Are They Students or Customers?

We’ve been debating this a bit, and I realize that this is a polarizing issue, and I know that I’m going to get someone’s hackles up about my verbiage and rationale. However, one of the great things about higher ed is that we can have discourse around nuances.

My answer is “Yes.” (How’s that for a hedge?!)


I firmly believe that in the classroom and labs, we have students who need to be pushed, stretched, and have all of those wonderful transformative experiences that is part of the educational environment. They leave our campus not only with a degree and a set of skills but also with the ability to think critically and take on that role of citizenry that we love to think about beyond our role of preparing them for careers.


In so many other areas of campus, our students are customers. Interacting with our enrollment services, in our dining halls, IT Services, our students should be treated with great customer service. It is a privilege to serve them, and if we don’t appreciate that then they have many other institutions who will take care of them. We need to compete here because we are in a competitive environment. One size fits all doesn’t work any more because our student populations represent many different needs. Who do we serve? Traditional age students (outside of Hispanic populations) are declining, first generation students, mid-career students, military students. They each have different needs and different obstacles to overcome to get (and stay!) in our classrooms as students and eventually become alumni (here’s a link to make a donation).

The Balance

We don’t enroll students because we have the world’s best IT shop or enrollment services or dining halls. If we are bad, then we can lose students because of these things and the feeling poor service culture gives a campus. However, we need to be good enough that the students can focus on the great academic programs we offer.



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