Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Student as Customer is Failure

By Professor Doom


     While I’ve placed much of the blame for the fraud that is higher education today at the feet of the plundering administrative caste, faculty are hardly blameless. One trend that was just starting when I entered academia, a trend that faculty did not rebuke, was the idea that students should be perceived as customers.

    This is core to faculty’s fault for what has happened. Faculty thought the idea was harmless enough, so went along with small administrative plans to bring on students. New students flowed onto campuses, drowning administrations in a sudden deluge of money; this money was used to cement the administrative stranglehold on higher education.

     That faculty were ignorant of how easy it would be to find suckers to check off a box and sign up for the student loan scam in no way excuses their responsibility for what happened to higher education. We handed loaded guns to the chimpanzees of administration.

     At first glance (which, alas, is all we gave it), “student as customer” sounds harmless enough. What harm could come from advertising a bit for more customers? Perhaps some soul would see a commercial or whatever, decide that higher education was for him, and a great mind is thereby saved from ignorance. Sounds noble enough.

     We didn’t accumulate a trillion dollars of student debt overnight, and churn out worthless degrees by the millions in a year…it took time, and the clock started with the very first tick of the “student as customer” paradigm of higher education.

     A great article on Inside Higher Ed addresses many of the flaws of “student as customer”. Because the author is faculty, and not administration, the writing is not edubabble boilerplate, and is quite coherent. I have some things to add, however:

The above basically hits the nail on the head. One campus I was on had a “recruitment day”, where institutions from around the country set up little tables and passed out slick brochures. What was most striking about these institutions of higher advertisement education was how the posters presented their programs as “convenient” and “quick” and how they promised to help students with financing (about as intellectually honest a way of putting it as describing a guillotine as a way to help with headaches…).

Rows of tables, each with a barker howling about how easy and convenient his institution is. It won’t even cost the customer a thing, just check this box to qualify for federal loans…

The dog that didn’t bark, of course, is how none of the institutions spoke about how challenging their programs were, or how incredibly skilled their graduates were, or, frankly, anything at all about the delivery of the product.

Institutions today are now all about pulling in those students (primary), and retention of those students (secondary).  Then comes keeping student complaints down…education doesn’t make the top three goals of institutions any more. That’s why not even 1% of 2-year college work is at the second year of college work. Over 99% of students just swirl around high school level material for a few years while the loan money runs out. That’s not a success rate to be proud of…but that’s the real success rate of higher education.

Suck ‘em in, and nobody cares after that. The article has more to say.


“We extend these student-customers an astounding amount of easy credit…The student-as-customer model allows us to rationalize…student-loan debt that increasingly appear to mortgage many young graduates’ futures. Such logic also allows us to write off as unwise those students who accumulate large debts on seemingly “impractical” degrees...The burden of debt has been shifted onto students in the first place, because state legislatures appear to be less and less inclined to subsidize education…on the very logic that students are “customers.”


I’m not sure I buy that the reason state funding of institutions is dropping fast is because of the “student as customer” idea—the country is running out of money on every level. States are using every rationalization they can to justify doing what reality says they must do.

On the other hand, the author of the article is dead on about the “astounding amount of easy credit.” Institutions that followed the mission of “education and research” instead of “lure suckers in” would not be getting people to destroy themselves with easy credit.

Next, the article says something I fundamentally disagree with. Next time.




  1. What's been happening in higher education is only aspect of what's been happening throughout US society over the last three decades or more: the neoliberal offensive, where there's no conception of society, of citizenship, of inherent quality. A society where "market forces" decide what survives, an emphasis on marketing the meretricious, selling it at inflated prices, with misleading claims, and saddling the "customers" with debt.

    On the buses of Minneapolis, there's an advertisement about "earning" a degree in as little as 18 months. No mention of what the degree will be in, no mention of its quality. The tacit assumption is that earning any sort of degree must be advantageous -- when the evidence indicates otherwise. Likewise, on the Minneapolis skyway there are any number of advertisements selling graduate programs in law and business -- again deftly eliding over quality and subsequent prospects.

    If all this is to change we probably need to change American society, to get it out of the blind alley it's been traversing blithely down.

    With regard to the loss of ability to reason, you might enjoy the Archdruid's latest blog post:


    An excerpt:

    "What makes a revival of the skills of thinking particularly tempting just now is that the bar is set so low. If you know how to follow an argument from its premises to its conclusion, recognize a dozen or so of the most common logical fallacies, and check the credentials of a purported fact, you’ve just left most Americans—including the leaders of our country and the movers and shakers of our public opinon—way back behind you in the dust. To that basic grounding in how to think, add a good general knowledge of history and culture and a few branches of useful knowledge in which you’ve put some systematic study, and you’re so far ahead of the pack that you might as well hang out your shingle as a mentat right away."

  2. I certainly concede "thinking is hard" is a big factor, and it's funny that you mention "neoliberal". I've noticed that even when I disagree with far right thinkers, I can still hold a conversation with them. Leftists are generally so devoid of capacity that conversation, beyond my listening to a torrent of vitriol at suggesting leftist ideology be questioned, is impossible.

  3. Hehe, the lefties get their high from moral indignation. My sympathies -- such as they are -- lie with the left but I'd be the first to concede that they're intellectually bankrupt.

  4. Here's another aspect to this.

    The administration at the institution I used to teach at swallowed the "student as customer" malarkey hook, line, and sinker. The staff, however, were divided into loyalists, neutrals, and dissenters.

    Most simply went along with it because they were sheeple and acted like they couldn't think for themselves. The loyalists were enthusiastic about it, though, I suspect, many did so for personal political gain. Then there were those of us who opposed it with some, like me, either being open about it or doing the bare minimum that was required.

    The man who inflicted that hokum on the institution was my department head. I seriously doubt that he believed any of it and simply went through the motions in a effort to endear himself to his superiors, hoping they would reward him with promotion into their regal ranks.

    Unfortunately, he used our department as the guinea pigs. Whatever new nonsense associated with this doctrine came along, we were expected to follow. By holding us up as models to be emulated, he hoped to increase his political standing. For some reason, he wasn't happy whenever I didn't play along.....