Sunday, October 16, 2011

Academic Customer Service and Why Students Come to College

Though it will seem to cause some pain and hurt for some individuals on campus the reality needs to be said. Students do not come to college to learn. They come to get a job. Well, to be trained and educated to get a job. They are not there to learn and grow though they will accede to that as a condition to getting the diploma they seek to get a job.

Students realize that college holds the key to that job. The diploma. Without the diploma they would not be able to get the job they want and by the way, for most of them nowadays that is almost any job in their field.

Sure there are a few who do not know what they want to do and there will always be a some art history and philosophy majors who may not say they are looking for a job but to just learn but they are also job seekers. They want to work in a gallery or go on to grad school so they can finally get a job as a professor. More likely at best a part time prof teaching something other than philosophy or philosophizing while pouring a cup of coffee but a job nonetheless.

Realizing that the students are coming to college to get a job should make us realize that they are going to be even stronger consumer-oriented people. They look at their paying tuition and fees and the like as part of a contract. I pay you money for services that you provide to get me to where I want to be. Want proof? Count the number of times you hear students say something like “I’m paying a lot of money to go here.” Or I pay your salary”. And even if that number is not yet huge just think back and realize that you are hearing it more and more now. That is a sign of a consumer orientation and of the students’ realization of a contract being written between the school and the student.

Students are there to get what they need to get a job. Just think about required courses too. Why are they required? So that students will take them. If they were not required students would not take them in favor of either getting more training in their future field of work or to skip them altogether and get out faster.  The argument here is not whether or not to be a well-rounded citizen students need to take required courses though there is a counter argument that many of them are either useless or just there to make sure some departments have a reason to exist and bring in money. The issue is not to question the value of required courses but to point out that students would not take them if they did not have to as a hoop to jump through to get to their goal.

One other point. Career colleges exist to a large extent because they are career-oriented. The profit sector would not exist in as large a bloc as it does if there were not a string demand for direct school to job training. The career schools pare down the required courses to minimum to get students to their goal in as quick and job-oriented pattern as is possible.  They also succeed because they realize that the job is the goal and invest in career placement activity far beyond what not-for-profit colleges and universities do.

This is not to say the career schools do it well or that some of their placement claims are anything but PFTA thinking. (PFTA? Pulled from thin air. The polite way of saying it here.) To continue being honest, many of the career schools have been questioned on their placement rates but they are not questioned on their focus on careers and jobs for their graduates. And that gives them an edge and a basis for their attraction and growth.

Realizing that students are job-oriented should make colleges and universities also realize that they need to be job conscious too. They need to focus more on career services as a basic customer service for students. They need to have people who do nothing but seek out jobs for graduates as so the career colleges.

They need to give up on the idea that career services just is a job taker when a company calls in looking for graduates to hire. They need to realize that just giving out sheets on how to write a resume is not enough and a simple free class on resume writing doesn’t do it for the current crop of students.  They want and need much more. Granted some colleges and universities are so well known for their graduates that they may not need as much career services work as others but even the top 306 name brand colleges are finding that smaller and smaller segments of their graduating classes are getting jobs after graduation. Also recognizing that the top schools have fairly strong alumni structures with the alumni hiring from their alma mater but even that is changing as businesses are becoming more selective and gaping after the best without as strong a sense of brand loyalty anymore as the available pool of grads grows larger.

When student say they left a college or university because it wasn’t worth it what they are saying is that they felt that the school would not get them to their goal of a job. It just was not worth the time and effort so they quit. Colleges and universities need to take a note from the career schools and expand their placement and career services functions. Considering that 34% of students leave a school because they just don’t think it is worth it should be a enough to awaken schools to the importance of career services as a basic customer service to students to aid retention.

Students also need to interact with career services from the beginning of their careers and not just at the end. They should write a resume each semester/ quarter that adds on the new skills and courses they have taken. This will allow them to have a well written resume after it is reviewed by career services as well as see the relevance of their coursework to the goal of getting a job. They should take interviewing classes to learn how t interview. They should also be taking work in how to be an employee.

This work can be done by providing appropriate decorum in the classroom which is after all their workplace at the time of being in college. Students should be required to act at a level that would be demanded if they were on the job in their area of chosen future profession. For example, on the job if an employee came in large each day he would not lose half a grade, he would lose a job. If an employee answered her phone in a business meeting, she would possibly be fired or at least reprimanded for doing so.  If an employee missed work without calling in and letting the supervisor know he or she were going to be out, that could be cause for being fired.

I am aware of at least one school that requires all its students to wear work appropriate uniform shirts as  a sign that they are preparing for a job. The Porter and Cable Institutes have all their student wear uniform shirts that designate what career path they are in. They also supply the students with a tool bag that has the basic tools they will need to do the classwork and be prepared to do the job when they graduate. And their placement office is always working to find, yes find jobs for their graduates.  This may strike some as a bit extreme. Making them dress appropriate to the job they seek but it is no different than having nursing students or other medically-oriented students wear uniforms or clothing appropriate to their future profession. Porter and Cable also have their instructors all wear Porter and Cable embroidered shirts to indicate they are also dressed for the appropriate job. They and their students are dressed for success.

The classroom is the workplace for students and should be treated as such. Part of the service we should be providing is teaching not just the skills to get them hired but what is needed to be a good employee and keep the job.

Customer service is not just smiling answering phones it is providing all the services the customer, the student, needs to achieve his or her goals. Just as we require courses, we should require good employee skills.

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