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. Compartmentalization is characterized by a vertical organization structure, i.e., one in which authority begins with the president of the institution and descends through the vice-president of academic affairs, a college dean and possibly an associate dean, a department chairperson, program director, and ultimately to faculty members and staff. Concurrently, many functions which are not academic (e.g., operations or planning and budgeting) are funneled through different vice-presidents and a similar hierarchy.
Departmentalization and compartmentalization create a very labor-intensive business. More than half of current expenses are devoted to staff salaries and benefits. These current organizational philosophies are characterized by rising costs and declining performance of staff and students. The current system is a crisis characterized by excessive turnaround time, lack of continuity in the process, and priority given to institutional convenience. As an example, look at a student who wants to drop a three-credit course and add a four-credit course. The student must first locate the professors teaching each of the courses and have each authorize the change. This change must then be approved by the academic advisor. The student then has to go to the registrar and process the changes. This is followed by a trip to the bursar to pay for the additional credit hour. The process typically involves standing in line at the registrar and bursar, as well as waiting for each professor's office hours. The procedure of changing courses may involve contact with an many as seven to ten people, and consume several hours of the student's time. Often, the student is unable to complete the procedure in one day because of the lack of availability of staff. There is no educational benefit for the student or the institution.
A New Paradigm
A paradigm involves the models upon which a discipline bases its perceptions of itself and its relationship to the world. It is our contention that a new paradigm for institutions of higher education deserves exploration. This involves rediscovering the fundamental nature and purpose of the services provided within the institution. The new paradigm will create a more personalistic reform movement in education with the belief that students are a first priority in the educational process.
In the past decade, American industry has increasingly recognized the shortfalls of the departmentalization and compartmentalization organization approach. Industry has begun to realize the importance of a team of individuals with a common set of skills, enhanced by additional areas of expertise. This has been accompanied by a flattening of organizational structure. The object of this change has been the production of units that are superior in quality and performance with as few units as possible being defective (Lathrop, 1993). To apply this concept to the university, we must acknowledge that the goal of the higher education system is the production of students who will be both superior in quality and able to perform in an outstanding manner in the world of work. Additionally, in the ideal system, no student will be inferior in progress through, or performance after, their course of study. This acknowledgment of the purpose of higher education suggests that the educational institution should have as its primary mission a "student-focused" paradigm. This paradigm can be accomplished by the use of smaller direct service units through a student-focused management organization.
Administrative efficiency, increased productivity, and revenues saved by the process of decentralization through use of the concept of student-focused management can benefit students in lower fees, and the public in decreased levels of subsidies for public education. Our central idea for restructuring the current management into the student-focused management organization occurs through redeployment. There are four categories in our redeployment paradigm: (a) learning teams, (b) minimizing management layers, (c) decentralization of academic departments, and (d) minimizing excessive paperwork.
The type of change required of the institution to implement a student-focused organization is global. The "learning team" would consist of students with similar academic programs, a core of staff from various disciplines devoted to teaching this group, administration, support services, and service department representatives. Each learning team would be its own academic unit with non-academic service staff assigned to each unit. This organization would allow the student to arrange the needed changes with the academic advisor, who would then input the changes into a computer data bank from which the professors could authorize, the registrar record, and the bursar bill. Establishment of learning teams will involve minimal time investment from all parties. The majority of the time investment will be in training. Training the individuals to work and function as a team is paramount to the success of this new student-focused management paradigm. Each member of the learning team must feel comfortable to voice ideas on improving the efficiency and productivity of their team. The team must feel comfortable to experiment with new ideas to improve the services provided to students while meeting the demands of the program guidelines. It is the team's responsibility to create, develop, and implement ideas on how to effect the flow of services from application to graduation in a time effective manner.
The learning team also develops a working partnership between the student (contractor of services) and the institution. The student-focused learning team paradigm develops a climate of "ownership" and empowerment for all team members. Empowerment is inherent in any notion of ownership. As viewed by Lathrop (1993, p. 96), "employees need the skills, discretion, incentive, and structure that enable ownership of patients, or nothing will change." This concept from health care can be applied to higher education. As employees and students feel a sense of involvement, quality of services will improve significantly. Student-focused learning teams are loyal to the student population and institution rather than to a specific department within the institution.
Minimizing Management Layers
Changes to facilitate the modifications needed to provide a student-focused management requires a total administrative structure realignment. Both academic and service departments would be restructured so that each would be part of the learning team, rather than separate departments. The result would be a flatter, leaner administrative structure; most authority would rest with the learning team which would allow greater student contact by all staff. Management of the student-focused organization would consist of a team facilitator, program coordinator, building manager, and vice president. This unit is responsible for all aspects of student progress. It will be the responsibility of the team facilitator to process student information and answer questions regarding admissions, financial aid, and registration. The program coordinator will serve as administrator for the learning team and report to the building manager. Duties for a program coordinator may involve: design of a tracking system for students; creating ideas for improving the flow of services to students; developing a working partnership between team members; designing a system for recruiting, identifying, and placing students; and, developing directions and procedures for serving the students.
Responsibilities of the building manager include all activities within a specific building - academic, maintenance, and procedures for program coordinators. The building manager will create a computer program that provides data needed by all concerned parties, supervise and manage the learning team staff, and explore ideas on how to expand the monetary base through joint ventures with businesses and community agencies. The building managers will report to the vice president of their learning team. This vice president is responsible for reporting to the president of the institution as to the performance of the learning team. The number of layers from front line to the president is three. The student-focused learning team paradigm would allow more student input in that students would be part of the learning team.
Decentralization of Academic Departments
Referring to our earlier example of a student wanting a course change, rather than walking all over campus to at least six offices to complete the process, decentralization of the departments means the student is able to travel to one set of offices and complete the transaction quickly. The student is able to seek answers to questions and problems in one location rather than trying to determine the person responsible for each item of business through many layers of bureaucracy. Clerical, administrative, and support staff that currently perform such functions as admission, registration, fee collection, facility maintenance, affirmative action, human resources, computer support, auditing and accounting, financial aid, and public relations would be redeployed as members of the learning team. The result would be a team of faculty, administration, and support staff accessible to each student in one location.
Minimizing Excessive Paperwork
The most important consideration in redeployment is whether the higher education employee is engaged in work that is either process intensive or structurally inefficient. This is a major area where redeployment is facilitated. Colleges and universities have computer systems which permit access to a broad array of programs, or could with minor adjustments. This will reduce excessive paperwork and duplication of services, thereby aiding students while reducing institutional costs. The team facilitator would have access to a number of operational systems through the on-line computer. Given that all functions would tie into this system, multiple entries and paperwork would be eliminated.
To accomplish a student-focused service system aimed at serving the customer, an on-going commitment by all in the system is required. Creation of learning team management has numerous benefits for the institution. Facilities will be re-organized in order to support the learning team paradigm. This will lead to a new organizational culture that is intent on providing the best education and services for students. These will help ensure that each student receives maximum quality service, while at the same time saving resources for the institution because of the elimination of multiple and duplicate points of contact to process business. Another benefit is in reduced costs from elimination of many administrative positions and their support staff. Administrators can be re-assigned to teach in learning teams and their support staff re-assigned to learning teams as team facilitators. In addition to the sense of involvement by students and employees and the improved quality of services, another benefit is the creation of units for special services in collaboration with the community. Special learning teams will assist employers in meeting the education and training missions for their employees. Additionally, more time and effort will be invested in having the learning team members consult with one another. This will allow more student input into the configuration of classes so as to achieve maximum continuity and coverage for courses. Mentoring and retention of students would be improved.
The new paradigm we are proposing is a process and, once established, must be on-going. To maintain a cutting edge of providing greater efficiency in the utilization of higher education resources while concurrently improving the quality of learning for students, the student-focused learning team organizational management must undergo constant examination and change to further enhance its viability. The student-focused learning team approach will maximize continuity of services to students, increase student satisfaction, and minimize costs. Once implemented, it is the responsibility of each institution to continually evaluate its form of student-focused management program to achieve maximum flexibility, greater efficiency, and increased productivity.
Lathrop, J.P. (1993). Restructuring health care: The patient focused paradigm. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
St. John, E.P. (1994). Retrenchment: A three-state overview. Thought & Action, 10(2), 137-142.
Joseph E. Havranek, Ed.D., CRC, is an Associate Professor in the Rehabilitation Counseling Program, Department of Special Education, Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Martin G. Brodwin, Ph.D., CRC, is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Rehabilitation Education Programs, Charter School of Education, at California State University, Los Angeles.
JOSEPH E. HAVRANEK, ED.D. Bowling Green State University Bowling Green, Ohio MARTIN G. BRODWIN, PH.D. Rehabilitation Counseling California State University Los Angeles, California 90032-8141…