Earlier this afternoon, NSU hosted the first in a series of events titled Dialogue & Debate. The title of D&D 1 was “A College Degree is a Commodity and Students are Our Customers.” It was ITVd across all three campuses. Below is an image of the event as viewed from the Broken Arrow campus.
Seated left to right – ITV facilitator James Whitmer; Debate Team – Roger Collier, Chuck Ziehr, David Scott.
Provost Martin Tadlock began the event by introducing the “gullible” individuals who agreed to serve as the debate team: Communications Professor David Scott as facilitator; Finance Professor Roger Collier in the affirmative; Geography Professor Chuck Ziehr as opposition.
Collier’s comments addressing the question of whether students are customers:
- It’s true that students are our customers, whether we want to believe it or not.
- We provide access to a process that may or may not lead to a degree. Whether or not students get the degree is up to them. The university should have a disclaimer that results may vary.
- In general, students agree that because they are paying, they are a customer. Students pay in tuition, energy, time, work, and the forgoing of other things. Some are even willing to pay with a loss of personal integrity via cheating.
- Faculty, in general, disagree that students are customers.
- Students can vote with their feet; if they are not happy, they can go.
His comments on whether or not a degree is a commodity:
- As with most commodities, a college degree is generally available to anyone interested.
- A degree is standardized and widely available via loans and scholarships.
Dr. Ziehr began his presentation by stating that he prefers the term dialogue over debate, and that this event was a welcome relief to preparation for NCATE accreditation.
Ziehr began his argument by addressing the issue of degree as commodity.
- A degree is a basic product: education.
- Degrees from different universities come with varying costs and value. Another way degrees are differentiated is via transcripts and grades – an area of potential interest to employers.
- Ultimately, degrees are not commodities; they are vastly different, even when the same degree.
Ziehr’s comments on students as customers
- NSU’s Strategic Plan defines a customer as any person who requests services. Therefore, students within an instructional session are not customers.
- Universities are places of open discovery and dissent. Our students use these methods to coproduce knowledge with us, which makes them colleagues, not customers.
- Students create the value of their degree, so should be viewed as product.
The following are notes taken during the rebuttals that followed the initial presentation. I do not know which presenter to credit, so I’ll designate them coauthors.
- Students are not our only customers; all who contribute to or benefit from the education process are customers as well.
- The content of degrees is relatively the same, despite the school. Degrees are fairly standardized. What distinguishes one from another is the access students have to resources.
- A college degree gives access to a profession. It’s up to the student to determine the discipline and how much access.
- Both the student and the school have an obligation to perform.
- Customer is a passive role. Students need to be engaged in order to obtain knowledge and a degree.
Once the presentation and rebuttal sessions concluded, the floor opened to questions. Not sure about anyone else, but I really liked seeing students in the audience, such as the ones above addressing a question to the debate team.
Comments from question-answer session
- Students are our reputation as they leave.
- A student is a customer in regard to the instructor adhering to the syllabus. Students are clients in the idea that the syllabus is a binding contract that creates a mutual relationship; they can appeal if the instructor is guilty of bait and switch.
- Instructors help decide whether students are customers or not. In some classrooms students are doing a lot of coproduction. The more collaborative the process, the better. (I may have added that last part ;-)
- If the class is boring and bad, students will withdraw and tell their friends – like a customer.
- Students have input on which courses are taught and by whom. The job market also has a large influence in both areas.
- Should students be on hiring committees? Yes, students were on the search committees for three of NSU’s most recently hired teaching faculty. (One is also currently serving on the AVPTL Search Committee: Thank you, Steven ;-)
All in all, it was a nice way to spend an hour on a Friday afternoon in mid-September. I look forward to DD 2.