Colleges as Total Institutions: Implications for Admission, Orientation, and Student Life

By Gibbon, Heather M. Fitz; Canterbury, Richard M. et al. | College and University, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Colleges as Total Institutions: Implications for Admission, Orientation, and Student Life


Gibbon, Heather M. Fitz, Canterbury, Richard M., Litten, Larry, College and University


Abstract

The authors make a reasoned case for extending the concept of "total institution" to colleges and universities, using such characteristics as isolation, activities, location, and unity of focused goals. The implications for admissions officers of life in "total

institution" are discussed vis-a-vis development of self

Colleges and universities share many common characteristics with other organizations in modern society. However, colleges and universities also differ from many other institutions in critical ways. These differences are often lost on people who focus on the similarities of colleges and other organizations and argue that methods used to market products or services can be applied easily to colleges. By recognizing where colleges fit into one recognized taxonomy of social institutions we can understand better how college marketing, admissions processes, orientation, and student life programs can be administered more successfully.

In categorizing social institutions, sociologists identify the degree to which an institution envelops all aspects of an individual's life, that is, how much an organization conforms to what sociologist Erving Goffman (1961) referred to as a "total institution." The concept of the total institution is based on its form, structure, and influence. It represents a powerful tool for understanding how individuals relate to an organization and to each other within the organization, how they develop as persons within an organization, and how organizations differ from one another.

Many colleges and universities approximate total institutions. This observation has important ramifications for the administration of colleges. In this article total institutions are discussed as a generic type of organization. This concept is applied to colleges and universities, noting where colleges fit into the various types of total institutions. Finally, the authors examine the implications of conceiving of colleges as total institutions for the management of student-related functions in colleges.

Characteristics of Total Institutions

The primary characteristic of a total institution is that people carry out all of their activities in the same place and in the immediate company of the same group of other persons (Goffman 1961). Total institutions both envelop their members (Goffman's word, for reasons that will become obvious, is "inmates") and isolate them from other institutions. Life in a total institution is highly scheduled and very closely monitored by an administrative staff, and all activities are organized to fit the goals of the institution. This is directly at odds with most of modern life where adults segregate work, sleep, and play, and where some places are designated as private space. (Even children of elementary and secondary school age spend major portions of their lives in separate institutions-home, school, daycare, church, independent athletic leagues, and arts classes.)

Goffman's concept has most often been applied by others to "negative" institutions-those dealing with "problem" populations such as mental institutions (Goffman 1961), prisons (Farrington 1992), or homeless shelters (Stark 1994). It is perhaps this perceived negativity that has limited the application of the concept to a wider variety of institutions, including colleges. However, "It]he issue is not 'good' institutions contrasted to 'bad'; it is rather, the broadly supported power of institutions like prisons and prep schools to create and sustain a complete culture in which their goals can be met without the inevitable distractions of the "outside world" (Mitchell 1991). Thus, it is neither the purpose of the institution nor the type of person contained within it that makes it a total institution; it is rather the structure and organization of the institution.

A variety of social organizations exhibit the basic criteria that Goffman established for total institutions: prisons, the military, monasteries/convents, hospitals, retirement/nursing homes, wilderness research stations, summer camps, ships, families (for young children), boarding schools, and colleges.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Colleges as Total Institutions: Implications for Admission, Orientation, and Student Life
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.