Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Faculty and Administrative Support for Institutional Effectiveness Activities: A Bridge across the Chasm?

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Faculty and Administrative Support for Institutional Effectiveness Activities: A Bridge across the Chasm?

Article excerpt

Introduction

In his recent book on "management fads" in higher education, Robert Birnbaum (2000) traces the life-cycles of management strategies in colleges and universities over the past four decades, focusing on the reasons why they emerge and fail, as well as how they can be used productively. Two points Birnbaum emphasizes have particular relevance for students of the administration, governance, and stature of higher education in the United States: First, management strategies aimed at improving institutional operations and performance are typically rooted in a broader context. The adoption of management strategies typically occurs because of external pressures on colleges and universities to improve their performance or accountability. Second, Birnbaum argues that one of the most significant reasons that managerial strategies fail is that they do not succeed in attracting the allegiance or support of large numbers of institutional administrators or faculty. Management fads die fairly predictable deaths because they rarely become a shared platform for improving institutional operations and performance.

The predictable failures of management fads have not eradicated nor diminished pressures to use information for institutional improvement and accountability in higher education. Peter Ewell (1990; 1998) reports that a "culture of accountability" has enveloped American higher education. The higher education community has an increased interest in responding to rising demands for accountability by generating information that can inform internal planning and quality improvement efforts, as well as inform external audiences. The persistence and power of the external pressures that Birnbaum and Ewell identify suggest a need to understand why managerial strategies tend to fail and how they can assist institutions in addressing the challenges of resource management and quality assurance. Despite the lack of viable alternatives to "management fads," higher education faces the task of responding to the internal and external social forces that engender pressure for change and accountability. This means in part that high er education must understand the impetus and the nature of support for strategies aimed at institutional improvement and accountability.

Pressure to respond to the external demands for improvement and accountability generally falls on accrediting agencies, as well as individual colleges and universities. As a major conduit between institutions and the policy-making community in the United States, regional accrediting agencies helped institutionalize and operationalize the "new accountability" in higher education through accreditation criteria and review processes that require institutions to collect, format, report, and use information to improve and demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs and services. The term "institutional effectiveness," promulgated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is interchangeable with a number of monikers for continuous improvement processes, such as "quality assurance" and "quality enhancement." The specific initiatives included under these rubrics typically encompass activities such as student outcomes assessment, academic program review, strategic planning, performance scorecards, perfor mance benchmarking, and quality measurement, each of which has numerous manifestations in academia. Despite variations in terminology, colleges and universities accredited by any one of the six regional accrediting agencies must demonstrate that they have designed and implemented acceptable processes of institutional effectiveness. (1)

Evidence that institutional effectiveness activities have actually improved institutions is sparse, but there is accumulating evidence of barriers to their successful implementation. Among the barriers are lack of sustained attention by institutional leadership, limitations of assessment tools, poorly designed systems to use assessment results, and the lack of faculty commitment (Ewell, 1989; Palomba & Banta, 1999, pp. …

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