Executive Commentary
Is She a Student or Customer?
Satya-Christophe Menard
Satya-Christophe Menard
CEO Schools and Universities Worldwide at Sodexo

The first rule of business is to know your customer. For those of us in the higher education community, this would be an easy question, right?

Our “customers” are generally 18-25-year-olds, recent high school graduates who feel fortunate to receive guidance on how to expand their horizons and launch their careers.

If this were Pass/Fail, that answer would Fail.

I’m not sure that was ever an accurate description of the college student, but it certainly isn’t now.

“Students are becoming more demanding; they’re behaving more like customers, questioning old processes and demanding new services,” said Minh Huy Lai, Managing Director of the Singapore-based MBA Program at INSEAD, in a new report from the The Quality of Life Institute, which my company supports.

“The report found that current students defy stereotypes in five key areas.”

The 2018 report found that current students defy stereotypes in five key areas and, together, the shifting attitudes are changing the dynamics of campuses across the globe.

“For far too long, college students have endured a ‘You’ll-take-what-we-give-and-you’ll-be-happy-with-it’ attitude,” wrote Forbes Consumer Advocate Christopher Elliott in a recent story about how some colleges are upgrading and personalizing their offerings, such as New Mexico State University introducing student concierge services.

Here’s a better way to define our current “customers.”

  • They are Lifelong Learners:

As the global economy creates and sheds different kinds of jobs, more established professionals are returning to school to learn new skills or update their expertise. Students over 30 now account for nearly 40% of total enrollment.

  • They want their campus to be a community hub 

Eighty-three percent of respondents told researchers that a friendly atmosphere is more important than a university’s reputation. Students want their colleges to be part of the larger ecosystem, integrated with the local business community and surrounding areas.

  • Many are first-generation college students

The expanding middle class globally has prompted a wave of first-generation students. Their success rates depend on the educational community’s ability to be broadly inclusive in everything from on-boarding to networking to even what meals we serve.

  • Technology is integral to their lives.

This is not news to anyone. Still, there remains a disconnect between our traditional ways of communicating and how current and coming students expect to be communicated with. Seventy-seven percent of alumni organizations said they were behind the curve on technology. Eighty-seven percent said they struggled to engage young alumni. Students can’t hear us – either before arriving on campus, while with us or after they leave – unless we are speaking their digital language.

  • They feel increased academic and social pressure

There are many theories why students today experience higher levels of anxiety and stress. The fact is that they do – 52% reported feeling hopeless. Universities need to understand their role is to support students both academically and emotionally.

The changes are crucial for the education community to understand.

These are major demographic shifts that might not be visible year-over-year, but are evident on a global scale. The changes are crucial for the education community to understand.

Taken together, the Report’s findings suggest that we can’t afford to harbor built-in assumptions. It’s time to rethink our broader ideas about how we deliver services and to whom we are supporting.

What generational shifts have you seen on your campus? 

 

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