Why Students Are Not Customers — 3 Thoughts to Reframe Your Mindset

customers decide on a television

By John Gallo, MS, MBA – Dean of Graduate, Adult, and Online Education

Let’s face it: we live in a disposable society. Almost everything we purchase, we typically throw away when it breaks. We have become mass consumers of just about everything. From necessities like choosing organic versus non-organic food to things like disposable contacts, to switching cell phone providers and cable companies, we spend much of our time comparison shopping by reading reviews and researching. Then, when we’re satisfied we’ve found the best, we’ll buy the product. In fact, if you are reading this blog, you may be in the process right now of “shopping” around for a college to attend.

While the process of carefully choosing a college to attend somewhat mirrors the process of buying a car or a television; the reality is there are dramatic differences. For example, let’s say you’re on the hunt for a new television. First, you do some online searching and reading. You try to find which television fits what you’re looking for, has good reviews, and is within budget. Then, you walk into your nearest big-box department store looking to buy the new television. After you find the television you want, you head over to the store clerk to pay. At this key point, you would reasonably expect that as soon as your credit card clears, the clerk would direct you to the pick-up location of your nice, new television, correct?

What if after your card clears, the store clerk turns to you and says, “Congratulations! You have merely purchased the right to earn that TV and when you have earned it through hard work, writing papers, and testing, you can come back to pick it up.” My guess is you would be genuinely shocked and a bit bewildered. However, that is exactly what happens every time a student enrolls in college.

The Higher Education Consumer Model is Different

Higher education follows a completely different model than our consumer-based, disposable, materialistic culture. In college, students are not customers “buying” a degree; they are students who are paying for the unique opportunity to rightfully earn a degree. Some earn that degree with straight A’s. Sadly, some pay for the right and do not earn the degree at all. Nevertheless, when a student enrolls in college, the desired outcome of that “purchase” is never guaranteed. This is very different than the rest of our culture where buying something essentially guarantees you will own it (save for a shipping or delivery error.)

What does this mean?

Well, for you the student, it naturally means you need to properly adjust your mindset about college. You are in direct control, but you are also responsible for the “possession” of the degree. This means that you—not the school or the instructor—are ultimately  accountable for your education. The school is responsible for providing a comprehensive, accredited program that meets the modern standards of the academic discipline. The instructor is responsible for providing specific instruction that helps you learn the curriculum properly. But you are responsible for rightfully earning the degree based on your active involvement, carefully studying, and the distinctive quality of completed work you produce.

So, with that in mind, I want to respectfully discuss some things we’ve heard students say over the years, and I want to provide some encouragement to help reframe your mindset if you’ve had any of these three thoughts:

1. “I am paying for this degree, so I want an A.”

As we’ve addressed, you’re paying for a unique opportunity to earn a grade and ultimately the degree, and you determine the outcome of whether you earn it or not. The instructor is not obligated to assign you the grade you want; they are obligated to properly give you the grade you justly earn. Instead, maybe consider the grade as something you earn like in an athletic competition. It takes training, discipline, and hard work. Even then, sometimes someone’s best is not a gold medal or a first-place finish. If you do your best, be content with the results and know that next class provides an opportunity to start anew.

2. “I am paying for these instructors’ salaries, so I deserve this grade.”

Unless you are paying completely out of your own pocket, you are most likely using some combination of funded grants, federal loans, or employer assistance.  That means that, as a taxpayer, your instructor may actually be helping to pay for you to go to College.  That’s what makes higher education such a privilege—a community of people come together to fund students’ educations so that we can to make this world a better place by training up doctors, educators, etc. And at Geneva, we also are training people to go out and do God’s kingdom work—what an amazing opportunity to be a part of!

3. Saying to an instructor, “If you fail me, I won’t be able to continue.”

Instructors never fail anyone. Ultimately, it is we who fail ourselves by earning a failing grade that the instructor properly identifies. But also understand that failing a course does not make you a failure in life. Not everyone gets their driver’s license on the first try. And every baseball player will always have more strikeouts than home runs at the end of the year. Most of world’s most successful CEOs will have products or services that failed during their tenure. Those experiences help shape them for success and it can for you as well. Sometimes failing a course in college is the best thing that can happen to you, but rest assured we have support structures in place to try to help you get to that finish line.

Now at this point, you may be saying to yourself, “I’ll stick to buying a TV instead!” Well, take heart. Although higher education is a dramatically different type of “purchase”, it is also a lucrative investment that lingers much longer than other material purchases. To revisit the television from earlier, that television is going to typically last you a few years before it either becomes obsolete or breaks. In contrast, the education you earn will pay you a lifetime of generous dividends that never become obsolete. If you get in the right mindset before going back to school, you will have all the motivation you need to do your best. After all, you’re in control.

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Ryan Buchar
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