Is the student the customer or… 4

…the product?

Frazz - April 27, 2009

Frazz by Jef Mallett


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4 thoughts on “Is the student the customer or…

  • Brad Shively

    Harsh. But at least partly true.

    In IST we always get told about how key companies [Lockheed Martin, PWC, and others come to mind] helped to design our program so that when we graduate we’ll each be a “good fit” for those outfits. Basically, they helped build the machine that will churn out the kind of students they want. In that sense, we’re definitely the product.

    I think the university experience is what students are sold, for better or worse. Even when I attended my Schreyer FTCAP day, the students there to speak with us talked up things I didn’t really care about. I remember in particular one kid trying to talk about the PSU football team with me, and how insane that seemed at the time. I felt like I was trying to make a very expensive, important decision: which $60k-$100k program/piece of paper I was going to “purchase” and link my name/reputation with whenever I entered the workforce. Sadly, it seems the emphasis in college promotion is still mostly on what the university offers socially, not academically.

    • Chris Brady Post author

      “Sadly, it seems the emphasis in college promotion is still mostly on what the university offers socially, not academically.”

      Brad – I hope you wouldn’t feel that way if you attended one of our offer sessions now. We do talk about the social atmosphere and sense of community in the SHC (after all, you are living here for four years), but we spend a great amount of time talking about the academic opportunities PSU and SHC offer.

  • John

    Which is more important to career advancement, social or academic? For instance, is a law degree from Harvard important because it is a law degree from Harvard or because it is a Harvard law degree? Is the network you become a part of more important than what is actually learned?

    There is a saying, ‘who you know is more important than what you know.’ True or false?

    Have fun with that….

    • steve


      I understand that perhaps, several years ago, talking about the football team may have seemed a bit “off.” But then we had that amazing 2005 season!

      That said, if a student looks at college “simply” for the academic environment they will be in, then they are at best myopic. College is a chance for the first time to be part of society ‘on your own.’ (okay, so there are many students who come “back” to college after being on their own, but that is a relatively small percentage.) It is this “socialization” that really helps prepare the student for life.

      Call me idealistic, or perhaps a bad academic, but I honestly, and fervently, believe that if a student spends their 4 (or 5) years in college focused solely on academic pursuits then they will be the worse for it. They will have much in the way of head knowledge, and they will (undoubtedly) leave with a strong sense of academic accomplishment, but they will (most likely) not have achieved the social skills or graces necessary to be an active and engaging member of society.

      Sheldon from that “documentary series” Big Bang Theory comes to mind.


      The comic is of course a great one, asking the age old question. In fact, we had to revisit this very question almost every year with various student groups. When an organization (such as the Air Force) is paying for you to earn an advanced degree, is it correct to assume that “you” the student are the customer?

      Even more critical to the discussion is an understanding of “customer.” Is a customer the immediate recipient of the service? That would be the student, obviously. Is the “customer” the person or organization paying the bill? That could be the student, or the parents, or a business or organization paying for their employee to attend. (FERPA makes THIS one interesting.) To confound the discussion further we have these concepts of “internal” and “external” customers. That is in some way an acknowledgment that a “customer” doesn’t exist but rather there are sets of customers with overlapping goals, outcomes, and desires.

      Perhaps a better concept (and one we are using more often) is the one of “stakeholder.” A Stakeholder has an interest in the outcome of your effort, but may not even be directly involved in the delivery of the service. For instance, the state government is a stakeholder in higher education not only for the moneys they do (or do not) provide, and not only because they hire our graduates. The “state government” cares because these graduates may stay in the state, create businesses in the state, and encourage economic growth–in the state. Conversely, they may also go on the unemployment rolls, and suck down welfare dollars if they earn degrees that inadequately prepared them for “the real world.”

      If one is in the business of providing a service, then certainly an understanding of the nature of the service, and the customer for whom the service is to be given, is critical. In addition, helping everyone understand all the stakeholders and the stakes they have, will enable the organization (any organization) to be successful in achieving the outcomes they desire.