Yes, We Run Our College like a Business: A College or University Can Apply Business Practices to Its Operation. (Controversy)

By Miller, Scott D. | University Business, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Yes, We Run Our College like a Business: A College or University Can Apply Business Practices to Its Operation. (Controversy)


Miller, Scott D., University Business


AS FISCAL UNCERTAINTY APPROACHES, HIGHER EDUCATION CAN BE well served by closely reviewing and adopting effective business practices. "Heresy!" some academicians say. "Higher education is not a business, and can only be compromised by such invidious comparisons." But higher education can forge a salutary relationship between the traditions of the academic and tested business designs. A college or university can apply business practices to its operation.

For years, this unexamined argument against operating like a business has fostered largely inefficient, wasteful, and significantly less effective practices in our colleges and universities. For instance, technology is often compartmentalized in Academics, Finance and Administration, Student Affairs, and Advancement, or loosely coordinated under a separate line officer who is more of an inventory-keeper and repairperson than an accountable administrator. And, in strategic planning, many institutions have little more than wish lists. What is desirable are good business plans with timelines, estimated costs, and accountable persons.

As a college president, I see my role as aligning the essential functions of Wesley College in ways that are efficiently consistent and effective for the educational mission of our institution. This means thoughtfully reviewing our organization and ensuring that management assignments are made in line with the ability and role of each officer. We must place academics under Academic Affairs; most administration and accounting areas under Finance and Administration; students under Student Affairs; and fundraising, public relations, and alumni under Advancement.

When I arrived at Wesley in 1997, the Board of Trustees and I launched a comprehensive Institutional Review (using a prominent group of national experts) that examined all aspects of campus operations and helped craft our agenda for the 21st century. Since then, we have instituted a number of business practices unheard of in many institutions of higher education. We have outsourced payroll services, portions of information technology, physical plant maintenance, campus safety/security, bookstore operations, food services, and financial aid services. We also use the Interim Registry of College and University Presidents for transitional executive assistance.

One controversial issue that has continued to surface over the years is the recognition and rewarding of meritorious faculty service. Unlike the business world, the academy generally considers the evaluation of faculty as too difficult to be performed validly and fairly; the tendency is to lean towards a uniform allocation of salary increases. In spite of this, and in an effort to encourage and recognize differences in faculty performance, beginning next fall at Wesley, a supplemental $1,000 Presidential Stipend will be added to the base salaries of selected faculty members for outstanding educational service. …

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