Magazine article University Business

Who's a Customer? the Student vs. Customer Debate Continues as Readers Speak for Themselves. (Editor's Note)

Magazine article University Business

Who's a Customer? the Student vs. Customer Debate Continues as Readers Speak for Themselves. (Editor's Note)

Article excerpt

In the March UB, I penned an editorial, "I Spy a Customer," that spawned such pro/con response, we tried to run many of the letters in ensuing issues. The debate about whether students are indeed customers of a college or university rages on, however. Because the issue is such an important one and goes to the core of a school's institutional philosophy, I hereby donate this month's column to the debate, so that you can formulate or reinforce your own views on the subject. I've already shared mine!

"They are the 'customer,'" insisted Robert L. Lenington of Lincoln, MA, author of Managing Higher Education As A Business (Oryx Press, 1996). "A unique feature of higher education is that the students are both the customer and the product of the business."

But Woodard R. Springstube, associate professor of Business at Concordia University (TX) couldn't disagree more: "I always cringe when I hear students spoken of as the 'customers' of higher education. While many institutions would benefit from treating students as customers when the students have contact with auxiliary enterprises, the registrar's office, the bursar's office, the financial aid office, etc., thinking of students as customers in the classroom can only have a corrosive effect on the classroom experience. A better model is to think of students as our 'works in progress', being finished through a partnership of the student and the teachers. Our final product is our graduates, and our real customers are the advanced programs that admit our graduates and the employers who hire our graduates."

"The pastime of pondering the question of how to view students is a topic I attempted to address in a commentary I had published in On the Horizon, in 1995 [web.brvant.edu/~fsp/modules/1/investor.htm]," offered Theo. R. Leverenz, of EPPA Consulting (KY). "I personally prefer to view students as investors--with the faculty's role one of an 'investment counselor.'"

At Indiana State University, Kevin Snider, executive assistant to the president for Strategic Planning, Institutional Research and Effectiveness, offered: "[Here's] a compromise. University functions that surround student learning should absolutely adopt this mentality. Recruitment, registration, food services, facilities, marketing, housing, etc., are locked in a competitive bid to meet the immediate needs of customers. Failure to produce could lose a potential or current student and hurt the University. …

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