Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Curriculum as Strategy: The Scope and Organization of Business Education in Liberal Arts Colleges

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Curriculum as Strategy: The Scope and Organization of Business Education in Liberal Arts Colleges

Article excerpt

The essence of strategic management is that organizations are engaged in continual adaptation to changing environmental conditions and circumstances (e.g., Grant, 1998). In higher education, strategic management decisions span multiple policy areas. For college administrators, variability in internal and external domains, such as funding source, student body, faculty characteristics, and facilities, can all be factors that drive organizational policy, individually or collectively. This article focuses on curriculum as an organization strategy in liberal arts colleges. The central issue I explored is the relationships between curriculum choices, on the one hand, and structure and performance, on the other. An empirical examination of business curriculum in 182 liberal arts colleges follows an introductory discussion of the interplay between curriculum and strategy in general, and in the liberal arts college environment in particular.

Curriculum is strategic in its character for two principal reasons. First, all major internal and external decision domains - resources, markets, internal process, and organizational structure - are affected by curriculum choices. Ultimately, it can be argued, all decisions made by educational institutions are rooted in the content and format of their educational program. Second, an educational institution's curriculum can be seen both in a purpose-directed action framework and in the broad perspective that Mintzberg (1988) proposed as an analytic framework for strategy. Mintzberg argued that the construct space of strategy holds more than simply a series of choices made in order to attain overtly stated goals. He suggested that, in addition, strategy includes an institution's position in its competitive environment and its outlook or perspective on the environment. Moreover, he maintained that strategy was not even always purposeful but could sometimes be seen more clearly in retrospect as a pattern of activities. The design and implementation of curriculum policies show "emergent" as well as "deliberate" strategies. This view is consistent with other prominent approaches to strategic management (e.g., Miles & Snow, 1978).

Strategic management in higher education has previously been studied by Chaffee (1984), Chaffee and Tierney (1988), and Hardy (1990, 1996), among others. A review of their work suggests that issues of leadership, financial management, external relations, and infrastructure have been at the center of most previous scholarly analyses of strategy in higher education. In Chaffee's (1984) ten pseudonymous case analyses, the academic program - i.e., curriculum - receives relatively little attention, compared to the emphasis given to linear, adaptive, and interpretive models of how strategy is formed. Similarly, Hardy uses academic institutions in Canada (1990) and Brazil (1996) to show how strategic processes of various types play out in a framework of studying organization culture and the management of the strategic process. Gumport (1987) suggests that departmentalization and the emergence of disciplinary autonomy are powerful forces affecting curricular change.

The emphasis in this study, however, is not so much on the process of strategy as on strategic content, i.e., what strategic decisions are made, rather than how strategy is decided. Kotler and Murphy (1981) point out that program modification is one element of response to product/market environment in higher education. Among other things, program or curriculum is one way that competitors differentiate their offerings to prospective customers. As students select among institutions of higher education, the appropriate institution type is one element of their choice. The alternatives in the American higher education marketplace - private research universities, public and/or land-grant universities, community colleges, and liberal arts colleges - differ in a number of relevant ways: size, heritage, focus on the baccalaureate, and, in large measure, curriculum. …

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