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Op-ed: America’s colleges must get into the customer service game because they have failed to meet the needs of all students

Op-ed: America’s colleges must get into the customer service game because they have failed to meet the needs of all students


Felipe Henao, Dean of Students at New York Institute of Technology
August 16, 2022
Key Points
  • College enrollment has been falling steadily for a decade and, since 2020, student numbers have fallen by 1 million.
  • Many prospective and current students no longer see the value that a college education actually does still afford.
  • U.S. colleges should emulate the customer service innovations of successful private corporations to turn public perceptions around.
College enrollment in the U.S. has dropped by roughly 1 million students since 2020. And while the pandemic contributed to that decline, it didn’t cause it. Enrollment has been falling for nearly a decade.
These numbers should be a wake-up call for my fellow college administrators — and everyone who cares about social progress and a robust economy.
A college education still provides immense value to individuals and society. However, the students investing in those degrees today no longer perceive that value, in large part because institutions of higher education have done a poor job of adapting to the evolving needs of students.
That must change. College administrators should take a page out of corporate America’s playbook — and start making customer service the top priority. Our students, after all, are our customers.
Historically, post-secondary institutions were designed for “traditional” students. These were primarily freshly minted high-school graduates — predominantly from white middle- and upper-class families — who enrolled directly in a degree-seeking program with the tools they needed to succeed already in hand.
But increasingly, college students come from different backgrounds. Minority students in the U.S. now account for 46% of the college population. About 20% of enrollees are older than 30, once part-time students are included. More than 1 in 5 students has a child.
In other words, just as customer bases evolve over time, so do student bodies. Yet higher education has failed to keep up.
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