Who Needs to Improve?

Every organization needs to improve, but only some have to improve.

The eight Ivy League schools need to improve, but they do not have to improve because theirs is a sellers’ market. True, they must compete against themselves, so within the Ivies – if one can afford the tuition and living expenses – it is a buyers’ market. As a result, the leaders of Ivy League institutions can focus on things other than improving administrative and academic processes.

Public higher education needs to improve and they have to improve. Students have choices of where to go for public higher education. External to the Ivy League is a true buyers’ market. Therefore, the leaders of public higher education institutions should be totally focused on continuously improving administrative and academic processes. But they are not.

Public higher education leaders frustrate their stakeholders when they:

  • Fail to see the market has shifted from sellers’ to buyers’.
  • Do the same things when a sellers’ market existed at a time when a buyers’ market exists.
  • Think a few small improvements is good enough.
  • Think improvement means to spend money (e.g. expensive new dorms, expensive learning management systems).

None of this is helped by leaders’ decisions that contradict their assurances that “students are the most important thing” (e.g. reduced instructional support, poor teaching, poor administrative processes, high tuition, poor sexual assault response, etc.).

So, we ask “why?” Why are public higher education leaders so blind to the obvious changes that have taken place, and so ill-informed about how to effectively deal with it? Is it because:

  • They are career academics, unaware of how other industries deal with major changes in a marketplace?
  • They are unaware of different management systems and associated leadership routines?
  • They have fallen into the trap that being in a leadership positions means that they are smarter than anyone else (and therefore dismiss others’ concerns and recommendations for improvement).
  • They lack intrinsic motivation for improvement; they lack the spirit of change and embrace the spirit of same?
  • They are unwilling to admit that their strategy for the university is flaws and must be drastically changed or scrapped?
  • They are not willing to think, learn, and do things differently from what they are accustomed to?

How can the leaders of public higher education be so uneducated about how to lead public higher education? Their ignorance will surely do harm when, they will swear to us, their intent is to do only good.

But perhaps there is hope: Maybe a big-name consultant will come around and point out the problem and suggest some progressive corrective actions. The only difference is what could have been had virtually for free will cost the university a few million dollars.

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