Wednesday, May 02, 2018


Sometimes the answer is simple, if you know where to look.

At one point in grad school, my then-girlfriend and I were watching something on tv.  A character trotted out the old saw, “what do women want?”

“Pockets!” she yelled at the screen.

When I stopped laughing, she explained that women’s clothes often lack functional pockets, and it’s inconvenient.  I had to admit I had never given it much thought.

Someday, some designer will make buckets of money simply by including functional pockets in women’s clothes that don’t usually have them.  

I’m looking for a similarly obvious-in-retrospect answer now, though to a different question.

We’re looking at offering a series of workshops for new students over the course of their first semester.  The idea is to improve student success rates by arming them with relevant information in digestible amounts.  But the chronic problem with workshops is that the only ones who show up are the ones who don’t need to. Kay McClenney’s observation that “students don’t do optional” is particularly true in the context of workshops.  

Some sort of incentive is in order.  But what?

CUNY’s ASAP program uses MetroCards, which are subway and bus passes, to get students to check in with advisors on a prescribed schedule.  But we don’t have subways, and the bus routes only matter to people who live near them and don’t have cars. In a suburban area, I just don’t see the same level of appeal as in, say, Brooklyn.  And parking is already free, so there aren’t parking permits to give away.

Tech goodies, such as ipads, are often too expensive to offer to everyone, which means resorting to some sort of raffle.  But I’m thinking that an uncertain reward, even an appealing one, probably won’t have the pull of a certain one. And many students are already relatively well situated with technology.

College swag -- sweatshirts, t-shirts, etc. -- is easy enough, but again, I’m not sure it would have much pull with the students we most need to reach.

Cash would be nice, but it raises all sorts of issues.  

I’m guessing that other colleges have faced this, and found ways to address it.  So this is my shameless attempt to steal good ideas from other people. Wise and worldly readers, have you seen a practical incentive that can be taken to scale, and that appeals strongly enough to students to get them to show up?