Service Quality in Higher Education: Expectations versus Experiences of Doctoral Students

Article excerpt

Abstract

Despite the importance of measuring service quality in today's educational marketplace, little empirical research has been conducted in the delivery ofprofessional services to doctoral students in higher education. This research employed gap analysis to gain insight into the service quality expectations and experiences of doctoral students at state-supported universities in Tennessee.

Background

Because of an increase in consumer sensitivity, an intensification of competition, and an ever-increasing emphasis on accountability by the governing bodies of colleges and universities, professional service quality in higher education has emerged as a subject in need of investigation. Meeting or exceeding the customer's expectations in the delivery of services has been shown to increase market share and can be a key factor in maintaining a competitive business advantage (Berry 1995). A long list of successes, credited to TQM and TQS, in the business sector has prompted institutions of higher education to imitate the business model of measuring service quality (e.g., Boulding et al. 1993; DiDomenico and Bonnici 1996; Hampton 1993; Kearney and Kearney 1994; Schwantz 1996).

Quality Improvement (QI), Total Quality Management (TQM), Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI), or any number of other titles and acronyms have been used to describe the principles that have evolved from W. A. Shewhart's work at Bell Telephone Laboratories in the early 1920s on statistical quality control (Seymour 1992). Shewhart developed the concept of improving quality by improving processes. All of the quality improvement acronyms listed above evolved from "total quality control," originally coined by A. V. Feigenbaum in 1951 (Sherr and Lozier 1991). Seven decades after Shewhart developed the concepts that helped transform businesses around the world, rapid change has again brought opportunities and special challenges to people who seek to help their organization perform better. During the past two decades, a demand for better quality in products and services has caused a rebirth of interest in, and a renewed appreciation for, Shewhart's work. Organizations are learning how to standardize processes, solve problems, eliminate waste, and reduce variation in order to make significant gains in quality and productivity (Joiner 1996).

Because of his successes in Japan and throughout U.S. industry, W. Edwards Deming is considered the preeminent 20th Century authority on quality and quality improvement in both the manufacturing and service industries (Stamatis 1996). Deming's contributions are important for two reasons. First, Deming was an early practitioner of total quality, and much of the work in the field is directly or indirectly influenced by his ideas. Second, Deming's Fourteen Principles provided the foundation for a philosophy of quality improvement that has transformed American business (Deming 1986). The theories of Juran, Crosby, and Taguchi have also made notable contributions to the application of quality concepts to the service industry.

Two premises that emerged from the research and literature on service quality improvement formed the underlying rationale for the current study: (1) customers do evaluate service encounters and the process of service delivery to form perceptions of service quality and, ultimately, organizational quality; and (2) services are definable, measurable, and improvable (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry 1985).

GAP ANALYSIS METHODOLOGY

The one factor that can distinguish competitors in a service environment is service quality. Quality has always been an important consideration in the purchase of goods and services. Although the quality of goods can be measured objectively by using indicators such as durability and defects, because of factors unique to services and to the delivery of services, the measurement of service quality has proven to be more difficult (Falzon 1990). …