creating value:
- a student’s values,
- Augustana’s distinctions,
- Augustana’s results, and,
- our ability to tell connect the dots through powerful storytelling.
We have to make the case for our worthiness throughout the recruitment process. And, we have to believe the experience we offer is better, worth more and prepares students better. If we don’t believe it no one else will.
And, while cost comparisons will always be with us, we cannot compete exclusively on price. If we do, we will soon be in a position of needing to advertise a free education.
Value first, affordability later.
Value is relative…let’s prove we are worth to the students we counsel.
Finally, you can view a diagram I put together that try to illustrate what we need to do to make this all come together.