As higher educational institutions aim for competitive advantage, the evaluation of educational service quality has become essential. This study presents the result of an assessment of the quality of instructional service in a private university from the perspective of its students and using the SERVQUAL model. Three areas were looked into: (a) the most effective service quality among the five elements of Tangibles, Responsiveness, Reliability, Empathy, and Assurance; (b) the difference between the actual and the expected performance of the instructors; and, (c) the areas where student satisfaction is already strong and areas where it can be improved. Results indicate that students consistently identified Responsiveness as the most important, and Assurance, the least important of the instructors’ services. The overall gap between experience and actual performance was all positive and showed that students’ expectations are higher, overall, than their actual experiences. Finally, among the five elements, Responsiveness had the highest gap, thus pointing out to the need for more attention to this dimension.
Keywords. Assurance, empathy, higher educational institution, instructor service, service quality, tangibles
Higher education is facing pressure to improve value in its activities (Heck & Johnsrud, 2000). As higher educational institutions tussle for competitive advantage and high service quality, the evaluation of educational service quality is essential to provide motivation for and to give feedback on the effectiveness of educational plans and implementation.
The present tenet for enhancing educational value is to expend effort on continuous improvement, to focus on stakeholder interests, and to increase student satisfaction. Student satisfaction is often used to assess educational quality, where the ability to address strategic needs is of prime importance (Cheng, 1990). Quality in education can be said to be determined by the extent to which students’ needs and expectations can be satisfied.
Students are one of the most important stakeholders of education quality. To satisfy students is one of the prime purposes in the education sector, wherein quality of instructors’ performance play an important role. Quality of instructor is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. When students perceive their teachers to have a supportive behavior, their achievement increases; if disruptive, then their achievement decreases (Ryan & Patrick, 2001). Perceived support from teachers is an independent and positive predictor of interest in classes, pursuit of goals, and adherence to classroom rules and norms (Wentzel, 1998). The quality of student-teacher relationships is also positively associated with student academic motivation and attitudes towards school (Eccles, Wigfield, Midgley, MacIver & Feldlaufer, 1993). In addition, Roeser, Midgley and Urdan (1996) found that students’ school achievement is directly associated with student ratings of teacher-student relationships.
A positive school environment also plays a significant part in determining students’ sense of belonging and satisfaction (Osterman, 2000). Schools are communities and it is important that students perceive themselves as members of this learning environment. Wentze (1997) concluded that the teacher-student relationship was a critical factor that motivates middle-school students to engage in the academic and social activities of the classroom. The modern perspective of education system rates the teacher as service provider and the student as recipient of services or consumer; in this light, teachers must also be evaluated on some parameters of service quality and these ratings can be used to suggest to the teachers the required improvements within the teaching environment (Chatterjee, Ghosh, & Bandyopadhyay, 2009). An instructor in the university setting is a service provider who can be seen as a ‘boundary spanner,’ as s/he attempts to span the needs of both employer (university) and the student through activities designed to satisfy both (Thompson, 1967). In comparison to other university employees, instructors tend to be the most ‘high contact’ service providers in the organization due to the number and duration of their interactions with the students and the opportunity to build a history with students over the course of an academic term.
An approach to assessing the service quality of instructors in an HEI has been developed in the SERVQUAL, a service quality measurement that has attracted considerable attention since it was introduced by Parasuraman et al. in 1985 and further developed in 1998 (Donnelly and Dalrymple, 1996). “The approach starts from the assumption that the level of service quality experienced by customers is critically determined by the gap between their expectations of the service and their perceptions of what they actually receive from a specific service provider” (Donnelly and Dalrymple, 1996). The SERVQUAL model proposes five dimensions: Tangibles, Reliability, Responsiveness, Assurance, and Empathy, upon which customers evaluate service quality. SERVQUAL measures the difference between what is expected from a service encounter and the perception of the actual service encounter (Parasuraman et al., 1988).
SERVQUAL has been widely used by both academics and practitioners in various service industries, including education (Rigotti and Pitt, 1992; Hampton, 1992). Applied to education, Zeithaml et al. (1990) describes the attributes of quality service as follows: Tangibles include appearance of the classroom, student seating and the like. Reliability is the instructor’s ability to instruct the course dependably and accurately. Responsiveness addresses the instructor’s willingness to respond to students’ questions and concerns. The instructor’s knowledge and ability to convey trust and confidence to students define the Assurance dimension. Empathy is the caring and individual attention that the instructor provides his/her students. These five dimensions are tracked on the SERVQUAL instrument developed by Parasuraman et al. (1988).
This study shall utilize the SERVQUAL model to evaluate the quality of instructor in Saint Louis University as perceived by the students. For this, three objectives are set: (a) to distinguish the most effective service quality among the five elements of SERVQUAL model: tangibles, responsiveness, reliability, empathy and assurance; and (b) to identify the difference between the actual and the expected performance of the instructor. The results should indicate to what extent the university’s instructional service meets the expectations of its students, and, ultimately, lead to insights on dimensions that still need to be attended to as part of the university’s efforts towards quality service improvement.
The data for this study were generated through a survey consisting of two sets of 20 affirmatively worded statements which respondents rated on a 5-point scale from (1) Strongly Disagree to (5) Strongly Agree. The questionnaire composed of three parts. Part I probes the students’ expectations of their instructors in general, through statements related to the five service quality dimensions which are Tangibles, Reliability, Responsiveness, Assurance, and Empathy. Part II asks students to evaluate the institution’s quality service, again, along the five SERVQUAL dimensions. The Part III is a set of statements that parallels those of Part I except that this time the students assess the extent to which they believe their instructors exhibit those behaviors. SERVQUAL measures the difference between what is expected from a service encounter and the perception of the actual service encounter (Parasuraman et al., 1988).
By subtracting the perception scores (actual experience) from the expectation scores, the service quality gap scores were obtained. A sample of 450 undergraduate students at the School of Accountancy and Business Management, Saint Louis University, completed the modified version of the QISS questionnaire in the second semester of 2011-2012. The sample was stratified by class (i.e., 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year, 4th year, and 5th year) and by course [i.e., Accountancy/Managerial Accounting (MA), Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA), Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurship, and Bachelor of Science in Hotel Tourism Management (BS HTM)].
Each attribute of the SERVQUAL quality services such as Tangibles, Reliability, Responsiveness, Assurance, and Empathy were assessed on the bases of the students’ expectations and experiences of their instructors’ services in this higher educational institution. For the students’ expectations on how instructors should interact with them, Figure 1 shows that Empathy (µ=4.429) garnered the highest plurality of scores followed by Tangibles (µ=4.414), Responsiveness (µ=4.406), Reliability (µ=4.352), and Assurance (µ=4.274).
Figure 1. Expectations
In contrast, for the students’ actual experiences of the instructors’ services, Figure 2 shows that Tangibles (µ= 3.732) obtained the highest score on the assessment of student experience, followed by Empathy (µ= 3.710), Assurance (µ=3.679), Reliability (µ=3.650) and Responsiveness (µ= 3.641). The statement “I expect my instructors to use texts and readings that are relevant to student success in the course” garnered the highest score which shows that instructors are using books, copies and other references which are relevant to their subject matter in order to impart knowledge to their students. “I expect my instructors to be willing to help students” has the lowest score under the dimension of responsiveness. This shows that students expect this to be a basic function of their instructors.
Figure 2. Actual Experience
Service quality gap scores are obtained by subtracting the perception scores (actual experience) from the expectation scores. Positive gap scores indicate dissatisfaction or a negative perception of the service consumed. Negative gap scores imply that there was satisfaction. The gap averages per year level in school shows progressively smallest average scores from first year through third year students. Consequently, fourth year students have the largest overall gap average for any class (see Figure 3). This shows that fourth year students express a substantially larger gap than any other year on all the key dimensions, which means that they have high expectations from their instructors in terms of quality service. Data computed show that their experiences with instructors at this school consistently fall below their expectations. It may be that students’ perceptions do not always match up with the kind of service they are actually receiving from their instructors.
The larger the gap score, the more strongly the correspondents feel that their expectations are not being met.
Figure 3. Overall Gap average by Year in school
The overall gap by course in school shows that Bachelor of Science in Hotel Tourism Management (BS HTM) has the largest gap in all the dimensions which implies that their actual experience is different from their expectations (see Figure 4). BSBA (Marketing, Financial Management and Human Resource Development Management) has a small gap in terms of Tangibles, which means that their expectations are met in relation to the appeal of facilities, equipment and material used by the school as well as to the appearance of the faculty and employees. Assurance in Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurship (BS Entrep) has the smallest gap which means that their expectations in terms of caring and individualized attention by the instructor are being met.
The larger the gap score, the more strongly the correspondent feels that their expectations are not being met.
Figure 4. Overall Gap average by Course in school
All the overall average gap scores were positive. Results show that students’ expectations are higher, overall, than their actual experiences in this school. The largest gap score occurred on one of the statements that partially comprises the Responsiveness dimension, while the lowest gap occurred on the Assurance dimension (see Figure 5). The largest gap occurred with the statement, ‘Instructors provide students with stimulating and interesting class sessions that enhance the learning process,’ with a gap score of 0.90. The smallest gap occurred on ‘Instructors at this school offer to give students individual attention,’ with a gap of 0.42. This held true across course and year of the students.
The larger the gap score, the more strongly the correspondent feels that their expectations are not being met.
Figure 5. Gap Analysis
Students were consistent on their assessment of the importance of the five dimensions of service quality regardless of year in school or course (see Figure 6). Responsiveness (µ=4.24) is consistently rated as the most important dimension. Reliability (µ=4.22) is consistently rated second most important followed by Empathy (µ=4.20), Tangibles (µ=4.15), and Assurance as the least important dimension with a mean of 4.01 (µ=4.01). This does not mean that Assurance is unimportant to students; rather it does not hold the same level of significance as the other dimensions.
Figure 6. Important Weights
Figure 6 shows that students place strong importance on Responsiveness, or the instructor’s willingness to help students and to respond to students’ questions and comments. Interestingly, students consistently rank Assurance, or the instructor’s knowledge and ability to convey trust and confidence to students, as one of the least important of the five dimensions. The fact that Empathy also has the smallest gap overall suggests that students are relatively satisfied with the amount and kind of caring and individual attention provided by the teachers.
The objectives in this research were threefold. The first goal is to distinguish the most effective service quality among the five elements of SERVQUAL model: Tangibles, Responsiveness, Reliability, Empathy, and Assurance in terms of the gap between the expected and actual performance of the instructor. The idea of measuring the difference between expectations and perceptions in the form of the SERVQUAL gap score proved very useful for assessing levels of service quality of the instructors in the university.
Based on the results, Responsiveness, or the instructor’s willingness to respond to students’ questions and concern, was the least effective dimension. This dimension includes the instructors’ ability to keep regular office hours and be available for appointments for students, their willingness to help students and being not too busy to listen to students’ request. That students give importance on instructors’ willingness to help them has already been pointed out by Emmanuel and Adams (2006). Moreover, Qeurishi, Sahukat, and Hijazi (2010) noted that responsiveness of instructors is considerably related to students’ satisfaction. This suggests that the institution needs to improve on the ability of the instructors to respond and interact with their students. Assurance being the most effective dimension shows that the instructors are excellent in giving assurance to their students or in offering students individual attention.
The second goal of the study is to identify the difference between the actual and the expected performance of the instructor. The results show that students’ actual experiences fall below their expectation whether based in year and course. The overall gap between the expected and actual performance of the instructor shows that Responsiveness, the dimension wherein students expect more from their instructors in terms of willingness to help them enhance their knowledge, has the highest gap. In turn, Assurance has the lowest gap which means it is with this dimension that the students’ expectations are strongly met. Assurance is followed by Tangibles, Empathy, and Reliability. The overall gap is all positive and shows that students’ expectations are higher, overall, than their actual experiences in this school.
The study illustrates that academic organizations can gainfully use the SERVQUAL model’s five dimensions of service quality to ascertain the level of services it provides and to determine which dimensions need improvement. But the institution should not just stop on the assessment of the students’ expectations and actual experiences, or on the identification of the areas of improvement. Instead, intervention and strategies should be adopted to improve the different dimensions. Likewise, by identifying strengths and weaknesses pertaining to the dimensions of service quality, the organization can better allocate resources to provide better service to its customers.
Students report that their experiences with instructors at this school consistently fall below their expectations. It maybe that students’ perception do not always match up with the kind of service they are actually receiving from their instructors. As such, students must participate in the service interaction in order to realize the real value of the service. Still, instructor must be reminded that they should improve on their efforts to connect with their students. Instructors should be more responsive to questions and suggestions from their students and strive to come up with strategies in order to satisfy the needs of the latter.
To substantiate the results of the study and validate the identified areas for improvement, a more comprehensive assessment involving the other schools in the university can be pursued. For purposes of comparison, similar studies can also be done in other institutions of higher learning.
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