The Forgotten Student: Has Higher Education Stiffed Its Most Important Client? (Opinion)

Ann McClure's picture
Friday, April 6, 2012

In a much discussed op-ed in the New York Times, an executive director at Goldman Sachs, Greg Smith, skewered his company for rewarding traders who sold bad products to their clients, whom they nicknamed "muppets." It struck a chord because it played on our stereotypes of investment bankers putting profit before people. But investment banking isn't the only institution with a client problem. Universities should provide their most important clients, students, with a quality liberal arts or professional education at a reasonable cost for a finite period of time. Unfortunately, many universities do not prioritize their clients' educational needs. College professors are neither trained nor rewarded for excellence in the classroom. Incentive structures and university culture reinforce other activities, such as research, service on committees, and graduate education. The system's flaws are apparent from the first day a newly hired professor walks into a classroom. After finishing their dissertations, PhDs are hired by a college, based on publication records, the reputations of their references, and the name of their graduate programs. If they happen to have picked up a little classroom experience through a temporary position, it is rarely considered by hiring committees.

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