Making Higher Ed More Consumer-Focused

The Center for American Progress has up a good white paper (when I first posted this I incorrectly referred to it as a column) about one of the foundational shortcomings in the United States’ higher education system:

Students make customer choices based on available information, interests, abilities and life circumstances that will mostly determine whether they succeed in obtaining an education with a meaningful credential. The problem is our higher education marketplace today does not account for this customer focus that is so important to success. In large measure, this is because education policies that guide this marketplace are largely crafted by the dominant voices in higher education—colleges and universities with the resources to sway elected officials. Students as customers have no voice in this policy conversation.

To develop a “student-centric focus for higher education,” CAP has a suggestion:

The Department of Education should… [form] a quasi-independent, Office of Consumer Protection in Higher Education. This new office should:

* Produce a College Customer Bill of Rights that enforces truth in advertising regarding: academic quality, student services and support and flexibility and convenience.

* Ensure that mandated federal data gathering, assembly, analysis and presentation are conducted in ways that empowers students with usable customer information.

* Be an ombudsman for students with state officials and regional accrediting agencies to integrate and publish “truth-in-education” customer data and direct student customers to the appropriate officials when they have grievances with their education provider.

Bringing a customer focus to higher education would empower students as customers and, especially for low-income students, provide information and support to make postsecondary education a viable option amid their work and life responsibilities. Customer focus can help build a student-centric higher education system that delivers quality, flexible learning experiences that lead to educational credentials for personal growth and career success.

It would certainly be useful for college students—particularly those not on a “traditional” four-years-and-done path—to have an institution like this advocating on their behalf.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.