Published on 2012/08/24

Creating More Efficient Higher Education Institutions

Michael J Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School at Iowa State University, wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week that there are some simple steps higher education institutions can take to decrease debt to a point where tuition can be frozen, if not lowered while still increasing accessibility. They focused around curtailing mission creep; arguing that institutions can ensure that missions are kept at bay through a renewed focus on student retention, degree programs, program duplication, better governance, reorganization and incentives.

He points out that institutions would do well to revise degree requirements. They can ensure existing programs are being taught well instead of adding new programs and test demand for experimental or timely courses through seminars or workshops before making them available to the market. By the same token, outdated and low-enrollment courses should be axed, as should the number of credits required to earn a degree.

By the same token, Bugeja says professors should be better educated about the degree requirements of their own institutions, as well as about the program and course options that are available elsewhere in the institution. This way, they could see themselves when courses seem duplicative and learn from one another about modeling programs.

He suggests departments should be responsible for carving out niches and territories. This way each academic unit has a responsibility for a particular piece of subject matter which would give curriculum committees and faculty senates an additional step to see if any proposed courses or programs would be duplicative.

This could be organized, Bugeja argues, through a common curricular governance model. This would stop professors from rubber-stamping new and inefficient courses and degrees, and force administrators to pay attention to institutional governance. He argues that chairs of curriculum committees should publicize agendas and minutes of meetings to create a common awareness of proposed programs, and if this whole process was put into a common database then there would be universal understanding across campus of the progress of a particular program and the details of the offering on the table.

Along the topic of reorganization, he suggests that inefficient and low-enrollment programs and departments should be amalgamated into a single school, rather than be axed altogether. This is done by finding programs that share similar core classes and competencies, and grouping them into a single unit. Under the structure of a school, related pedagogies are clustered along with the majors of similar disciplines into a core curriculum, saving at-risk programs while becoming more efficient and cost-effective.

The focal point is that departments need to find cost savings, graduate students in four years or less, maintain high retention rates and placement percentages, all while providing service to the public. Bugeja recommends offering incentives—such as faculty raises, professional development, innovation funds or seed grants—for departments that can find creative solutions to the inefficiencies plaguing their programs.

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