Grinnell and Giving Followup
About a month ago, I made a post calling out to former Grinnell students to stand with me to get some changes made.
Well, while that post was one of my most widely read, no one stood with me. I somewhat expected this. Also, Grinnell isn’t making any reactive changes. I also expected this.
What I did not expect, however, was to receive a phone call from Jim Hess, the Director of Alumni Relations at Grinnell College. We had a good talk and followed this up by meeting in person and talking for a few hours. I also talked with Dan McCue, the Assistant Director of Alumni Relations. Dan was kind enough to send me the following (links changed to be made clickable):
Thanks for stopping by the office last week. I wanted to share some sites that detail the issues you addressed:
1. Admission to Grinnell is need blind and financial aid has been increasing as necessary already. (A brief explanation can be found on the Admission website: here.) We have already limited loan within need to $2K per year. (Details available from the Office of Financial Aid: here.) This change was instituted this past winter, prior to the current economic downturn: here. An article also appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of The Grinnell Magazine.
2. We have many post-grad fellows, but we’re not a grad school. Information about post-grad fellowships is online at the Office of Social Commitment: here. Grinnell also funds the Grinnell Corps program: here.
3. The senior opportunity scholarship buys-down debt of deserving seniors. Visit here for more information.
4. Our pay-grades are $7.25, $7.50, $8.25, and $8.85 – dining is $8.25 and they have job openings.
5. The Career Development Office continues to work with any alumni who call. CDO can assist alumni with resume critiques, interviewing tips and share job search resources. Visit here for more information.
So, in considering my challenge from earlier:
1) Either discount tuition for the Senior year (to keep them in school) or institute a tuition freeze for all current students (i.e., no tuition hikes for current students).
This was not done, but I had been previously unaware of the senior opportunity scholarship. I think that this partly counts, so I’m going to award them a half point. I also had the $2k debt limit explained to me. The college really prefers this to be called a $2k loan limit, but I must admit that when I first heard this term, I had thought that they were lowering financial aid, not raising it. What it really means is that, at the end of a student’s four years, they should be left with no more than $8000 personal debt, which I think is a very reasonable way to manage the situation. They get the other half point for this.
2) Boost the number of on-campus student jobs by at least 30. and 3) Raise the entry-level wage for student jobs by at least $1.00/hr
Since there are openings that are not being taken, and they are at a comparable rate, I’m going to call these “close enough”. I still think that Grinnell should create some more jobs, especially since there are worthwhile projects out there that would help both the students and the school, but if current students aren’t taking the current job openings, there must not be sufficient need to push this.
4) Offer free classes to alumni on getting a new job, covering interview, and resume techniques. Ideally, these classes will be available online so that non-local alumni can attend them.
I’ve long heard that the CDO will work with any alumni who call. However, I view this as a far cry from actually providing classes. Classes are about education and learning and are strategic in nature. The method currently offered by the CDO is reactive and tactical in nature. I’d still like to see a program around helping people target new opportunities, craft a marketing plan for themselves and pursue the opportunity. The days of simply sending out resumes and interviewing on chance are over, so I do not perceive this as taking a leading position. (If you’re with the CDO and wish to disagree with me, comment here or give me a call.)
So, no points there.
In the end, It looks like Grinnell got 3 points, or $300. Dominican University therefore gets $100. In any case, I’m out $400.
But, you know what I got for that $400? I got an amazing first hand look at branding and marketing.
Now, I am sure that I am biased, but I have known about Grinnell for many years, as have many of the people I’ve talked to since I’ve graduated. In contrast, the response that I got from friends and associates when I mentioned Dominican University was a universal “where’s what? / who are they?” It seems that Grinnell has done a good job of branding. Seemingly (at least in my area) a better job than Dominican University.
However, and this is the very interesting bit, I got a very fast reply from Dominican within the same medium as my message. I got a contact from Grinnell that was effectively out-of-band. I had no idea what Grinnell had been up to before I was contacted, but I found out what Dominican was doing almost the same day they did it, without my altering my daily routine at all. In short, Dominican is embracing social media and Grinnell is not (I have been informed that this will be changing soon). So, while Grinnell has a stronger brand than Dominican, Dominican has better marketing than Grinnell.
The other interesting observation was about communication. I heard from a few Grinnell alumni that I should have checked better what Grinnell was doing before I posted this, that I should have checked here and there (at which point they’d send me a list of obscure links). All of these communications were personal and emailed directly to me. All of them came from people still working in academia. What’s interesting here is that I’ve transitioned to business. My communication style is many/one-to-many, not one-to-one. Sure, I could have looked up the base rate that students were being paid, the number of jobs available. I may have even found out that limiting loans to $2k isn’t a bad thing (doesn’t limiting the loan amount sound bad to you?).
However, to do so, I would have wasted at least half a day finding the right people. The Dominican information came to me, as I follow news relating to education. I do not follow news that is specifically Grinnell-focused, but anything important that touches on education and liberal arts should come my way. Dominican managed to release the information in a way that was concise, easy to understand, easy to propagate and timely. Grinnell’s information was not – even though I get emails and letters from them, I was unaware of certain things that they were already doing.
In my discussions with Jim Hess, it was clear that this is something that Grinnell is working on. In fact, there is a chance that I may be allowed to work on it with them, as the project that they’re pursuing to make this happen has some potential. However, as my work with other schools has shown me, “the wheels of academia turn slowly”. I find this a sad thing, as it’s that very slowness that could cause a weakening of Grinnell’s brand position and allow (relative) upstarts like Dominican to overtake them. Clearly, being a graduate of Grinnell, I’d prefer that this not happen (sorry, Dominican) and will put forth some effort to help them out.
In any case, it’s $400 that gives Grinnell and Dominican students a bit of help, gives me a valuable lesson and hopefully allows me to pass the lesson along to you.
I consider that money well spent.