Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

MBA Students' Engagement Behavior and Its Implications on Student Loyalty to Alma Mater

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

MBA Students' Engagement Behavior and Its Implications on Student Loyalty to Alma Mater

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Just like any business, it is imperative for higher education institutions to maintain longterm relationships with their constituents. Loyal students are important assets for higher education institutions not only during the time of their stay in the university but also after they leave the campus. A loyal student may support his/her alma mater through word-of-mouth communications, participation in activities sponsored by the school, and financial contributions (Hennig-Thurau, Langer, & Hansen, 2001). Student loyalty to a program is considered as one of major sources of competitive advantage (Lam, Shankar, Erramilli, & Murthy, 2004). Researchers and administrators alike have been eager to find out the factors that would enhance their graduates' emotional, communicative, and behavioral attachment to their alma maters.

Student loyalty, however, is an elusive concept. A number of studies have been devoted to proposing and testing factors that lead to student loyalty. Student loyalty is affected by a diversity of factors such as students' personal factors (Tinto, 1993), education service factors (Burt, 2001), and the quality of educational experiences (Elliott, 2002). Among them, perhaps the most predominantly studied factor as an antecedent of student loyalty may be student satisfaction. Many studies report that customer satisfaction serves as a founding block for establishing long-term buyer-seller relationship and loyalty (Dick & Basu, 1994; Gustaffsson, Johnson, & Roos, 2005; Oliver, 1999). Colleges regard student satisfaction as one of the most critical operating goals and urge their faculty and staff to proactively identify and meet the expectations that students bring to campus (Hill, 1995; Keegan & Davidson, 2004). Academic programs rated high on student satisfaction are expected to be the ones with high customer loyalty, healthy return on marketing investment, and long-term profitability.

Yet, an increasing number of studies have posed challenges on the strength of the relationship between student satisfaction and loyalty. That is, students' satisfaction with college services has been reported to exert statistically significant, yet only a moderate level of, impact on student loyalty (Simpson & Siguaw, 2000; Yu & Kim, 2008). Similar observations were made in business sectors (Olsen 2002; Reichheld, 2003). Business practitioners report that a significant number of customers do leave them regardless of their high level of satisfaction and suggest that customer satisfaction may be a necessary but not sufficient condition to culminate in customer loyalty (Jones & Sasser, 1995). Student satisfaction, in this context, may be viewed as enacting a critical role during the development stage of student-school relationship, yet for that relationship to move into a next, stronger level such as student loyalty, additional factors may come into play.

In the past few years, there has been an increasing interest in the concept of customer engagement. Researchers in sociology, psychology, and education have reported engagement as an important underpinning for long-term relationships between a person and an object, brand, or organization (Achterger et al., 2003; Resnick, 2001; Saks, 2006). Engaged customers are psychologically connected, emotionally involved, and highly motivated to participate in activities that are related to the brands (London, Downey, & Mace, 2007). Common forms of their contribution to the brand include spreading viral marketing communications, participating in new product/service development, and in co-creating experience and value (Hoyer et al., 2010; Nambisan & Nambisan, 2008). Customer engagement, therefore, is viewed as an important indicant of the quality of an organization's interactive network with its current and potential customers (Neff, 2007; Sedley, 2010; Voyles, 2007).

While the importance of customer engagement in buyer-seller relationships has been extensively documented elsewhere, the concept has been applied to the higher education context only on a limited basis. …

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