As a result of the growth in on-line, for-profit and traditional colleges drive to increase enrollment and leave no admissions unturned all competing for theThe Satisfied Customer.
It once was that the schools has all the power in the process. Students played by our rules and jumped over every bar we wanted or we would not take them. The schools still have the power to make applicants play by their basic rules but that is starting to shift as colleges do not want to lose even one applicant to make the final numbers. One could argue that the common application form is an example of giving away power to make students do it our way. Now convenience for students applying is the issue; not following our rules.
The shifting of power can also be seen in the attempts that schools make to retain students. It once was that the attitude was “they should be happy just to have the privilege of being here.” That has gone by the boards for most every school including to some extent the top brand-name schools. Now the attitude towards pleasing students is seen in rock climbing walls, state of the art workout facilities, dorms like apartments, cafeterias with plenty of choice and foods that the customers will like and the like. It also, unfortunately, includes letting students act in disruptive ways in the classroom. To keep students happier, schools have given into the customer power of students. This they do because not to do so would increase attrition.
The schools have to keep up with the realization of shifting consumer power to the students and their families as well as the loss of power to their competitors. If a similar school has built a new athletic facility for students, that puts the pressure on a school to do likewise or lose students to the other school. This is a loss of power through competition.
The area that the colleges retain power however is in setting the processes and rules that deal with how students will conduct business with the school. In these areas, schools often provide horrible service to students because they have the power to do so. These are exactly areas that the schools need to consider loosening up a bit on; the processes they demand, the hoops they make students jump through until they just say I am not jumping any more. Schools think that they have to hold rigidly to this power or the students will… well, what will they do? Be happier with the school.
For example, most schools make students jump through numerous hoops when they try to drop a class. The student must get the form to drop the class. He then has to take it to an advisor who most often cannot be found so the student has to chase the advisor down. Then the advisor has to sign off on the drop. When the advisor is brought to ground, he or she usually just signs a name on the form without consideration of the change in schedule. One, because the advisors do not seem to care. And two because they are too often ill-informed on what the program is and what the drop at that time might do to progress. After that the faculty member in the class has to sign off on the drop. Following that the student has to take the form to the registrar’s office for processing and to the bursar’s office to alert the people there that a course has been dropped.
If you check, you’d find that most students do not do this. If they just drop by not showing up, they suffer the consequence most often of a faculty member giving them an F for failing to show up, do homework and take tests. If they start the process they often quit after they cannot find the advisor so the drop by just not going to class any more or they just sign the advisor’s name themselves. In so doing, they shift some of the power onto themselves by subverting the process. If they sign the name of the advisor and sometimes that of the faculty member, they just undermine the system and in so doing “realize the whole system is a fraud. All they want to do is make you run around and show you who is in charge.” as one student told me recently.
So why do we do this? We can tell ourselves that it is to make sure the student understands the consequences of his or her action. They could lose financial aid money by dropping from full time to part time for example. That is why they need to see an advisor but with advisors doing such a cursory job in many, too many cases the student does not get the counselling she needs. The real reason we make them follow the “run around” is because we can. We have the power to do it and have always done it that way.
This and other administrative procedures should be areas in which we give up power. Not make students run all over campus because we can because they won’t anyhow. What we should do is place some of that power on the students. For example, rather than use the power-based antiquated process of dropping a course. Just set up a page on the website at which a student can just go and type in the course he wants to drop, click a box saying I want to drop this course. At which time a pop up box could come up warning the student that “dropping a course could have consequences such as possible loss of some financial aid”. Then the student would have to click on a box that says “I understand the dropping this course could have consequences. I choose to drop the course anyhow”.
This shifts the power to the student but also places the responsibility for the decision on the student. It cuts out the run around while giving the student the power to decide. This is a salutary shift of power. It is also good customer service by placing the process in the hands of the customer, the student. It will also save the college time and aggravation as well as please the student. There are many areas in which a shift in power to the consumer will help.
The one area in which a shift in power back to the college would help is in classroom decorum. As I travel around working in colleges and universities I hear more and more faculty complaining that they do not get support from the administration for controlling decorum in the classroom. Many faculty say that they are told not to ban cell phone use in class. That they are to let students come in late and disrupt the entire class. That if a student naps in class it is not okay to wake him up. And if a student uses inappropriate language, don’t correct or chastise them for doing so. Let it go by.
This is poor service and an inappropriate shift of power to the customer. In this case, the rule is “the customer can be wrong”. If students are allowed to disrupt the classroom that student takes away from every other on in the class. If professors have to compete with students answering cell phones for example, every other student loses in the situation. They have come to class to learn from the professor not to have to listen to what a student did last night.
When a student comes in late, she interrupts the class as everyone looks at her coming in. That includes the professor who is interrupted in what she is saying or doing. The entire class is disrupted.
When a student uses inappropriate language and is not corrected, he is not learning that that language is inappropriate in some locations such as a classroom and in his future work. Students come to school to get jobs so we must prepare them for that job and using appropriate language is one lesson to learn.
So classroom decorum is an area in which the power needs to be shifted back to the professor and the administration needs to back them up.
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