Academic journal article Education

Assessing Service Quality within the Educational Environment

Academic journal article Education

Assessing Service Quality within the Educational Environment

Article excerpt

Introduction

To measure the quality of services on a university campus is one thing; to measure the quality of manufactured goods is another matter. Fitzgerald (1988) takes this further and says that "a service ... cannot be objectively measured." Such frustration stems from the difference between services and goods. For example, educational services are intangible and cannot be packaged, displayed or inspected fully by prospective students. Services also have a perishability problem because they cannot be stored for future delivery: when students cut class, the professor's time is wasted. Unlike goods, services are difficult to separate from their provider: an academic course is as fascinating or as boring as the professor. There is also a lot of variability in services. For example, the mood of the professor could impinge on his or her tolerance for chatting in class. Services are difficult to standardize. Unlike manufactured goods, services are not as susceptible to strict quality control (Evans and Berman 1990).

In spite of such difficulties, institutions of higher education should measure their service quality in order to function efficiently and effectively in a highly competitive environment. Service is a feature which differentiates many universities. The services package is essential to attract prospects and to bolster the satisfaction of current students. Unsatisfied students may transfer to other institutions and impart negative comments. Therefore, universities must generate a strategy that addresses student needs. An institution that delivers better quality education against the tuition it charges is more likely to acquire a competitive advantage (Barrett and Greene 1994).

Zeithaml (1981) stresses the importance of measuring the students' perception because they usually participate in producing the service, thereby affecting the performance and quality of the final service. Since there is no concrete dimension to service quality, students may uphold nonexistent expectations. Therefore, expectations and perceptions must be measured for identification purposes. Such measurements may expose a gap of expected versus perceived quality Webster (1989) believes that measuring service quality is a prerequisite for devising action plans.

Dodds and Monroe's (1985) model shows that consumers relate their own experience, memory, and beliefs to perceived quality, value and price. This illustrates the need for universities to measure how students perceive and relate services to their needs. Such a measurement is necessary despite complications due to divergent evaluation processes involved in the information search, the size and composition of the evoked set of alternatives, the perceived risk, and the adoption and attainment of loyalty (Zeithaml, 1988). What a measurement system should seek, among other things, is to reduce such complications into a workable model.

Models

There are a number of models which seek to measure service within an academic setting (Barrett and Greene 1994, Cadotte et al. 1983). However, these models tend to handle one encounter at a time. Such models are unrealistic to the extent that colleges tend to deliver several services simultaneously.

Berry et al. (1988a, 1988b) went a step further and developed a gap analysis model which takes several service dimensions into account. In effect, their model provides an objective measurement of service quality by analyzing what consumers expect against what they perceive about current services. "In the service quality literature, expectations are viewed as desires or wants of consumers, i.e., what they feel a service provider should offer rather than would offer" (1988a, p. 17). To assess service quality, Parasuraman et al. (1985) use ten overlapping dimensions: responsiveness, reliability, tangibles, communication, competence, access, credibility, courtesy, understanding/knowing the customer, and security. …

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