Is the customer always right in higher education?

After writing about higher education for 14 years, Jeffrey Selingo knows the drill.
After writing about higher education for 14 years, Jeffrey Selingo knows the drill.

Before stepping into his current role as editor-at-large at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey Selingo was a reporter for 14 years. His first book – “College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students” – was released last week by Harvest Books. We asked Selingo for his input about the increasingly complex world of higher education.

What has changed in higher ed since you began writing about it?
As prices go up, people have more questions about what they get from higher education. I think more and more students treat it like any other industry they consume. Although, I also argue that students have to be savvier about their
consumer choices in education. Most parents and students still pick colleges in a very emotional way.

What comes out of that emotional response?
We have a very romantic view of higher education: big time universities, quads, small classes, gothic buildings, football weekends. But in reality, students and parents are buying a product. They need to know if they’re going to graduate on time, get a job, what their debt load will be, and whose going to be teaching them.

How has this student-consumer shift changed education?
Students have a lot more expectation [than they did previously.] They are the customer, and the customer is always right. As a result, we’ve seen grade inflation. The classroom has turned into a giant favor exchange. Part time faculty need to please students to get good course evaluations. Students want to get good grades, because they’re paying a lot of money. At the end of the day, there’s not much academic rigor at some colleges.

How will technology change higher ed?
I don’t think online institutions will replace thousands of colleges. Some people really believe that. If you talk to 18-year-olds, they don’t want go to school online, they want the typical residential experience. I think [technology] will be injected into that traditional model. There will be more hybrid courses and more students will watch lectures online. Then they’ll go to class for the high impact class, where you really need human interaction.


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