Jun 27, 2009

Tour Guides Unite!

One of the indisputable perks of the college advising business is being obligated to visit college campuses--lots of college campuses. It's almost the best part of the job. In fact, I love walking the grounds, admiring beautiful architecture, noting regional differences, watching students engage in scholarly pursuits, and I really enjoy hearing all the self-promoting propaganda colleges so earnestly put forth in their quest to recruit applicants. Propaganda? The Cold War era term may be a little harsh, but what else would you call the shameless marketing that goes on during information sessions and student-led tours?

The Daily Beast recently provided commentary on the college tour industry in an article entitled, "How Colleges Dupe Students." In her introduction, Kathleen Kingsbury characterizes the campus tour as “…the biggest fleecing attempt in the college admissions process…." While I might not agree with the global nature of the statement, I have to confess that the tour is one element of a neatly devised marketing plan targeted to high school students and their parents. Not all tour guides try to score marijuana from tour groups and not all are as inarticulate as the Yale guide who responded with the college equivalent of “recess” to a question about his favorite part of school. Sadly, most are scripted affairs with little of the humor or unexpected twists that would make the experience more entertaining.

Defending the integrity of the college tour and associated marketing endeavors, Angela Kornman, of Rhodes College in Tennessee, agrees that the tours “like viewbooks and open houses, do not perfectly reflect the day-to-day reality of campus life." Really? She goes on to say,

“…if (the tour guide) is presenting her institution in the best light, mitigating the negative factors, and truthfully serving as a model student, though not necessarily the ‘average student’ then she is doing honest work.”

Well, I suppose. But going back to the Cold War, I have to advise families weighing the value of information imparted during campus tours and/or information sessions to “Trust, but verify.” Students should engage themselves in these events by being armed with a variety of questions and a strategy for getting answers. For example, it’s worth knowing if tour guides are being paid to offer their glowing reviews of the education and campus, or if they happen to be student volunteers who might offer slightly more candid reviews. It might be useful to know the terms under which the guide is allowed to provide answers to questions. One admissions office advises that they tell guides never to give numbers, as they are invariably wrong. In truth, I’ve found this to be the case. During one tour, a guide was asked what percent of students who started at the university actually graduated. Without missing a beat, she responded, “One-hundred percent. I mean who wouldn’t graduate?" A quick look at the fine print of published materials revealed that only about 65% of the entering class managed to graduate in six years.

Not long ago, I was at a presentation during which the president of a very highly respected university felt compelled to address some negative remarks made by a tour guide to a group of prospective applicants. He sighed and said, “You know, tour guides are probably among our most valuable staff members. They can make or break you. Maybe we should pay them more.”

1 comment:

  1. It's probably a little tacky to comment on my own blog entry, but in the interest of providing some clarification, I want to let readers know that Angela Kornman revised her remarks in the NACAC blog after I quoted her. What you now find if you follow the link is slightly different and not nearly as humorous.