Student as Customer

Referring to students as customers is a contentious issue among faculty. I have heard a lot of different arguments both ways, but the fact is that higher education is a buyers’ market. Also, over the years, I have noticed that students increasingly think of themselves as customers. If they do, shouldn’t we?

One seemingly strong argument I have heard against referring to students as customers was made by a professor in response to a recent article that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The professor said that in a normal transaction, the supplier has a large burden of activity, while the customer has a small burden of activity. For example, a restaurant (supplier) has a lot of work to do to fulfill a customer’s dinner order, while the customer has only a little work to do. In higher education, the opposite is true. The student has a lot of work to do, while the professor (supplier) has a little work to do (sum of preparation, class time, and grading time per week). Therefore, they are not a customer.

Is this a good argument? What is the assumption that this argument is based on? Is it a valid assumption?

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