An institution’s structure is intra- and inter-organizational. It encompasses both the organizational chart that identifies roles and responsibilities for product and service delivery, as well as inter-organizational arrangements generated to leverage resources and competencies. Structure also provides the framework for policy choices and decision-making, often based on a shared governance model in higher education.
“Collaboration, both internally and externally, is an important strategy to relieve pressure on the cost structure of an institution.”Beth Reissenweber, Vice President of Finance and Administration and CFO, Augsburg College
Opportunities abound for partnerships and collaboration in 21st century higher education. These opportunities range from changing organization charts within colleges to articulation agreements to shared programs between institutions to institutional mergers. Recognizing the limitations of siloed, discipline-based departments to address inter- and transdisciplinary issues and problems in instruction and research, universities are identifying new models for their academic organizations. Such models may reduce the costs of administering multiple units in addition to furthering the goals of more integrated curriculum.
Nontraditional Structures for Institutions
The Claremont University Consortium, now nearly 100 years old, reaches beyond the walls of a single institution and has inspired numerous colleges and universities to share services and programs. More recently, in 2000, the Universities at Shady Grove in Maryland was created to provide cost-effective access to 80 programs from nine universities, which share student and academic services, to communities that previously lacked access to baccalaureate education.
While remaining independent is important to both, going it alone is a thing of the past for St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota. Believing that collaboration will allow each institution to accentuate its unique strengths and distinctive identity, the colleges are awarding grants to faculty and staff who advance opportunities for collaboration.
New Structures Require New Approaches
Leadership is a critical component of structure, as leaders are responsible for communicating the institutional mission and facilitating necessary innovation through risk-taking and boldly addressing the limitations of tradition-bound paradigms. Traditional decision-making in higher education has been criticized for its reliance on committee structures and deliberative processes. Colleges and universities and their leaders continue to negotiate new models of shared governance and improved mechanisms to communicate the demands of changing constituencies. University of LaVerne President Devorah Leiberman talks about the importance of institutional leadership alignment in creating the best opportunities for students.
To explore the structural dimension of an institution’s economic framework, leaders must examine multiple dimensions including:
- Is the current organizational structure relevant to current needs? Does it create barriers to improvement?
- What opportunities exist for shared services and programs and partnerships/collaborations within our institution and with others?
- Do institutional policies support or hinder the mission? Are processes underway to abate conflict?
- Is leadership willing to take strategic risks to better position the institution?
To explore additional information or references about the importance of an institution's structure to economic sustainability, visit the EMP library.