Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Transforming a University: A Study of Process Leadership

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Transforming a University: A Study of Process Leadership

Article excerpt


This study focuses on the change initiative of one upper-division university to become a four-year institution. In order for the change to be effective, the institution needed to gain the buy-in of staff and faculty, provide a mechanism to manage potential resistance and conflict, and encourage the faculty and staff to become proactive leaders in the transformation. Heifitz's adaptive leadership model was applied to this institutional change process, which is described as a six-step process. These six steps are: 1) Identification of the Challenge, 2) Recognition that Change is Difficult, 3) Framing the Issues to the stakeholders, 4) Secure stakeholder ownership in the initiative, 5) Manage the conflict and 6) Creating safe haven so all opinions can be expressed. A case study, which follows the efforts of two critical committees through this six-step process, is presented as a way to demonstrate the effectiveness of the adaptive leadership model. As the case in the study demonstrates, the leadership focused intensely on process, working with resistance, and creating a sustainable, and continuously transforming institution. Subsequently, after nearly 30 years as an upper division and graduate university, the institution successfully transitioned to a four-year university.


Across the U.S., public higher education is facing daunting challenges, as college and university administrators attempt to meet the growing needs of their current student population with less financial support from state governments (Pope, 2009). Even before the current economic downturn began in 2007, the demand for higher education was increasing, placing more of a strain on existing human and physical resources at these institutions (Bowen, Chingo & McPherson, 2009). According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, enrollment growth of full-time students for the 1989-1999 period was 9.2 percent; however, growth between 1999-2009 accelerated to 32 percent (Snyder & Dillow, 2010: 16). Most of this growth can be attributed to more full-time and traditional age students rather than part-time and older students (Knapp, Kelly-Reid & Ginder, 2008). During 2007-2018, it is forecasted that enrollments will continue to increase, albeit with a shift in the age breakdown, with only a 9 percent increase in students under age 25 and about a 20 percent increase in students over the age of 25 (Snyder & Dillow, 2010: 269).

This study focuses on the efforts of one institution to find a solution for these challenges. This University responded to enrollment demands by transforming itself from a mostly evening, upper division institution, to one that offered four years of undergraduate study and increased daytime options. In this way, the institution took advantage of the increasing demand for higher education and did so at a minimal increase in resources. Although the use of underutilized campus space and classrooms seems to be an obvious move to increase efficiency of resources, this change was transformational for this university, as it would impact every administrative, and most academic units. The institution was upper division for almost 30 years, catering to the academic and support needs of community college transfer students. The institution had to rethink every service that it provided to ensure that what was typically satisfactory for its adult, commuting students would be appropriate for 17 to 18 year old students. In addition, this change was mandated to take less than two years to accomplish. Before focusing on the case study, it is helpful to consider other higher education institutions that have confronted similar external pressures and initiated transformations as well.

In brief, external challenges have meant many institutions have had to change their missions, which led to major structural and academic changes as well as name changes. For example, recently two other upper division institutions - University of Houston- Victoria (Kever, 2010) and Washington State University-Tri-Cities campus (Mulick, 2006), made major structural and academic changes by expanding their course offerings to become four-year universities. …

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