Should MBA Students Be Treated Like Customers?

Last Updated Jan 21, 2010 10:33 PM EST

If you paid $100,000 for a two-year service contract, you would expect to get exactly what you wanted and to shape your service experience to some extent, wouldn't you?

However, many MBA professors and faculty cringe over the idea of treating their students like customers. Others see a collaborative customer-focused approach as inevitable when the student population is made up of accomplished individuals with clearly-defined goals they hope to achieve through the program.

In a recent "Room for Debate" feature in The New York Times, educators weighed in on the student vs. customer debate. Here's a little of what they had to say.

Treating students like customers has benefits
  • "Students are not customers nor are they not customers. They are investing time and money with a purpose in mind. The school that does not serve that purpose will not survive." -- Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus and professor of public services, George Washington University.
  • "Treatment of students as customers is not about grades or unrealistic expectations; it is about a new paradigm of shared governance.... Faculty, students, alumni, employers and community leaders must re-evaluate and re-design M.B.A. programs to address the society's pressing needs." -- David Bejou, dean of the School of Business and Economics at the Elizabeth City State University.
MBAs-as-customers weakens education
  • "Even in settings where engaged customers interact with companies to influence the value and nature of what they consume, sellers don't set demanding expectations of customers and partner with them on strategic initiatives.... The best students don't view themselves as customers, and they shouldn't be treated as such." -- Edward A. Snyder, dean of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
  • "Since student evaluations of professors became commonplace 35 years ago, students have played a greater role in campus decision-making. The growth in grade inflation, the near abandonment of Friday classes on many campuses and the provision of country club-like facilities are three indicators that universities increasingly look at students as customers requiring pampering.... Universities are endangering their reputation as being rigorously committed to academic excellence." -- Richard Vedder, director of the Center of College Affordability and Productivity and economics lecturer, Ohio University.
What do you think? Is the MBA-as-customer model weakening academic standards, or does it allow students to play a more active role in their education? Leave a comment or weigh in below.

Image courtesy of Flickr user shlomif2, CC 2.0.
  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.

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