On a warm day in most towns and cities, there are shops that line busy streets throughout all of India. They focus on selling either jewelry, food, spices, and fabric or sometimes a combination of all four. These shops are usually small and run by local families. The front of the buildings are wide open and other shopkeepers gather around to talk about the days’ events or their latest difficult customer. India is a beautiful country. India’s people are warm, caring, and understand hospitality.
It is easy to be taken in by the sights, smells, colors, and seemingly endless options. If you are an American entering one of these shops, you will notice an immediate shift in tone and service. It is not that these shopkeepers focus less on their regular clientele, but they are savvy enough to understand that an opportunity for a big sale just walked in.
Upon entering, shopkeepers go out of their way to meet customers’ needs. They unfold every piece of fabric, display each piece of jewelry, and allow you to taste an infinite number of spices to help find the perfect item. Sometimes, if they do not have what you are looking for, they will go to a neighboring shop to obtain the item and bring it back for you to see and purchase. They go to great lengths to prevent you from leaving the store. In that moment, they want to make the sale. They will go over and above to meet your shopping needs.
While this experience may delight us at first, after a while, it can be overwhelming. As a customer, you begin to second guess your purchasing decision. If shopkeepers are finding other products at neighboring shops, you begin to think about everything you might be missing. You begin to wonder if you are capable of making a fully informed decision based only on the product provided by a single shopkeeper. Sometimes confusion starts to settle in and before long, you are leaving the store, extending a gracious “thank you” and continuing on your way. Once you leave and continue further down the street, you see that there are several other stores, offering the same goods, some better quality than others and then you realize the full range of options that are available.
This experience is reminiscent of what students encounter every day when searching for a higher education option. Higher education institutions often focus on trying to be everything to everybody. Many institutions have shifted to a big box store mentally in an effort to increase and retain students by offering a little bit of everything rather than focusing on their strengths. Students need educational options that best meet their personal and professional needs. Students also need to readily understand the value that each institution offers to make the best decision. Students do not need institutions to over promise and under deliver in order to gain their enrollment. They want to know that they are being presented with the full range of information needed to make the best use of their time and resources.
Making the decision to pursue their higher education is a big step for many students. Higher education institutions can make this process easier by putting students first. This sounds like common sense, but often times we see one too many news articles that highlight institutions who seek to put their needs above students. As a new generation of students begin to pursue their higher education dreams, we need to focus on putting them first by understanding their goals, communicating value, and streamlining the process in favor of flexible, affordable options. Students are less interested in the shiny jewelry and beautiful fabric, instead, they want quality and accessibility at an affordable cost.
How does your institution demonstrate value while focusing on its strengths?