Is higher education failing its customers?

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Rick Pefley

Universities need to take a hard look at their current curriculum in order to better prepare students for life after graduation.

American colleges and universities have forgotten about the reason they are in business.  The purpose of higher education is primarily that: to educate students and prepare students for life after college.

In the rush to become profitable businesses, universities have forgotten that in order to run a successful company, customers have to be treated well.  In this case, the students are the customers, and the students seem to be the last ones considered when administrators are making policy and business decisions.

Administrators and policy makers seem to have forgotten that first and foremost, a college or university is a service business.  Students pay a set amount of money each semester, and in return the university is providing a service of higher education.

One aspect of customer service is evaluating employees.  After each semester, students are given an evaluation form and a comment card in order for the administration to gauge teacher performance.  After speaking with many students, a few concerns almost always come up about certain teachers, and yet these teachers continue to be gainfully employed semester after semester.  It appears as though the administration could care less about students pointing out teachers’ deficiencies as long as students continue to come back and pay tuition every semester.

“Why even bother filling these evaluations out,” said Ethan Murao, a graduating senior, as he crumpled up his evaluation and threw it in the trash.  “They don’t make a difference.”

Some common complaints include certain teachers being out of touch with the current generation and lecturing on topics that were relevant 10 or 20 years ago but do not apply today.  These teachers continue to spread irrelevant information based on experiences they may have had while in college 20 years ago.  Certain fields, such as marketing, have changed dramatically in recent years with the advent of the Internet, social media and mobile smart phones.  Yet certain teachers are still using examples from JC Penney Catalogs and radio advertisements from 1980.

Another common complaint is the lack of teaching credentials.  Being a successful employee is not even close to being able to teach those same skills to students. Certain people are amazing at their job yet lack the patience, techniques and requisite skills to pass that information on to students.

Higher education, specifically in America, claims to be liberal arts oriented, supposedly in order to give students a broad knowledge base and make them “well-rounded.”  Students are forced to take classes that have no bearing on their major, such as science classes for students not entering science fields.  Colleges force students to take these classes in the guise of making them a more complete person, yet financial education classes aren’t required.  Colleges send students out into the world with no knowledge whatsoever about investing, how to budget, the benefits and dangers of credit card use or how to calculate interest and payments on student loans.  Yet any student who has taken an astronomy class can name all the planets.

“If a person did not see the advantage of taking say, an English literature course or taking a course with Yukio Ozaki, ceramics, and really said, ‘That’s not for me. I want to do technical only,’ unfortunately then I’d say you made a mistake in choosing Chaminade,” said Brother Ploeger, Chaminade University president.

If students saw no value in a liberal arts curriculum and yet desired to receive a bachelor’s degree in order to improve their salary and lessen their chance of unemployment, what is the alternative to a liberal arts education?

However, students do see, and studies have proven that a bachelor’s degree has a value. According to a 2012 Forbes.com article, students who attain a bachelor’s degree earn $400 more per week (nearly $21,000 more a year) than students with a high school diploma.  They also experience significantly less unemployment than those with only a high school education.

But still, many students are leaving college feeling inadequately prepared for the working world. Another common complaint is the lack of career preparation skills; such as job search skills, resume writing, interviewing techniques and networking.  Curtis Washburn, associate provost for day undergraduate programs, has mentioned that Chaminade has a few classes that teach these skills.  These classes include Criminal Justice 327 and Business 416.  He encourages students to take these classes, either as part of their major or as an elective.

“The CJ 327 class, I visited that class,” Washburn said.  “A few times Ronnie Mulford has had me come and speak.  I wish I had something like that in college.”

Colleges are failing to prepare students for the reality of taking care of themselves and their family with budgeting and investment advice yet continue to encourage students to spend thousands of dollars a year in order to learn about medieval history.

If higher education truly cared about producing well-rounded students, students’ needs would be considered first in the administration’s decision-making process.

The administration would strive to recruit and retain the best professors, based on teaching credentials and student feedback.  These professors would have current industry knowledge as well as have the skills to educate students.

The administration would create degree plans specific to a student’s major or concentration that would concentrate less on “liberal arts” courses and instead focus specifically on the courses a student needs to be the most knowledgeable about in his or her field.

The administration would require every student to graduate with a base of financial literacy.  In the Information Age, students can no longer count on working for one company for 40 years and retiring with a monthly pension. Students need to leave college with an understanding of how to take care of their own retirement and not rely on the government or a company to take care of their needs after leaving the workforce.

Upon speaking with several people in the administration, they seem to be aware that in order to produce well-prepared graduates, the school needs to rely more on the Career Services department. Bro. Ploeger expressed that the administration’s “expectations for that office appropriately need to increase.”

Bro. Ploeger also has released an updated version of what the university considers a “fully prepared and competitive graduate.”  Included among the new initiatives is “inviting students to consider career exploration from matriculation to graduation, expanding partnerships between the disciplines and the Office of Career Services.”

“I have this idea that even a small university like Chaminade is complex enough that by the time you do a plan for the whole university, it gets big,” Bro. Ploeger said.  “And so I have this shorthand idea that there’s going to be those things that are going to be key ideas or key levers of success.  If you can do this right, its going to make a lot of other things go better … One way of enhancing academic reputation is to be known for fully prepared and competitive graduates.”

Hopefully these new initiatives will take effect for future students here at Chaminade.  It is our responsibility as students, however, to voice our concerns to the administration about how we would like our educational experience to be shaped.