I’ve been involved in higher education long enough to know how impenetrable our institutions can seem to outsiders, especially students, prospective employees with experience working in other sectors, and organizations looking to hire students or engage faculty. I wouldn’t go so far to say that the sector is more or less mysterious than any other, yet I feel quite confident in stating that, based on numerous personal experiences over the last two decades, institutions of higher learning collectively suffer from a significant perception problem that in no small way contributes to the ongoing questions and challenges faced by its leaders.
In light of this context, what is called “customer service” in the private sector is even more critical in higher education. It starts with the recognition that the student is our primary customer, as without them there are no classes, faculty, or staff, much less any of the other trappings higher education has become associated with over the years. You can talk all you want about the issues facing higher education but they are moot in their entirety without the presence — much less participation — of those we have been charged to serve. In other words, we best tighten our focus on the particular, ongoing needs of our students if we are even to have a remote chance at addressing the ills that plague higher education.
A customer-centered focus demands that we engage students based on our collective recognition of the following three points:
* We all work in admissions. That means faculty and staff alike share a common goal of attracting new students. We individually and collectively agree to do whatever it takes to present our institutions in the best possible way to prospective students, who have a plethora of choices available to them.
* We all contribute to student retention and success. That means once a student commits to attend our institution, we each must do everything in our power to ensure that that individual succeeds academically, socially, personally, and, ultimately, professionally — while completing their experience in a timely fashion.
* We recognize that every opportunity we have to engage a prospective or current student is a learning opportunity for them. The systems and processes we’ve set up to run our institutions can be perplexing. It thus is our responsibility to help teach students how to navigate them in preparation for what they likely will encounter after they graduate.
The bottom line is that we need to adopt an attitude of gratitude for and service to students, our primary reason for being, as the fundamental component of a long-term strategy for ensuring the viability of our institutions.