Many higher education institutions started out as a glimmer of wistful hope and a dream to change the world. They started with a mission established in delivering quality educational programs at an affordable cost using a flexible model for a clearly defined audience. Millions of Americans have thrived at these institutions, but often times, it’s these same institutions that have come under government and public scrutiny. As a result, many of these institutions start to implement practices based on defensive behavior when really a balanced response is needed.
The driving force behind processes and procedures should not be grounded solely in regulatory requirements, whether it’s state licensing or accreditation. Institutions need to understand their mission and vision in order to develop the policies and procedures that best meet the needs of their student populations. It’s important for efficiency and effectiveness to encourage a proactive organizational culture that approaches institutional practices from both a student-focused and business perspective. These perspectives do not need to be mutually exclusive.
There are four ways to approach business practices 1) defensively, 2) offensively, 3) blissfully, and 4) strategically. The smartest approach is a little bit of all four; however, many institutions tend to react more defensively which in the end, hurts the most. Others tend to focus offensively with little concern for the changing landscape and students’ needs. Then there are the blissful thinkers that continue to view the world with hope and wide-eyed innocence, only to realize a little too late that the world has changed and left them behind. Finally, there are institutions who approach education from a strategic perspective by carefully analyzing the data and designing strategies that thoughtfully respond to students’ needs.
- Defensive: Every institution needs leadership that looks out for its future, but that doesn’t mean justifying practices solely based on licensing requirements and accreditation standards. Institutions need to operate from a position of authority and knowledge of their educational offerings keeping in mind the students being served. As a result of the highly regulated nature of education, institutions often find it difficult to implement innovative and distinguishing features that sets them apart from other institutions offering similar programs, but it can and should be done. Students want options. Institutions need to stay relevant. In order to accomplish both, institutions can assure their longevity by focusing on students’ needs first.
- Offensive: As important as it is for an institution to be sustainable, it is equally important that institutions continue to grow. Annually, institutions need to be reviewing their mission, goals, and objectives to assure that they are staying up-to-date, remaining aligned with industry expectations, and preparing to meet upcoming short and long term challenges. These challenges can be anticipated through increasing regulatory requirements, shifts in student populations, and changing employer needs that affect what institutions offer and how they continue to serve students. Ignoring change does not make the problem go away and eventually provides a wake-up call when institutions find themselves unable to compete.
- Blissful: Institutions that maintain a blissful perspective, tend to have an overly positive outlook to the exclusion of facing reality. Institutions often see licensing and accreditation requirements as restrictive, but really they are beneficial. They keep the bad players out, while providing structure and guidance. Institutions need to approach compliance from a best practices perspective instead of from a regulatory perspective. Often times, institutions structure their processes and procedures as though they are checking a box. They believe that as long as they do everything they are told, external factors and changes will not affect them. They react to a blissful state of compliance without taking the time to evaluate the why before they implement the what.
- Strategic: It is vital for institutions to develop strong strategic practices to assure the longevity and relevance within the educational environment. This approach requires implementing strategic initiatives that are driven by attainable goals and objectives, all of which support the institutional mission. Often times, institutions spend energy meeting short-term challenges without much thought to the long-term tasks that assure stability. Strategic planning efforts are an overall part of a healthy institution and more than just a required business document. Successful institutions use their strategic planning momentum to drive the opportunities and growth needed to meet students’ needs and as a result meet regulatory requirements as well.
The headlines are growing daily with the number of institutions who are being held accountable for a lack of basic business practices such as academic quality, conflicting marketing messages, and lack of accountability, to name a few. Outsiders looking in classify these institutions as “bad players” who must be stopped, but the truth is that these issues extend to more than the institutions we read about and affect them at various levels. No singular approach mentioned above will provide a comprehensive solution; however, a balanced approach to all four will benefit an institutions’ effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability.
“Success doesn’t necessarily come from breakthrough innovation, but from flawless execution. A great strategy along won’t win a game or a battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling.” ~ Naveen Jain
How are you approaching institutional sustainability?