Show us the Moneyball in higher education

adm office

This blog post is not about the money game played by colleges in the hope of recruiting super athletes…although that would make a good topic for a post. This post is about the Brad Pitt movie “Moneyball” and what it has to say about the college admissions process.

If you haven’t seen Moneyball and you work in higher education…and in particular if you work in admissions/enrollment…watch it. Even if you don’t like baseball movies, watch it anyway because the real message of the movie says volumes about college admissions.

The message of Moneyball was both simple and complex at the same time. It was all about how a new idea or a new way of doing something is met with such resistance by people who prefer to do things the old way. Brad Pitt’s real life character, Billy Beane believed that the way baseball teams went about putting together a baseball team was all wrong. Beane’s baseball colleagues all claimed that the way recruiting was done was fine the way it was because that’s the way it had been done…and why change.

Does that stupid logic sound familiar to you? College recruiting today is, minus the use of the web and social media, the same it was 40-50 years ago. If you want to argue the point, perhaps you aren’t listening or you don’t want to admit that things haven’t really changed.

Despite the new ways of delivering the message and even the advent of personalized communication, the vast majority of colleges print glossy brochures, advertise in print and on the radio, have adm reps, visit high schools, have open houses, and attend college fairs.

I say it’s all the same blah, bah, blah that I remember using when I was in admissions back in 1969/70.

The idea of increasing the applicant pool is the same today as it has always been. The only thing that’s changed is the burden of reaching unrealistic enrollment goals.

All colleges spew the same hollow message about success, great opportunities, affordable tuition, etc.  Most of what colleges say to potential students is BS. And that’s where Moneyball comes in.

Changing the bells and whistles of recruiting is stupid. Believing that it’s your printed material that makes the difference, or thinking that it’s your wonderful open house that makes a student choose your college over another college is equally stupid.

Most high school seniors really have no sound reason why they choose one college over another. Why would we expect a 17/18 year old to make a good decision about a college when most of them can’t even make good decisions about simple things?

Most high school seniors have been brainwashed into thinking they have to get a degree if they want to get a job. They choose a major because that’s what you do when you go to college. Most high school seniors choose a college using emotion rather than intelligence.

I say that the idea of college recruitment is in a desperate need of a make-over.  Forget about the crap brochures, look-alike web sites and other gimmicks. It’s time for colleges to sit down and find out what they do best and what type of student would benefit most from that “best.”

My last “hurrah” in college recruiting didn’t end well.  Even though I was a communication officer, enrollment was added to my responsibilities. Because I took the added responsibilities seriously, I did what I always do when I approach a problem. I throw off the rose-colored glasses and look at things without prejudice. I also ask a lot of questions. In addition I challenge myths. I don’t buy the corporate line. And in my case I saw one bad practice after another. Worse than that, I saw people who weren’t willing to face the truth. All they cared about was the bottom line: enrollment goals. It didn’t matter that the goals were unrealistic. It didn’t matter that the attrition rate was deplorable.

Well, because I asked (too many) questions, I was called negative. And because the recruitment goals were not actually met, I was asked to resign.

It turns out I was the Billy Beane at my (former) college. But you want to know something? If I were put in the same position, I would not roll over and play dead.

So, if any enrollment people out there would like to talk to someone who has no agenda and no ladders to climb, give me a holler.


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