In higher education, who is the “customer,” and what is the “product”? What implications does this choice have for how institutions interact with students?
Discusion: Are Students Customers?
For this week’s Discussion, consider the following scenario:
You are the program chair of the business department at a large, urban community college. Your institution recently conducted a student satisfaction survey, and the results are in. The dean has asked you to lead a team of your fellow program chairs and directors in figuring out what to do about the results.
At your first meeting, you share the PowerPoint and handouts that the central administration had prepared to disseminate the results of the survey. One of the survey items asked students to what extent their instructors “cared about their success.” Fifty-eight percent of students surveyed either “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with this statement.
One of your colleagues, the chair of the marketing program, jumps right into the discussion. She states, “This is a major problem. Our students need faculty who are committed to their success. I believe our faculty is committed, but that message is clearly not getting across. We need to figure out how to change what we do, from teaching to advising to extracurricular activities, so that students realize we truly do care about their success, and are willing to do what it takes to help them succeed. They are our customers, after all, and are paying us to give them the kind of educational experience they want.”
Another colleague, the nursing program director, looks aghast. “Students aren’t customers—they are the product! It’s s up to us to turn out the best product possible. Not every student is cut out for college, or for the particular program they’ve chosen. We have a very intensive admissions process in all of the health care programs, but even so, we often admit students who just don’t belong in the nursing profession. Our job is to figure out which students have what it takes to succeed, not to coddle them or lower the standards so everyone makes it. Our faculty are tough—no question—but would you want to receive medical care from a nurse who hadn’t come through a tough program?”
How would you respond to these statements?
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