Students as Customers

Survival hinges on the ability to adapt to changes taking place in our environment.  There is no escaping this fundamental reality. Ignoring or denying change doesn’t make it any less real, only more dangerous.

Unlike some biological adaptations, which can take millennia to occur, businesses must adapt quickly and with intention if they are to survive. In times of rapid change, when opportunities are fleeting, organizational resilience becomes a critical survival trait.

Successful adaptation requires that decision makers have sufficient information on which to base their organizational response. In the School of Business and Economics (SOBE), this information comes from several sources, the most important of which is our students. Oops, I mean customers. As customer tastes and preferences change, so, too, do our course offerings. An increased interest in leadership development or social media, for example, calls forth additional courses in those areas.  We understand that our ability to recruit and retain customers will be compromised by our failure to offer the degree options they desire.

Curricular change is only one of several types of adaptation taking place in SOBE. Pedagogical change is another regular feature of our educational landscape. As student learning styles change and new technologies become available, so does the way we teach our classes. Student-centered classrooms have replaced lecture halls, dynamic computer simulations now supplement (and may soon replace) static textbooks, and hands-on experiential learning supplants passive-learning strategies.

End-of-semester course evaluations have long been a staple of higher education, but I’m not sure how useful they are. After all, they gather information from people who have no incentive to provide meaningful feedback since the course is over and they stand to gain nothing from doing so (the real beneficiaries of this process are next semester’s students). Two years ago, SOBE introduced mid-semester evaluations. Now, students completing the evaluations have a personal stake in the outcome and a reason to provide high-quality responses. They’re the ones who benefit from any data-driven mid-course corrections that result from their suggestions. The same instrument is administered at the end of the semester to determine the extent to which student concerns were addressed at mid-semester.  We understand that our ability to recruit and retain customers will be compromised by our failure to deliver content in an effective manner.

Does that mean that students as customers call all the shots? Absolutely not! Not all customer demands can be met … or should be met (the line separating the two can be very fine). Resource constraints may rule out some, while lack of alignment with mission or inconsistency with culture may rule out others. Nonetheless, seeing students as customers does heighten our awareness of the need to strive to be responsive to their needs, both current and emerging.

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