Restructuring Universities and Colleges: The Student-Focused Paradigm

Article excerpt

Rising costs in education, accompanied by declining performance and productivity, indicate a need for a change. This article suggests a new focus to create higher education institutions that are more responsive to students' needs. A new organizational culture intent on providing the best education and services for students will help ensure that all students receive maximum quality services while, at the same time, institutional spending is decreased. To maximize provision of services to students, increase student satisfaction, and minimize costs for the institution, the authors recommend formation of student-focused learning teams. A student-focused management program will help institutions of higher education achieve maximum flexibility, greater efficiency, and increased productivity.

This paper is an attempt to start a process that will lead to greater efficiency in the utilization of university resources while concurrently improving the quality of learning for students. The concepts described are applied from a similar effort to improve the quality of health care utilized in Restructuring Health Care: The Patient Focused Paradigm (Lathrop, 1993). Lathrop calls for a paradigm shift to liberate the health care system from rising costs and declining performance and productivity. The purpose of the new vision of health care reform is to create healthier communities by engaging leaders in building new visions and models of care (p. xi). In analyzing the costs, Lathrop found that less than one-fifth of every dollar spent involved direct patient care. For every dollar spent on something visible to the patient, three to four dollars are spent on infrastructure costs.

The idea of liberating the system from rising costs and declining performance and productivity are transferable to higher education. Colleges and universities involve multiple academic disciplines serving individuals with a variety of needs. The college and university institutions, like medical institutions, are extraordinarily slow to change in the face of new realities that make change necessary for their continued survival. The new paradigm that we are suggesting re-focuses service recipient roles from the student to that of the customer. This focus shift will create higher education institutions that are more responsive to students.

Nature of the Problem

St. John (1994) examined three states (California, Louisiana, and Maine) that had major reductions in state appropriations for higher education. These state budgets were influenced by two factors: neo-conservative ideology that believed public college and university expenditures were excessive, and by troubled economies. Issues of cost management were not explicitly addressed in the state appropriations for higher education and issues of productivity by these institutions were not discussed. St. John believes that until these issues are addressed, neo-conservatives will probably continue to argue persuasively that expenditures for higher education are excessive and need to be reduced.

As a consequence of the Industrial Revolution and its emphasis on specialization, many organizations, including higher education, developed strict departments that contained specialized functions. This organizational philosophy, known as departmentalization, was perceived as a way to enhance the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge. This organizational structure often leads to rigidity, rising costs, and declining performance. The fragmentation which has occurred as a result of departmentalization can be seen when examining a typical undergraduate education program. In examining departmentalization, a student will take courses from as many as twenty different departments while completing an undergraduate degree. This results in a program of study without a unified core. This means of organization frequently provides the student with disjointed and fragmented knowledge.

The typical departmentalized organization found in higher education might be termed compartmentalization. …