Graduation metrics: Are students “product” or “consumers”?

Call me an economist, but one of the things I love about graduation day is the sense of accomplishment in knowing that I’ve helped ship some high quality product.

In this view, our university’s job is to transform raw high school inputs into sharp, well-tempered, polished college outputs.

We don’t ask inputs about how they feel about this transformation. We believe the world will be better off for it, and they will be too. It’s just a question of welding in enough new material to fill any voids, and getting the heat treatment correctly calibrated. Not too soft, not too brittle.

The alternative view is that our students are our consumers. Our job is to maximize their consumer satisfaction. That’s an entirely different set of metrics.

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13 Responses to Graduation metrics: Are students “product” or “consumers”?

  1. Nic says:

    Call me a humanitarian, but these words describe exactly my sense of achievement as a teacher.

  2. justsayuotoducks says:

    For better or worse, the “product” aspect mostly hearkens back to the origins of the University, especially in prior centuries. These days, it’s pretty much all “consumer”.

    If you doubt this, consider that in past times, a professor could and did wield the power to dismiss students for a variety of reasons. These days, get on the wrong side of the wrong student, and it’s *you* that will suffer dismissal.

    That said, you *should* take pride in the good things that you have wrought. Life is short and perhaps ultimately meaningless, but to the degree that there is a purpose, it must surely be in affecting others in a positive way, much as a pebble tossed in a pond produces waves that travel out to affect near and distant shores.

  3. Environmental necessity says:

    I think both “product” and “consumer” are horribly dehumanizing views of students. They are human beings learning about their world, and our job is to help them, while we do the same.

    Honestly, while both are horrible, at least “consumer” implies some sense of agency as opposed to an empty vessel, viewed as an input to an industrial learning process.

  4. Anas Clypeata says:

    OK, you’re an economist. Call me a hippie, I guess, but I do this work for love, and from love.

  5. Conservative duck says:

    Consumers, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all consume, daily. Air, water, food, language, ideas, memes, culture, etc. Not all of it is positive or beneficial, but hopefully we’re giving a good deal on what we’re selling to our customers, consuming our informational, educational good and services.
    Don’t be ashamed of the exchange, it doesn’t have to be dehumanizing, and currency is beneficial to the exchange of everyone involved (assuming everyone is approaching this exchange in good faith).

    • Anonymous says:

      The routine and daily interactions are of course all over the map as far as their substance and ethical entanglements, but as an overarching purpose or paradigm for what education is about, and how we see ourselves in relation to our students, “consumer” is not without pitfalls. A moment’s reflection reveals why. I don’t consider myself in the business of selling ideas but of helping students develop their latent capacities for creating their own.

      In any event, viewing students as inputs into the learning machine to be output as products is, basically, offensive at many levels.

      • Old Gray Mare says:

        Years ago an professor in graduate school, an Oxbridgian, observed how much he liked having external examiners. That way readers/tutors were more like coaches and trainers.

  6. justsayuotoducks says:

    I’m a bit sad that people can find a way to be offended by this question.

    • Thick duck skin says:

      I’m offended by easily offendable people.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sorry you are sad, but the question asks whether young humans are mere products or mere consumers. Doesn’t take much work to be offended about such a patronizing and shamefully limited conception of learning and teaching.

    • Heraclitus says:


      • justsayuotoducks says:

        Briefly, I think being offended (and especially broadcasting offense) about something that doesn’t involve someone being intentionally mean is a sin. Albeit one I also have a problem with. It harms the offender and the offendee and generally makes the world a worse place.

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