georgia_piedmont_tech_collegeGive the academic landscape a quick glance and you will realize: The global learning and development space is evolving at an accelerated rate. From Western Governors University’s unprecedented online graduation rates, to forward-thinking business models like LinkedIn’s purchase of, to the academic institutions now using MOOCs to bring a world-class education to anyone, anywhere, this is an education space immersed in innovation. There is no excuse for behavior like the story I am about to tell of a particularly moronic “relationship fail” by a community college dean!  

Academic programs that go beyond theoretical constructs to deliver practical, pragmatic, learning that students can immediately apply are incredibly valuable. That value often comes from dedicated instructors who are passionate about their fields and want to share that passion, knowledge, and experience with their students.

One such person is Mike Sachs, an instructor in the Motorcycle Service Technology program at Georgia Piedmont Technical College, held far from the main campus in the lonely outskirts of Atlanta. Those of you who know me, know that I’ve developed a passion for all things two-wheeled, from riding motorcycles to working on them. Over the past five years, I’ve attended five schools, have ridden on roads and racetracks, attended a handful of world-class motor sports events, and even consulted with a dozen or so brands in the space, including Honda.

I found Mike at Georgia Piedmont Technical College via referrals. When I reached out, he was very accommodating in allowing me to learn more about his motorcycle service program, literally walking me to the campus bookstore and registrar’s office (it’s been more than a decade since I was enrolled in a formal education course). However, after two sessions in Mike’s class, I realized a) I had no interest in graduating with a diploma as a motorcycle mechanic, and b) I did not have the bandwidth to dedicate several hours each Monday night to attend a class some 45 minutes away. I reached out to let Mike know I was no longer going to attend and thanked him for his continued service to the program.

With an undergraduate degree in management and an executive MBA, I’m not your typical entry-level student. In fact, I am a longtime student of strategic relationships—which I have found to be every organization’s greatest off-balance-sheet asset. I was more than a little surprised to find myself receiving notices that I owed the school for dropping Mike’s class! This would be a useful lesson in responsibility if I were a freshman, but hardly an effective policy to enforce across the board. I contacted the registrar’s office and explained to them that I simply audited two sessions. A couple of months after that, I start receiving collection notices!!

At that point I reached out to Mike, who replied with a warm note and a suggestion that I take up the matter with one of Georgia Piedmont Technical College’s academic deans, Debra Gordon, which I did. Dean Gordon’s response was to quote chapter and verse of the school policy classifying me as responsible for the tuition fee. “Please let me know if you have any additional questions regarding this matter.”

What I have is not an additional question. It’s an observation: this is a classic case of penny wise, and several pounds foolish! I paid the bill; $724 isn’t worth my administrative assistant’s time to pursue a better resolution. But my credit score is still showing the collection attempt; my repute is at stake. Is it really in Georgia Piedmont Technical College’s best interest to treat everyone from a young student to an outstanding business relationship so coldly? I wonder how many others they’re doing this to—including young people hoping to train for skilled, satisfying, work as motorcycle mechanics who can’t immediately afford to pay the local technical college?

I’m a generous person by nature. In addition to my $724, I’m pleased to offer Georgia Piedmont Technical College a free education about how to build and nurture business relationships for mutual benefit. Lesson 1: change your one-size-fits-all, collect-now-ask-questions-later approach.

Dean Gordon: Your personal and professional success depends on the diversity and quality of your relationships. You appear to be doing your best to limit your relationships to a monoculture of subservient students. I wish you all the best, but frankly, I’m worried. Your shortsighted behavior reflects badly on your institution. I hope your resume is up-to-date.

Nour Takeaways

  1. Education administrators who remain mired in outdated business models risk harming their institution’s repute.
  1. Strategic relationships are an organization’s greatest off-balance-sheet asset. Policies should be optimized to nurture relationships—not outsource responsibility.
  1. “Collect-now-ask-questions-later” is a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach anywhere, but particularly shortsighted in the education space, where customers are essentially paying today for anticipated greater earning power tomorrow.
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