Learning, Consumerism and Service: A New Way for Higher Education?
Imagine being greeted when entering the lobby of a building, receiving a special message and complimentary dessert on your birthday and towel service at the fitness center.
You’re not on vacation at a major resort, however. You’re in college.
When approaching higher education from a service perspective, these are precisely the types of student experiences that are possible and likely to impact a university’s bottom line.
According to Khan and Matlay, although data on service excellence in higher education is limited, enlisting service strategies is key to internal customer satisfaction in most organizations, including higher education. As annual costs rise, students are increasingly concerned about receiving value for their tuition dollars. Although many universities are considered to be businesses, Ritzer argues that universities aren’t any different than other “service” organizations. Nevertheless, it seems that many institutions of higher education resist the “service” industry connotation. Even though colleges and universities worldwide compete for students, many institutions seem wary of being associated with consumerism. In today’s competitive marketplace, however, blending “consumerism” with “service” may just be the competitive edge that leads to higher enrollment and retention. After all, satisfied customers (students) lead to enhanced affinity with an institution, which leads to greater retention and graduation rates, and higher alumni giving.
Pine and Gilmore contend that providing quality service isn’t the pinnacle of customer care. They contend that beyond providing a quality service, organizations can strive to “stage” experiences, and even better, “elicit” transformations. Although initially these goals may seem radically different from the traditional mission of higher education, colleges and universities routinely endeavor to transform students.
At High Point University in North Carolina, enhancing the experience for students is a priority. Students enjoy an ice cream truck that circles the campus handing out free treats, a concierge desk that assists in making maintenance requests and sending out dry cleaning, and soothing music filtered around campus. In addition to the wealth of demographic, financial and academic information housed in the High Point database, the school also gathers information on students’ snack and candy bar preferences. This is an example of an institution recognizing that affinity with the school can be enhanced by providing an exceptional experience for students—an experience that doesn’t end with a quality education.
As the world’s economic climate fluctuates, students as consumers will likely become more concerned with the value of their tuition dollars but may not be willing to sacrifice exceptional service.
Baade, R.A., & Sundberg, J.O. (1996). What determines alumni generosity? Economics of Education Review, 15(1), 75-81.
Barlett, T. (2008). Club ed: This university is at your service. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(43), A1.
Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for quality learning (2nd ed.). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Khan, H., Matlay, H. (2009). Implementing service excellence in higher education. Education & Training, 51(8-9), 769-780.
Lomas, L. (2007). Are students customers? Perceptions of academic staff. Quality in Higher Education, 13(1), 31-44.
Pine, B.J., & Gilmore, J.H. (1999). The experience economy. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Ritzer, G. (1998).The McDonaldization thesis: Explorations and extensions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.