Our University: Stock Certificates

Stock certificates are used to prove partial ownership of a corporation. A bearer’s stock certificate entitles the holder to exercise all legal rights associated with the stock.

Holders of stock certificates want the value of the stock to increase thereby creating positive benefit. It is very simple and the basis for the power of our national economy.

So too it is with a diploma from our university.

The sheepskin, punched ticket, parchment, wall paper, and all of the other handles we attach to the university diploma miss the mark. It is, and forever will be, a stock certificate.

When a company, through strong employees, excellent leadership, a passion for its mission, a commitment to quality, a sense of vision, and an aspiration vigorously pursued succeeds, the value of the stock goes up.

Scholars of tomorrow should not be treated like customers. Students do not buy a product, they buy an opportunity. There is little that has fundamentally confused public higher education at research universities more than the notion that students are customers.

Students own stock.

Some say students are customers in the bookstore, the dining-hall, and at the arena. I would suggest that even when they eat, buy books, or watch an athletic event, they are not really customers at all but something much different.

Students are more akin to parishioners at a church or members of a temple, mosque, or synagogue, but they should not be considered customers. They are more like participants in a play, not necessarily the actors but an engaged audience at the theater, rather than customers. A hotel has guests, and I will assure you that the best hoteliers see visitors as guests and never as customers. A doctor has patients but good ones don’t see their patients as customers, although patients pay for advice, service, and counsel regarding their health.

Customers buy a predetermined item at a preset price that meets certain specifications, spelled out in advance in a reasonable level of detail; in short, a product. Almost all customers are given a money back guarantee for the product or service purchased if expectations are not met. The idea of buying something which you know might fail to deliver – given that a specific outcome was promised – is unfathomable in any customer setting.

It happens with stock purchases all the time.

Students hold us in their hands through the quality of work they generate and thereby perpetuate excellence at our university. They are not customers. They are stock holders.

The challenge of contemporary higher education is the concept that the degree, and the educational change that it purportedly represents, is a property right both before and after the tuition and fees are paid, i.e., at the point of purchase. The student does not buy a product but rather an opportunity.

That opportunity is represented in the stock certificate that says “Graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale”.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was Lord Rector of St. Andrews University from 1865-1868. In his inaugural address, Mill claimed that the purpose of the university was for “laying open to each succeeding generation the ideas and characteristics important to personal development and social progress.”

He nailed it, as we must. And when we do, the value of our university stock skyrockets.

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