Restructuring in Student Affairs: A Case Study of Two Research Universities

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Engelbride, Ed
Schmidtlein, Dr. Frank
The higher education system in the United States is generally accepted as the most comprehensive and diverse in the world. Nonetheless it is not immune to internal and external pressures to become more efficient and effective. In the early 1990's higher education in most states faced declining state appropriations, increased competition for funds, calls for increased accountability, rising costs, increased consumer expectations, and questions about the quality of the educational experience. In responding to these pressures, colleges and universities have undertaken a number of initiatives to increase efficiency and effectiveness and have sought ways to become more "business-like," adopting ideas from the corporate world. As restructuring became a popular management initiative in the corporate sector, governing boards, governors, presidents and business officers became inundated with information about this type of management "reform" effort (Birnbaum, 2000; Horn & Jerome, 1996). In 2003 restructuring was reported at more than half of all public institutions of higher education. A higher percentage of research universities reported they had undertaken this management initiative. Over 60 percent of those responding to a national survey reported reorganizing student affairs (Carlson, 2003). Several reasons are given as a basis or rationale for initiating restructuring efforts in student affairs divisions on college campuses (Carlson, 2003; El-Khawas, 1994; Engelbride & Goodale, 1998). Those reasons include anticipated improvements in efficiency and effectiveness, cost reductions, improvement of services, streamlining processes, re-focusing of programs or services, and enhanced utilization of technology. This study focused on the restructuring efforts in the student affairs divisions at two public research universities. Utilizing a case study approach, it explored the impetus, goals, processes and results of the restructuring process. The lessons learned from this research will be useful to higher education practitioners who are interested in restructuring student affairs. Restructuring efforts that utilize an inclusive and participatory process where the goals are understood and open communication appeared to had a higher likelihood of success. Restructuring efforts that limit participation, have unclear goals, and limited communication, appeared less likely to succeed.