Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Community College Dilemma

With the 2020 election coverage heating up (especially for Democrats), there's been a swarm of people discussing the concept of "free college" for all Americans. At, his platform for education is clear, "Everyone deserves the right to a good higher education if they choose to pursue it, no matter their income." Bernie includes four-year, public colleges, universities, and community colleges in this plan. According to his calculations, this would save each student $84,000 (price of four years "all-in" for a bachelor’s degree). I am a huge student education advocate and believe that a bachelor’s degree is simply table-stakes for not only entering the job community, but for advancing one's career.

What puzzles me about "free college" is the wide disparity of the quality of education, depending on which "free college" one might attend. For example, who goes to community colleges (which primarily provide associate degrees)? In the U.S. there are 1,051 community colleges, representing seven million students in 2019 (AACC website). Unfortunately, (according to the Hechinger Report), fewer than one out of five students at community colleges obtain their desired degree in three years or less. A recent study published by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) paints a similarly grim picture by indicating that high college dropout rates cost both state and federal governments billions of dollars each year. As shown in the graph above, data from the National Center for Education Statistics, shows that only 13 percent of community college students graduate in two years. Within three years, approximately 22 percent of students graduate, and within four years, the rate stands at 28 percent.

There have been many studies published in the academic community about the root causes of these high dropout rates and longer attendance periods in order to reach a degree. While more repeatable studies are needed, some investigators claim that the conclusions are inaccurate because a portion of students "dropping-out" of community colleges may be transferring to a four-year institution without attaining an associate degree. Others point out that dropout rates are inflated because they only look at up to a five-year time frame. Due to family/personal reasons or circumstances beyond their control, a segment of dropouts may go back later (5-7 years) and complete a degree. There is also discussion regarding many of the students who show up in reports as “dropouts” did not leave school because they wanted to, rather, they were compelled to by some uncontrollable life event.

I think, regardless of these alternative explanations, there is a serious problem with community colleges and their ability to do better than a 25% success rate (IPEDS). With federal funding (63% of tuition) and state funding (17% of tuition), community colleges are struggling in almost every area: attracting qualified instructors, attracting students (overall), aging facilities, changing student population (older students, diversity students), outdated teaching methodologies, lack of personalized learning, and a lack of digital technologies (while most colleges/universities are in the middle of an enormous digital transformation). These challenges directly impact student engagement and likely amounts to a significant contributing factor to high drop-out rates.

I have an 18-year old son who recently enrolled at my "local - not to be named - community college." I realize that citing one example doesn't really provide any substantial evidence. It does, however, help to illustrate these challenges. His enrollment experience was worse than registering a car with the DMV. The college's move towards digital transformation is practically invisible. From their website, to their ability to help, practically every task was a physical chore. Instructors are teaching from 20-year old textbooks. Their Learning Management System (LMS) is one of the popular ones (brand purposefully omitted here), but instructors simply haven't adopted it. In almost every way, my son's public high school was better.

If this type of environment is even partially similar at other community colleges, it begs the question: is this the "free college" that Bernie Sanders has in mind? Perhaps we need to evaluate how to transform our decaying community college systems in the U.S., before we start giving it away.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Business to Government (B2G) Sales - The Famous Five Stakeholders

In the field of technology sales, we often talk about people from the buyer's organization known as stakeholders. Put simply, these are folks who play a part in the decision-making process in any sales situation. Sometimes there is just one stakeholder (maybe it's a commodity sale), but when it comes to selling to government organizations/agencies, it's very common to have several people (or groups of people) that influence the buying decision. Remember, government entities are using public money, and thus have a fiscal responsibility to use these funds wisely (we don't want the pentagon buying a hammer for $400).

Whether it's a K-12 school, a public university/college, a county, city or state, it's important to identify five key stakeholders that usually exist (even if you think they don't). When developing a sales strategy in the public sector, keep in mind these key Famous Five:

  1. Technology Stakeholders. OK, you knew this one right away because technology salespeople typically gravitate here, and these stakeholders usually grant meetings without much fuss. Obviously, we need these relationships to help define the technical match between what you're selling and the technical requirements in the customer's business. Unfortunately, these folks typically cannot create budget. In fact, they usually are over-extended on budget. Examples include: Director of IT, Data Analyst, Security Engineer, Director of Applications, etc.
  2. Business Level Stakeholders. This should sound familiar because every technology company around the globe is force-feeding this relationship to salespeople regularly. The concept here is to define "business outcomes." These are issues/challenges inside the customer's organization that aren't necessarily about technology. They typically are about: making more profit, becoming more efficient/productive, increasing safety/security, improving their organizational image. These folks are key because they usually have the ability to create budget (or shift budget). Business level stakeholders will not take a meeting to talk about a technology product; however, they'll likely take a meeting to discuss improving one of these key areas above. This is where you should start penetrating any new prospect. Examples include: CXO, General Manager, Superintendent, President, City Manager, Office of the CIO/CTO, Provost, Chancellor, Dean, Chief of Police, etc.
  3. Financial Stakeholders. While some government organizations roll this into procurement (see below), there are plenty that have specific people that bless deals over a certain dollar threshold. While these folks typically do not create budget, they usually manage all budgets and sometimes they are very powerful in approving or denying a large purchase (even if your other stakeholders are ready to go)! It's important to learn who these people are and understand what ways they will evaluate large budget approvals. Examples here include: CFO, Director of Finance, General Manager, City/County Finance Director, etc.
  4. Political Stakeholders. These people are some of the most overlooked decision influencers in any sale, and they shouldn't be forgotten! Public organizations typically have an elected official(s) that correspond and work jointly with, the Business Level Stakeholders above. For K-12, this is the school board (board members/officers). For Higher Ed, this is usually the Board of Trustees/Regents/Governors (board members/officers). These people work with provosts, chancellors and presidents of colleges/universities. In local government (city, county, towns, etc.) you'll also find elected officials. These can be council-members, boards of supervisors, mayors, etc. States typically have houses of legislature that are elected, along with governors. Make no mistake: These folks can create budget and usually have their own personal agendas (wins) that were made/developed during their campaigns. If you can align your technology solutions with these important stakeholders, it's possible to leap-frog many steps in the sales cycle. This level is a great place to begin with your prospective government agency.
  5. Procurement Stakeholders. In government sales, you'll often hear the sales expression, "find out HOW they're going to buy, before you invest time in qualifying the deal." Woe is the salesperson who invests 60 hours into a large deal, forgetting this key adage. They've been told they have the deal, only later to find out that the procurement office is going to shop the deal, or take the deal to formal bid. Even worse, some government entities have existing contracts which mandates who must be used for different types of procurement. Don't let this happen to you! Establish a relationship early (and often) with the procurement office of your prospect. Understand the procurement policies and quickly disqualify opportunities in which you simply cannot win (even if you're chosen). Examples here include: Procurement officer, Head of Procurement, Chief Procurement Officer, etc. Remember that many times, these folks are attorneys (especially in large counties, cities and states).
Got a big prospect you're exploring? Make sure, during your strategic business planning, that you include the Famous Five stakeholders above and you'll cover your bases as you begin engaging. Each of these five can be the determining factor of whether you'll win or lose.