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Bob Martin: Joining Lee and I today is David Neal. David is the president of Collegiate Housing Services, which is a national service available to career college owners and operators to help them manage student service programs in their colleges and universities. David has a long history in business and more than 20 years running Collegiate Housing, which is also located in Indianapolis, Indiana.
David, can you tell us a little bit about what Collegiate Housing Services does for schools and how you might be able to be of assistance to them?
David Neal: Sure. Most of the schools that call us probably fall into two different camps. As you mentioned in the intro that we largely work with career colleges in the for-profit education space. Most of the schools that would contact us would, one, be looking to expand their recruiting outside of their immediate area and now they’re recognizing a need with those students that are relocating—to go into coordination of roommates and housing and deposits and furniture and all the things that are associated with that. And, so, they’ll call a company like us or call Collegiate Housing Services to come and, frankly, manage a housing program for them as they are looking to expand their recruiting. I would say the other side of the equation might be a school that’s already been successful in recruiting. Not necessarily looking to expand—of course, they’re always looking to expand—but maybe running housing themselves. And now they’re recognizing that they’ve got hiccups with regard to either the liability or the overhead or the time that it’s taking to manage that relocating student population.
Bob: Great. Tell me a little bit, where does student or collegiate housing fall in the student’s admission process?
David: Typically very early on. I would say that the schools that we really partner with use us almost as part of the admissions process, if you will. A student is thinking about going to XYZ college and their admissions person has an interested prospective student. They will probably call us or give us the student’s information, with the student’s permission, knowing that they’re going to be probably relocating to attend the campus. They’ll give us that information and have us start to contact the student and assist them with finding housing and applying for housing and paying deposits—and utilizing that information as part of the admissions processing. And getting a student prepared to not only move into apartment but, from their standpoint, start classes.
Lee Doubleday: Now, Mr. Neal, your company has been around since 1988, so I’m sure you’ve seen it all. But what are some of the biggest challenges schools face when they’re running their own housing program themselves?
David: That’s an interesting question. I would say it’s—I would say the biggest thing from a school that’s running it themselves—it depends on how involved they are in the housing process. If they truly have a housing department, then they’ve got overhead invested in salaries. They’re out in the community doing inspections there. They’ve got constant headaches with regard to roommate issues and maintenance issues and vendors and cleaning in between cohorts. If they’re not as fully developed in a housing program, then they’ve got, typically, their admissions team doing that, when they really ought to be making a high school presentation or in the home recruiting more students. And they’re now spending 30, 40, 50 percent of their time assisting those students with the housing issues. To the overhead piece of it, a school has a certain amount of liability. The schools that take housing to the extent that they are now signing leases, they are on the hook, if you will, for apartment rentals or a facility. They’ve got a certain amount of liability with regard to the safety of the students and certainly financial liability if they’re making commitments for apartments or expenses that now can’t be backfilled down the line of the student cycle. And if they’re running it themselves, then they’ve got an obligation on Clery Act reporting for crime statistics, etc.
And a lot of those go away if they’re working with an outside service.
Bob: So, David, imagine now I’m a school owner. I’m a school operator. And as you’ve talked about it, I got a lot of squeaky wheels. I got a lot of pain points. And I just want to look at a solution to outsource this thing. What’s the process that you see that’s the most common for schools to talk to you or start the process of engagement to get you to bring in to analyze and do something with them?
David: Well, generally, it just starts with a telephone conversation. They give us a call. They hear about us. They Google search. They find us. Maybe they had an admissions member who worked with a school in the past who’s utilized our service, and they’re interested in exploring whether or not it’s going to be a good fit, so. And so are we. So, they’re calling us and we’re just having a conversation about, “What have you done in the past? What percentage of your students are relocating? How long is your training?” And seeing whether or not there’s going to be, from our standpoint, enough of a population to be able to sustain the cost of running the program and, from their standpoint, whether or not they can provide that number of students and have office facilities and are interested in working with our company.
After that kind of exploratory thing, we go in as a company and survey the market. We look at what the apartment communities’—around the school—reputation might be. It’s another reason why a school might call us is because perhaps the students are out there in the—running amok, if you will, in the general population and degrading the reputation of a school. And now it’s more difficult for them to find housing in the area. So, we’ll survey that. We’ll introduce ourselves to the properties. And we’ll see what pricing looks like and propose to the school a package of how Collegiate Housing Services can come in and operate a housing program successfully for them. A service agreement gets executed, and then we’re going back to those same apartment communities and actually negotiating with them terms and pricing that are going to be favorable for the students.
Bob: So, I’m listening to you, David. You’re obviously not new on this block. You’ve been around it. You’ve seen it. You’ve addressed many or all the issues faced. Give me an idea of, if you would, how many schools are you working with now? What kind of situations do you find that they’re most interested in working with you? And how long does it—how long does this process take from the time I call you on the phone until the time that I got something in place that can address my incoming student population?
David: Well, there’s been a lot of—we’re talking about a career college industry. There’s been a lot of retrenchment over the last several years. And you mentioned that we’ve been in business for 30 years. So, while we’ve probably helped in the neighborhood of 130 different campuses over the years, we’re currently working with just over 30. We’re active in 15 states, working with those campuses.
If somebody wanted to work with us and we go through the exploratory process, I’d say you’d give us two to three months of negotiating department contracts, starting to put the marketing materials together. And we want to do that with enough advanced lead time to be able to be successful with the next targeted class start. Generally, the prime class starts around the summer. And I’d say the whole process, I’d want to give it probably four to six months, even though we can ramp up in a matter of 30–45 days in order to really get the admissions team educated, materials out to the students, and doing it with enough lead time. We’d like to have four to six months for it.
Bob: I think the key, as I’m listening to you—and I’ve known you for many years, I think the key is in my mind and I hope in our listeners’ mind is your—you know the space. You know the people. You know the issues they’re facing. And, more importantly, you’ve probably suffered from the same kind of problems they’re suffering from. Would you agree?
David: Yeah, if you’re talking about those people in the school industry—quite frankly, our business was started by two admissions reps. So, as we talked about what the issues with schools running it themselves or not having an issue running it themselves. We had two successful—my partner, current partner, and his previous partner were admissions people with a career school who were trying to bring students in from out of state. And the biggest problem that they had was qualifying for apartments and finding roommates. So, therefore, a side business was started because it was taking so much time to be successful in recruiting those students and getting them to come to Indianapolis and start school. The business grew out of that.
Bob: Your company just strikes me as very career school-friendly. I guess I would say career school-friendly. That’s very important in this environment. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of—it’s a very volatile, very hostile environment out there. And to find someone who knows your problems, your issues and wants to be in a partnership to solve them, that’s very important going forward.
David: Well, I think you hit the key word, partnership. We really don’t like—although we can, we don’t really like to come into a school being treated like a vendor. We are woven into the fabric of the admissions team. We sit in the open houses. We sit into the stitch-in meetings. And as they’re scrubbing down their prospects, we communicate with the admissions team with regard to every contact we have with a prospective student before they get here. And even after they’re here, we’re communicating with them of students that aren’t paying their rent or having discipline issues or having roommate issues, because our goal really is to—we want to move students into housing and the school wants to start students in school. We want to see students persist through their lease, and they would like to see them persist through graduation. So, strategically, we’re aligned. And I think if we can come into a school and we could be treated as a partner woven into the fabric of the administration: You go to the education department. You go to a placement department. You go to the admissions department. You go to the housing department. When you come to the housing department, it’s Collegiate Housing Services.
Bob: Yeah. Very good.
Lee: Wow. Yeah. And finally, if I would like to speak to somebody about housing services, how should we reach you?
David: You can find this information on a short questionnaire on our website, which is housingservices.com. Our 800 number is 1-800-U-MOVE-IN. My email address is DNeal@housingservices.com. Any and all of the above, be happy to hear from them.
Bob: Well, in closing today’s session, I thank David for his time. I want to commend Collegiate Housing Services for the things that they do for students. And I would urge any and all of our listeners to contact David even if you don’t—even if you’re not certain that you’re ready to move on a housing situation right now, you should think of David as someone—an outside consultant to brainstorm some ideas with. So, I would urge any and all of you to contact him that way. Thank you very much.
David: Thank you.
Bob: Thank you.