One of the highlights of this past EASFAA conference was not at the conference at all, but in the bar after the Monday sessions. I had the good fortune to sit down with Melissa Rakes, an Ed.D. student looking at how advisement works, and we got to talking about one of my favorite things – marketing, of course. We chatted about her doctoral thesis and a few different ideas and systems that could be applied to academic advisement, which was a lot of fun.

I kept asking nearly absurd questions about porting existing business, sales, marketing, and motivational systems to education, because it seems to me that if Amway Motivational Organizations can generate books, tapes, CDs, etc. to keep their members moving ahead in an organization that statistically holds little hope for them at all, it should be a cakewalk for academic advisors to use the same tools and technologies to motivate their students in an educational system that DOES generate good results.

One of the highlights of the conversation was on the topic of branding. I was mentioning Ze Frank’s fantastic explanation of branding as emotional aftertaste, and asked Melissa what she thought higher education’s brand was and is. We concluded that it’s hope. Not anything necessarily specific – lots of people go to college for lots of reasons, but hope seems to be a common thread. Hope for a great job, for freedom and independent, for a better future than past, hope as an emotion.

I thought of the students who are first in their families to go to college, and the hope, excitement, and trepidation that they must feel in their first days in school – and how processes such as financial aid, enrollment, and other parts of academia’s paperwork bureaucracy do their very best to squash that hope under a mountain of paper.

If advisors in higher education could communicate, reinforce, and energize hope consistently with the same aggressive methods of motivation that business uses, I’d bet that retention and dropout rates would plummet. Melissa’s got a few great projects underway, and I wish her outrageous success in all of them. I suspect she’s going to be one of higher education’s rock stars of the future.

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