Let’s imagine that the top tier of higher education is actually not in the business of selling education. Instead, they are in what I would term the “talent identification” business. The real payoff for universities comes not from selling courses but rather from finding and nurturing talent and then waiting for payback in the form of contributions to their endowments.
Thanks to @pahndeepah for pointing this out to me. It’s definitely worth reading. I doubt too many of the business-types we now have running out universities will be able to stretch their imaginations this far.
Even if they can, however, they’ll be up against the habit of thought that sees students as consumers. The sort of loyalty needed to inspire former students to give back to their universities doesn’t mesh well with the idea that students are customers. At most, loyal customers may return to buy something else. But once you ‘buy’ the university degree, there’s not much incentive to go back and buy another. So why should students — seen as consumers — give back to their universities? They’ve already paid for their degree, after all.