Ask a faculty member about how the customers are doing in her course and you are likely to receive the following responses: confusion, disbelief, and annoyance. Much like waving a red flag at a bull, calling students customers in front of faculty can induce raised voices and anger. Often when this term is used, faculty members will expound on student entitlement and demands for unearned grades. In their minds, student expectations have outstripped reality in higher education. Sometimes it can be difficult to step back and recall our own educational choices.
Looking back, I can say I selected my first university because they chose me. A National Merit Commended Scholar, I found myself being recruited with grants and scholarships. Moving on to my graduate degrees, I had financial aid in the form of tuition reimbursement from my employers for the local universities. My purchasing decisions were made easier by virtue of financial aid. I’m grateful to this day for that assistance. Over four decades later, have things changed? Yes and no. Consider the following.
- The majority of students are online searching for colleges and universities using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networking tools.
- In a Uversity/Zinch survey, two-thirds of students indicated conversations in social media influenced their decision on where to enroll.
- Program selection is influenced by scholarships, financial aid, cost, program offerings, and how they are treated by admissions personnel. Why? Because, according to Dr. Don Martin, higher education admissions expert, author, and former admissions dean at Columbia University, Northwestern University, Wheaton College, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the best predictor of how a student will be treated while she is in a program is how she was treated as a prospective student.
- When a prospective student begins to apply to a program, she often wants to speak to current students and alumni. Not only do prospective students want to know about how hard the curriculum is and if the professors are good, but how students are made to feel about themselves (Palmer & Koenig-Lewis, 2011).
- Prospective students want to know if they can obtain jobs and careers in their chosen profession with this educational program. When applying, they want to know what employment opportunities and opportunities for advancement in careers will be available because of this degree.
Does this mean the student is a customer? I would venture to say that when students are examining their options and searching for a college, university, or program, they are behaving like customers. The 4Ps of marketing, Product, Place, Price, and Promotion, are very much in play while they make their decision. However, a portion of our selection process should include an assessment of the student’s interest in and ability to make the change from being customers to health care management professionals in training.
Once we choose each other and the student is admitted, it is our job as faculty to support them in that transition. According to Holdford (2014) that means we must move the students from being self-centered to becoming patient-centered. He proposes we focus on the patient as the customer in our curricula, where:
“…education is a privilege, professional competence is the goal and outcome of education, education is a collaboration of students and faculty together, grades provide feedback on effort and performance, faculty members and students co-create the educational experience, students are held accountable, and the ultimate goal for students is a career where one can make a difference” (Holdfold, 2014, p. 4).
Part of the professionalization process is faculty modeling excellent interpersonal skills, even when a student is not performing well in a course. This isn’t “pandering” to the student, this is coaching and mentoring the student to a higher performance level. Feedback can be encouraging even when a student has performed poorly on an assessment. I recently had a student thank me for my constructive feedback on an assignment on which she had earned a less than optimal grade due to grammar. With coaching, she understood where she failed to meet the mark and what she needed to do to achieve it next time. She is now empowered by my feedback to demonstrate her communication and writing competencies on her next assignment.
After over two decades in higher education, I can attest to the power of treating students as part of this team sport called teaching. Former students continue to stay in touch with me to tell me about their careers and families. I continue to mentor many and encourage them to go on for additional educational work. As we engage in the process of recruiting, retaining, educating, and graduating the next generation of healthcare managers, we must keep in mind that we are helping them to develop from higher education customers into the professionals we want to have as colleagues and friends.
Sharon B. Buchbinder, RN, PhD
Sharon Buchbinder is Professor and Program Coordinator for the MS in Healthcare Management at Stevenson University in the Graduate and Professional School and former chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). She is also the author of three books from Jones & Bartlett: Introduction to Health Care Management, Cases in Health Care Management, and Career Opportunities in Health Care Management.
Here are some references if you are interested in this topic:
Buchbinder, S. (2010). Teaching as a contact sport. http://blogs.jblearning.com/health/2010/11/01/teaching-as-a-contact-sport/
Danjuma, I., & Rasli, A. (2012). Service quality, satisfaction, and attachment in higher education institutions: A theory of planned behavior perspective. International Journal of Academic Research, 4(2), 96-103.
Holdford, D. A. (2014). Is a pharmacy student the customer or the product? American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 78(1), 1-5.
Iuliana, P., & Mihai, I. D. (2011). Knowing our “clients” for a better management in higher education services. Journal of Academic Research in Economics, 3(3), 355-362.
Ivana, D., Pitic, D., & Drăgan, M. (2013). Demographic factors in assessing quality in higher education: Gender differences regarding the satisfaction level of the perceived academic service quality. Quality Assurance Review, 5(1/2), 95.
Mark, E. (2013). Students are not products. They are customers. College Student Journal, 47(3), 489-493.
Mark, E. (2013). Student satisfaction and the customer focus in higher education. Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management, 35(1), 2-10. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2012.727703
Oluseye, O. O., Tairat, B. T., & Emmanuel, J. O. (2014). Customer relationship management approach and student satisfaction in higher education marketing. Journal of Competitiveness, 6(3), 49-62. doi:10.7441/joc.2014.03.04
Palmer, A., & Koenig-Lewis, N. (2011). The effects of pre-enrolment emotions and peer group interaction on students’ satisfaction. Journal of Marketing Management, 27(11/12), 1208-1231. doi:10.1080/0267257X.2011.614955
Robinson, L., & Sykes, A. (2014). Listening to students' views on NSS data for quality enhancement. Health & Social Care Education, 3(1), 35. doi:10.11120/hsce.2013.00035
Uversity/Zinch. (2014). Digital, social, mobile: The 2014 Social admissions report. http://www.uversity.com/downloads/presentations/2014-Social-Admissions-Report-Webinar.pdf
Webster, R. L., & Hammond, K. L. (2011). Are students and their parents viewed as customers by AACSB—International member schools? Survey results and implications for university business school leaders. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 15(2), 1-17.