Thursday, April 9, 2015

What's next, fake jury summonses? A Really Pro-Active Recruiting Initiative from UF

The Washington Post reports that over 3,000 students were accepted to the University of Florida's online program for the fall.

Oddly, none of those applicants had actually applied to the online program. 

Imagine the applicants' delight when they opened their acceptance letters to find that after earning a total of 60 credits off campus, they might qualify to become residential students!

James Tissot - Bad News

What inspired UF to try this novel "admissions experiment?"

The school was trying to stanch the bleeding raise enrollment in the online program, which was forced on it created by the state legislature and Florida Governor Rick Scott. (Scott has long favored a practical approach to higher education, announcing in 2012 he "did not want Florida's higher education system producing anthropologists or other specialized graduates whose main job prospect is teaching others to do what they do.")

Enrollments in the online program are below expectations and UF is projected to be out $9.5 million over the next two years.

(On the bright side, Pearson stands to make $186 million on its no bid contract).

So faced with an expensive multiyear contract with Pearson, disappointing online enrollments, and limited capacity in their face to face programs, UF resorted to the old bait-and-switch.

Fellow Miserians, is this the most desperate enrollment grab you've ever seen? Or can you top this?


  1. Of course, Rick Scott's daughter has an anthropology degree, although she now works as a special-ed teacher. If Rick thinks it's so important to push STEM degrees, how come it's still so difficult to get a job with one?

    Here at Fresno State, enrollment is peachy, so much that we're having to turn students away by raising our standards. Funnily enough, this is called "impaction."

    Our steady increase in enrollment over the years is thought to be because of the insane value of real estate elsewhere in California. The new recruiting posters also helped, which show the rear end of a sheep with the caption, "Look good to you? Then come to Fresno State!" For this, we get to raise our standards.

    1. It's nice to hear that you're raising standards, regardless of the marketing malarkey that it takes. The sheep may (or may not) have a different opinion.

    2. My institution has a similar profile to Frod's (well, minus the comparatively affordable real estate. And, thank goodness, the sheep. Our county was once known for its dairies, but they've all given way to strip malls and housing developments. I usually mourn this transformation, but it does reduce the opportunities for certain kinds of student misbehavior). At least until recently, we've had similar experiences with growing enrollments and correspondingly enhanced selectivity, partly due to the quality and growing reputation of the school, but probably mostly due to demographic factors (among other things, we're in an area with fairly high immigration and we serve a lot of first-generation students). I'm honestly not sure whether that has changed with the waning of the baby boom echo, the economic downturn (which has decreased or even reversed some of the immigration), etc., etc. We seem to be very anxious to attract students, but I don't think that necessarily means we're lacking in in-state applicants. Instead, dwindling state support means that we're very interested in out-of-state, international, or otherwise full-freight-paying matriculants.

  2. This is ... wow. Words.

    And no, we haven't raised our standards. We are scrambling for a declining pool of students with every other school in the state, and now outside the state as the legislature looks to cut us to the point where we can't serve the students we even have now.


    1. That sounds sort of like my grad school's approach to "encouraging" Ph.D. students to finish: cut off funding, cut off library privileges, and then claim to have no idea why so many dissertation writers just disappear before they finish.

      In the case of your state, whatever the declarations about efficiency and serving the taxpayers and all, it really sounds like somebody just doesn't like higher ed, and wouldn't be so sorry to see it wither away. The problem, of course, is that the parts that may actually wither are the ones where both the students and the faculty are far too busy just trying to go about the basic business of higher ed to engage in much political thinking/speech of the find the governor finds so offensive, while the better-funded institutions, where the professors might have actually have occasional time to engage in such activities, will probably survive, albeit in considerably diminished form.

  3. At least the students had applied to UF in some capacity. Still, this is, of course, precisely backwards -- students (particularly students who are marginally qualified for the institution, which I assume these are, or they would have been part of the regular admit pool) most need to be on campus in the early stages of their careers, when they're learning how to learn at the college level. Online and even hybrid classes are most effective for mature, self-directed learners who already know how to do work at the college level (e.g. students returning to finish degrees after considerable work/life experience, or pursuing a grad degree/certificate).

    But a couple of years ago, a large number of US institutions became convinced (many of them with the help of Pearson, DeLoitte, and/or less-corporate but still misguided and/or predatory edupreneurs/"disruptors") that there was a large pool of potential college students out there who could be captured -- er, served -- if only college were more convenient, and online education was the way to make it convenient. This pool turned out to be much, much smaller than predicted (and I suspect that the number of students within the pool who can succeed in an online-only environment is even smaller), which is how we got to the point of UF trying to cannibalize from what I suspect are its regular-admissions rejects.

    My own institution was wise enough not to fall for the online hype (though we do have online classes, and will be creating more, with particular populations in mind, so maybe I should qualify that with "yet," or "on the first round," or something along those lines, though the plans so far do at least seem to be targeting appropriate, or at least plausible, student populations). Instead, we're among the umpteen institutions pinning our hopes on attracting foreign students (and signing contracts with outside entities to run parts of a program targeted at that population). I very much hope that in a few years we won't be hearing about US institutions admitting foreign students who never applied.

    1. Cassandra, your analysis of the online market is spot-on, and yet we still, after everything we know, see people trying to set up these programs and being disappointed at the predictable outcomes. I guess there's something about a theoretically infinite number of classrooms that's too tempting to pass up.

  4. Most of the departments at the institution where I used to teach didn't have to worry about attracting students. Many had more applicants than space available for them.

    It wasn't because it had high standards. It didn't. It simply banked on its reputation, one which was quite good back in its early days. The institution had a marketing department which worked hard to maintain the image associated with that reputation and its name was all that students needed in order to get interviews.

    However, by the time I started teaching there more than 25 years ago, the quality of the students and the level of expectation was far below what I had been led to believe when I applied for my position.

  5. Daughter Hep received several acceptance letters from schools to which she had not even considered applying. All she had to do was sign on the line, and she'd be enrolled -- no application, no interview, no hassle. They were no doubt fine enough schools (we agreed that education is what you make of it), but her sights were elsewhere, academically and geographically, which is of course why she hadn't applied to those schools. (Probably these schools got her particulars from National Merit or somesuch.)

    The packets often included attractive tuition abatement offers and informational DVDs. After reviewing the contents of the first such to arrive, she placed subsequent ones unopened on our living room credenza where mail goes to die, till her parents would be overcome with curiosity and ask if they could at least see what's inside. As her mom or dad scanned the cover letter, she'd ask, "how much are THEY offering?" (In hindsight, this smacks of privilege, but the mitigating factors are perhaps a different conversation.) We still have one of the unwatched DVDs serving active duty as a coaster on the coffee table.

    Now to the current situation. If I understand correctly, a whole bunch of students applied to the meatspace campus, but were instead accepted to an online campus to which they had not applied. Yeah, that's not a recipe for disaster.

    On the one hand, this scheme provides an opportunity to students who might otherwise have not gotten it. On the other hand, these students apparently lacked some je ne sais quois to gain entry to the "traditional" campus. While a significant fraction might prove themselves in the online program and qualify to transfer to the main campus, a significant fraction will likely bomb out. My thinking is, if you're not ready to handle Grade 13 where there is personal contact with intructors and easy access to support services, you're even more surely not ready to do it from afar where all contact must be self-motivated.

    So I see this as a money grab, a way to fill a hole in the university's budget with the future ruined credit ratings of vulnerable students. I can only hope they decline this "gift", but I fear that the lesser-prepared students with fewer options elsewhere are actually more inclined to give this a try.

    1. It's not a money grab by the school, it is a legislative fiat by the FL legislature. But almost no-one wants to go to an online only state school, so they will shortly be losing money through a program they were ordered to set up. It is a mess across the board.

    2. Then it's a money grab by the FL legislature.