What is a customer? When we think of a customer, most of us think of people who shop in stores or online. According to the Business Dictionary, a customer is “a party that receives or consumes products (goods or services) and has the ability to choose between different products and suppliers.” Based on this definition, a customer is anyone who chooses one product or service over another. Doesn’t this apply to college students as well, then?
As a recent graduate, I can personally tell you that there is a lot of time spent researching colleges before making the decision on where to go. Prospective students look at faculty reviews, sports programs, extracurricular activities, major programs and so on. Like any other customer, teens looking to go to college do a ton of research on the available “products” before choosing which one best fits their needs. So, if kids are looking at universities the same way they would research the pros and cons of the next best gadget, why don’t universities look at them as valued customers? According to research from the Gallup-Purdue Index, colleges need to start doing so.
The Gallup-Purdue Index studies more than 60,000 college graduates in the U.S. in order to measure the degree to which they achieve great jobs and great lives after they graduate. To do this, the study assesses their engagement at work and their overall well-being across five dimensions, which are purpose, social, financial, community and physical well-being. One of the most interesting results is that it found a link between key experiences students had during college and their long-term outcomes in work and life as graduates.
The study found that students who have “experiential learning” excelled later on. This includes people who had internships, long-term projects, jobs, and were involved in extracurricular activities. Another key finding showed that students who were “emotionally supported” by professors and staff were twice as likely to be thriving in the well-being category later in life. I can attest to this claim, as I was close with several of my professors during college—in fact, I’ve gotten a few well-wishes emails from them since graduation. I felt incredibly supported during my time at school, and I know that helped me succeed in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I had gone somewhere else. Unfortunately, not everyone has these experiences, with a quarter of all graduates strongly disagreeing that they had any of these crucial experiences while in college.
A quarter of people missing out on these opportunities, combined with the rising cost of tuition, are enough to make teens think twice about getting a higher education degree. That’s why universities need to start treating prospective students like the customers they are. Only 26 percent of U.S. college graduates strongly agree that they can’t imagine a world without their alma mater, which just goes to show that the majority of colleges aren’t doing their part.
Student engagement needs to be at the top of their priority list. The study shows that students who are more engaged will be more engaged at their workplace in the future. Former students who are successful and happy at work reflect well back on their universities, which can then be used as an indicator of universities’ success. If a school’s graduates are doing poorly at work, or go around saying that their alma mater did nothing to help them, the college is going to have a hard time attracting new students. This outcome can be prevented if the university puts in the effort to engage students during their college experience.
It certainly doesn’t look good for a college if their students are failing in the workforce—the whole point of going to college is to get an education that will help you land a job and then excel in it. A key part of this is making sure that your university has passionate teachers who genuinely care about their students, as well as extracurriculars that encourage kids to get involved on campus. Treating students like valued customers from the very beginning, before they even enroll, will provide them with an engaging experience that is sure to set them up for a successful life post-college.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi