In past decades, higher education boards focused primarily on academics. Since then, the world has become more complex, competitive and globalized. The economy is volatile and uncertain, causing students to wonder if the steep cost of higher education will yield a successful career that makes getting a college degree worthwhile.
The high cost of education has forced boards to shift their attention from academics to the risks and costs of providing higher education. The drive for efficiency and effectiveness in higher education has often been masked by the drivers of policies, procedures and agendas. Volatile economic times have forced colleges and universities to take a more commercial approach to administration, and in doing so, shifting the power from the administration to the board of directors. Technology is continually advancing.
These issues and more require a new structure for higher education that still aligns with the college’s mission and vision while keeping the focus on academia. Boards may find that a highly secure board portal system will help them navigate the challenges and complexities of taking higher education outside the box.
As colleges and universities strive to find efficiency and effectiveness in higher education, no single approach emerges as the best possible initiative. Instead, colleges are tackling efficiency and effectiveness in higher education one goal at a time.
Here’s a look at how they’re doing it:
University System of Maryland
The University of Maryland boasts 12 campuses. Some of them enjoy strong success, as evidenced by high retention and graduation rates. However, the schools with larger percentages of low-income and minority students struggle with low retention and graduation rates.
Board members wanted to better understand if the interventions they had put into place were effective. The data they had gave them only a look in the rearview mirror. Moreover, all the schools used different programs to analyze their data. This made it difficult, if not impossible, to compare data to get to the heart of the problem. They needed a unified strategy for improving student success through standardized data collection. They found it with PAR software solutions.
The new systems enabled staff to see redundancies, as well as where interventions worked and where they didn’t. The data helped them to develop specific approaches to improve student success initiatives.
Colorado State University Global Campus
Colorado State University Global Campus is an online-only institution. This college outsources its communications with students to a third-party vendor. The problem with this is that there was no way for the administration to check up on the vendor’s staff to see if they were reviewing applications and doing it in a timely manner. Maria Jump, Assistant Vice President of Student Services, came up with an innovative idea to use “mystery shoppers” to check up on vendors and make sure they were providing the quality service they claimed to have. The college hired “secret shoppers” to fill out college applications. The project was so successful that colleges are using secret shoppers to check up on other vendors and their competition as well.
Dartmouth College takes pride in being the smallest member in the Ivy League. At the same time, the board and administrators are trying to decide if it’s time for Dartmouth to grow, and if so, by how much. The other dilemma is whether it’s possible to grow the student population while retaining its reputation as a historic small college with a low student-to-faculty ratio of 7.4 to 1.
President Phil Hanlon questions whether the school can increase the number of students it serves without “eroding its signature undergraduate experience.” The board will need to weigh many issues in making decisions about whether they want to increase admissions, and by what percentage, including the impact on staff, the budget and student housing. Hanlon decided that the best way to tackle the problem for efficiency and effectiveness in higher education was to form a task force to investigate all perspectives of the issue.
Transforming Physical Spaces
The Texas Women’s University Department of Teacher Education came up with an innovative idea to better prepare future teachers for the technological capabilities of the classrooms that they’ll be teaching in after graduation. The result became the Future Classroom Lab — a teaching lab complete with the latest in technology. It’s a room filled with touchscreen monitors, robotics and coding operations. The area is set up with functional education areas that address different aspects of the teaching experience.
At the University of Notre Dame, students wanted a production facility for broadcasting and live-streaming athletic events. Their idea eventually became the Martin Media Center, a 1,500-square-foot academic innovation space that became a larger vision. The space now includes virtual reality demonstrations, video equipment and a light board, and is used for cross-departmental learning.
In both cases, the schools needed to get buy-in from the leaders and decision-makers, and their efforts proved that they could successfully combine efficiency and effectiveness in higher education.
They also learned some things about how to get the board and the administration on board with their innovations. They had to keep in mind that the faculty would need to know how to use technology in the rooms and how they could integrate it into the curriculum. They also suggested not overloading rooms with too many electronic gadgets because faculty members wouldn’t be comfortable having too many tools in one room. Persuade the decision-makers by balancing the upfront cost with the long-term investment opportunities. Start small and build on ideas. Another factor is to clearly define the space. If the institution owns the space, the priority is usually how to utilize the classroom and how best to line up courses in the same degree program. When the department or college owns the space, the faculty member’s schedule usually takes priority.
A few factors tend to determine whether new innovations are successful, including the physical layout, the electronic tools and gadgets in the classroom, whether the faculty is prepared to use the new space and whether the institution is ready to take advantage of a new opportunity.
The innovative ideas here for efficiency and effectiveness in higher education are merely the tip of the iceberg. University mergers and public-private partnerships are some other ideas that colleges and universities have had success with.
Perhaps it will take innovative ideas such as these to turn the tables and get young adults re-thinking their decision about going to college or getting training via some other avenue.