Roxipedia: Thinking Outside the Box

I love people who think outside the box. In this age of teetering on the federal fiscal brink of disaster on a daily basis, low cost cleverness rocks my higher education world. 

During my tenure at Saint Martin’s University (I admit it was several years ago and much water has run under the bridge since then) we used humor and positivity to relate to students when we wanted their attention. We designed a logo for the office featuring a drawing of a dog and his sidekick dressed up as Wild West do-gooders, Pronto and the Loan Arranger. We used that shtick on post cards to be returned to us by continuing students and in setting up exit and entrance interviews and other communications.

Our school was Benedictine, and we had an abbey with monks as part of our campus. Naturally, our collectors became widely known as the Sisters of No Mercy and students brought them postcards and birthday cards with pictures of nuns which were immediately posted and shared. In my office, we worked really hard at developing relationships with students and helping them avoid the Sisters.

I believe students must have  face time with a real person in order to be comfortable calling for help when they get in trouble or have a problem. Relationships work and its worth the investment to build them even if most of our work is through technological media like the internet.   

Adding to the getting attention mode before the world was totally electronic, our exit packet was themed as a rocket launch, as in launching into the future with all the silly space metaphors as paragraph heads. There is no faster way to lose a student than with incredibly dry factoids, especially miles of them in tiny type.  You want them to read the stuff not just file it and forget it as so often happens.

The Loan Arranger, practically an antique by now. "Drawn" as a bitmap with Paint about 20 years ago. Good grief, where did the time go?

These days, this information is all delivered electronically and the potential for cool interactive features is amazing. You only need a pet programmer. Today’s tip: make friends with the IT guys on your campus, give them cookies, give them treats and be nice to them no matter what.

I realize I worked at a small school so I was able to get a pet programmer who was willing to work with me to implement what I needed.  Look at what others at schools your size are doing, go hunting for what is out there in the market place, and if you can’t afford it how can you model it?  I had a faculty in art school who told me, “Always steal from the best.” I’m not saying plagiarize but I am saying think about adapting what is out there with your own resources, especially if you are a small school with a small budget.

When you want to deliver something to a student think like a student. Yes, we are the grown-ups (in most cases) but we don’t have to repeat the parent-kid scenario that didn’t work for us as a kid or a parent.  You may remember it as the one where kids ignore parents like they are the dumbest, clue free creatures on the planet earth. Just transfer that scenario and if the shoe fits, change your shoes!

This one up/one down scenario can makes finance people seem to be the meanest in the world with our insatiable demands that students pay attention and pay their debts. Heaven knows there is just not enough time to fit the money part into their worlds, unless of course, it is 2:00 a.m. and they are on the internet. How do you combat this perception of unfair demands and maintain some control?

Tip: If you have a project try and get a student club involved, student buy in gives you a peer-to-peer connection, great new energy and a different take on the issues, and extra hands to get the information out there.

 SUNY Genesee Community College did something brilliantly outside the box, in this case sort of outside the litter box. They have a Stall Wall Monthly Newsletter that posts important information like deadlines, tuition costs, payment dates and refund dates inside every bathroom stall on campus. Everybody uses a bathroom so everybody sees it. How clever is this?

If all else fails, feed them. Food still motivates college students. Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester, uses Pizza Nights to get students to sign their eMPNs. Participants were all entered into a drawing for an IPod Touch as further incentive. Food and fun work as well now as they did 50 years ago. Somethings change but not student stomachs.

 My favorite clever trick for getting another type of students, those with past due balances, to respond is from a school in the Pacific Northwest. They bought brightly colored envelopes and stamped them with the return address of the school, just the street address and not the name of the dreaded Collections Office. They stamped “You’ve Won!” on the outside of the envelope and inside is a notice on more colored paper that says, “You’ve won a trip to collections if you don’t contact us regarding your past due balance.” It goes on to list the fact that they are there to help and some of the options available. Talk about hitting a mule over the head to get its attention, half the battle is getting their attention and the other half is getting them to respond. This worked really well because of the shock value but it takes a brave and fearless finance office to put this tool to work.

These are a few of the things I have discovered, what you have done or discovered outside the box on your campus? 

Why we need Fiscal Literacy Counseling
Swiped from the website Overheard Everywhere

Really skinny college girl: I paid my rent and then I spent the rest of my refund, $700, on this new Louis Vuitton (squeals and hugs the purse). But now I have 30 bucks to last a whole month. Looks like I’ll be dating for dinner or eating crackers.
College student girl friend: You spent twice as much on your bag as you did your rent! At least you paid your rent on time! Don’t worry, you’ll find dates. That purse is totally worth it!
Really skinny college girl: I know, right, I should just live in my purse. I think that is why married women get fat: they can finally afford to eat. You know my ass is getting fat when I get married.

overheard at IHOP
Dallas, Texas

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