How your institution views the product-customer relationship between curriculum/programs, students/graduates, and employers ultimately determines quality focus, allocation of resources, as well as institutional reputation and brand. Whether the institution is pursuing a vocational verses a research focus will also determine philosophy with respect to balancing the educational and business guiding principles.
Some institutions consider their curriculum and programs to be the product and students to be their customers. If this is the case, then the institution will likely approach their relationship with students as their sole marketing target and ultimately design programs to strictly satisfy current student demand and student satisfaction. This approach tends to lead the institution to be more short-sighted with respect to program development. Immediate market factors and popular media will influence student demand for programs, not necessarily generating a qualified workforce for emerging careers. Considering most academic programs require 2-4 years of study, not to mention the 2-4 years of development before offering the program, forecasting economic demand and workforce opportunities are critical if a vocational focus targeting career success for students is the foundational mandate.
Considering employers as your customers requires forward thinking and significant industry engagement to be successful in meeting the present and future needs of employers. Presenting your graduates as customized ‘products’ ready to meet the needs of an evolving skilled labour force will create an institutional brand that will be relatable to both prospective students looking to secure an educational pathway to a career and employers seeking valuable human resources. High quality ‘supplies & materials’ (curriculum/programs) designed to produce excellent ‘products’ (prepared graduates), will promote an ongoing positive proactive and integrated relationship with industry employers… your ultimate ‘customer’.
Strategic planning initiatives and resulting operational supports must consider the organization’s foundational philosophy with a consistent approach to avoid a scattered application of the educational-business model. When different approaches organically develop within institutional departments and divisions due to personal beliefs, biases, pockets of expertise, and comfort levels, institutional branding runs the risk of becoming ambiguous. This can create confusion for stakeholders at all levels, and complicate administrative decision-making.