Written By: Robyn Shulman
No institution can exist without students. There is an ongoing debate as to how students should be treated: as customers or as students? In my opinion, graduate students are both learners and customers in all aspects. In the classroom, they are learners and active contributing academic members. However, should students have a teacher who is not providing the education they need, they can very quickly become customers. It is not surprising to hear students complain about a course if their needs are not met. Students who find themselves unhappy with their educational experience will drop courses and ask for refunds. Since graduate students pay money for education, college is often considered a business to the learning community. Outside of the classroom, they are also paying customers who require a vast range of logistical services.
Graduate students tend to be working adults with families who have chosen to go back to school for various reasons. They pay high tuition rates and expect to receive their money’s worth from an academic and service perspective. Their lives are completely different than the lives of undergraduate students, as such, so are their needs.
Meeting the needs of graduate students outside of the classroom is just as important as meeting the needs inside the classroom. The institutional services begin the first time a prospective student calls or emails the school. The tone is set at that moment (if/when the university responds and how they respond).
However, various institutions do not provide the services nor meet the needs of the graduate students. Why? I believe there are simply 2 reasons: administrators are simply not in tune with student needs, or, they don’t communicate with those working in the field every day.
What do you think graduate students need at the beginning and throughout their college experience?
Today, I will focus on 2 areas: friendly knowledgeable people who provide accurate and timely information and professors who are employees of the university.
First, if a student leaves a message, they expect a call returned. As simple as this sounds, this neglect happens all of the time. Students call, leave messages, get disconnected, and/or the wrong person returns their call. Students want to talk with a live person when they call the university. They want to speak with someone who understands what they need and how they can get it (whether it be financial aid, course schedules, admissions, etc.). They want accurate and fast information provided by the correct person (students should not be sent to a general call center for a specific question or concern solely for appeasement). It is not possible for one person to know the answers to every question, thus, the reasons for various branches of a university. Using this ‘whole person method’ as a means for a student to talk with anyone can lead to disastrous results. Why? Quite often students are given inaccurate information.
They need strong professors who are employees of the university. With all of the recent cutbacks, higher education institutions are filling their classes with adjunct professors (there is absolutely nothing wrong with adjunct professors, as many of them are amazing teachers). However, the professors who have spent years building the university, and live the day-to-day culture within the institution provide the bridge of stability to maintain the infrastructure and keep the roof from falling. Employed professors have personal bonds with their colleges and colleagues, and this culture and sense of belonging is shared with the learning community. They have a uniqueness to share with the students that a temporary teacher cannot replace. Students are keenly aware of tense situations and changes taking place within institutions. They know when the quality of education falls, and they are highly aware when situations become unstable.
They also know when to leave.
These 2 areas only scratch the surface of student needs. What do you believe your students need?