From education to employment

Is this the stupidest thing FE has ever done?

Every year, at the end of summer, FE acts just like corporate lemmings and commits itself to the most stupid action possible.

Before I explain this crass act of stupidity (and I have to admit to having taken part in it), let me first describe an analogy that describes a situation where we might recognise and condemn this act in another sector.

Consider a garage selling cars. Each year they market really hard. They use every marketing channel open to them; they advertise in papers, create incredible window displays, create an expensive website and use social media, plus lots more, to get you through the door to buy a car.

You are a potential customer as you regularly replace your car.

When you buy from them they take your money; but then let’s say they ignore you for the rest of the year. Worse than that they don’t engage with you ever again. It’s like they lock the door on you. They certainly don’t seem to appreciate that you need your car serviced and need to buy everything from spare bulbs to engine oil and you end up going to a discount store for these.

And while the garage continues to market aggressively (and expensively) they have also competitors in town that also sell the same and alternative marques. In fact you can even buy and sell your car online.

I’m sure you’d agree that rather the garage is totally stupid in not building a relationship with you that encourages you to continue buying from them (of course, most garages do gather your contact details, the only problem is they only contact you with sales literature and never offer you unbiased help – this is nearly as bad).

Is FE destroying relationships it took years to build?

I believe FE is culpable of equally stupid behaviour.

Each year FE spends a fortune on marketing. It is pretty good at it and recruits good numbers of students. It goes further than the car dealer; it not only gathers their contact details; it also engages with them on student intranets, VLEs and social media … and then at the end of their course does something unforgivable.

Unless enrolled on another course, FE then denies the student access to these systems by removing their passwords and effectively slams the door in their face. FE seems to believe that once the student competes their current course that is it.

The student loses access to the college that took so much time and effort nurturing them. They lose access to the course work they submitted. They lose access to the Student Union and Student Services the college took so much time and money encouraging them to use and they lose contact with friends that leave the area.

They are set adrift in the world.

Then an equally stupid thing happens. A few weeks later at graduation, or prize giving, the college then tries to encourage the student to join and participate in an Alumni. The clever colleges explain the student is actually automatically a member by virtue of being an ex-student, but of course by now they have removed access to it and expect them to sign up to yet another website that lacks all their assignments, links to friends, etc.

Then a few more weeks after this the college markets a whole series of courses to the public, including the ex-student whose support system they removed a few weeks previously. But of course they can’t approach the student via the relationship they previously established because they destroyed it by removing their password. They have to resort to the expensive marketing channels they used several years previously.

The long term student engagement and alumni solution

Now consider a student that is about to leave your college. Instead of removing the support mechanisms you created for them you do something different. You recognise the student is only part way along their learning journey and will need other forms of CPD and leisure courses – perhaps online, perhaps face to face. You also recognise that as someone that knows and appreciates what you did for them previously they are likely to refer friends and colleagues to you. You might even become their employer’s preferred supplier.

So you continue their access to the now merged VLE/intranet and college website but you change what they see. They now see information on other courses that might interest them. They see invites to speak at events or attend reduced rate or free courses. They can now keep in contact with you and their friends.

This is all triggered by the fact that, like on Facebook and LinkedIn, they are encouraged to keep their profile up to date. As they advance in their career you send them congratulations and make sure their friends can see this in their newsfeed. Their personal profile links into their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles and feeds. Now they spend time on their mobile devices seeing what their friends are doing via the college web system. The outside world blends with the college systems into one system they use all the time.

When they speak at an event or mentor students you reward them with points just like Starbucks does. But instead of free coffee you give them free or reduced cost courses (if this is profitable for coffee shops and airlines why not FE?). You might even have a system that allows them to transfer their points to others or convert them into charitable donations.

You have created a college community that starts on the day they enquire about their first course and remains with them for life.

Fanciful? Well the technology exists to do this. It would reduce college costs and increase lifelong retention. The potential ROI is incredible.

So why aren’t you doing it?

Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US. Visit:

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