A couple of factors are leading students and parents to look at colleges as though they are a commodity item and these factors are created by the colleges themselves:
1. focusing on only the economic value of a college degree – higher paying jobs that result from the degree earned
2. how quickly can a student get through the four years and get out – an assembly line effect
Hunter Rawlings, the president of the Association of American Universities and a former president of Cornell University and the University of Iowa, recently wrote in a Washington Post article that purchasing a college degree is not like buying a car or a television. It is not a commodity product, but rather, the value of higher education is in what students discover through this exploratory period in their life. And much of what they get out of college is the effort they put into it.
I agree with Rawlings as I look back on my own college experience 30 years later. It was more about the professors who took a personal interest in me, classes that inspired and expanded my thinking outside the box, and the network of friends that I’m still connected with today. It was the “experience” that I remember.
So who is turning the college experience into a commodity? In many cases, it’s the colleges themselves:
treating students as a Student Id#, assembly lines of advisors who are not faculty, and not focusing on those things that will socially and academically integrate a student into the campus life. The intrinsic value to a student ultimately is what the student takes away from the experience beyond the “degree”, but the college must help create the environment to make this happen.
This environment requires looking through the lens of the student and recognizing that everything in your physical environment is sending a message, subtle or not. Do you make it easy to do business with you? Does the staff look for opportunities to Wow the student. Service excellence is a way to differentiate your college from just being another commodity.