Strategic Leadership in Higher Education: Adding Value and Restoring the Value Proposition

Strategic Leadership in Higher Education: Adding Value and Restoring the Value Proposition

David Starr-Glass (University of New York in Prague, Czech Republic)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch106
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In the complex and turbulent task environments of the millennium, strategic leadership is enjoying exceptional popularity and enthusiastic adoption. Higher education is currently facing significant difficulties and many have suggested that strategic leadership provides a viable solution for these problems. However, what advantages might strategic leadership really provide in higher education? This chapter looks in particular at the service-orientated nature of higher education, at some of the inherent challenges in utilizing strategic leadership in such a service-orientated environment, and at the extent to which this leadership approach might provide benefits and advantages in restoring the value proposition to the market-driven US higher education system.
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Strategic leaders recognize four things:

  • 1.

    The future is complex, turbulent, and volatile;

  • 2.

    Within that ever-reconfigured future there are discernable opportunities and dangers;

  • 3.

    Unless the organization is guided towards those opportunities, and away from dangers, it will ultimately be inundated and crushed by the storm-waves of the future; and

  • 4.

    That a clear vision of future strategic destinations must be articulated, communicated, and acted upon.

The present is always dominant; nevertheless, it cannot be allowed to extinguish the future vision. The future might indeed be uncertain, but the strategic leader’s vision needs to be sustained. In essence, strategic leadership has been characterized as the leading of the whole organization, rather than the leading in it (Boal & Hooijberg, 2000).

Currently, strategic leadership seems a particularly attractive option for American higher education. Higher education is a service-provider, but educational consumers are unhappy with what is presently being provided. For example, students pursuing a four-year degree find that the average completion time is actually 55 months; only 40 percent will graduate within four years (Vedder et al., 2010, p. 125). College drop-out rates are also high. During the last twenty years 31million students left college with neither degree nor certificate; of these, 10 million had enrolled for only a single semester at a single institution (Shapiro et al., 2014). Students who did persevere encountered escalating tuition; over the last twenty-five years, tuition costs have outstripped inflation by 360 percent (Archibald & Feldman, 2010, 2012). Tuition increases impact current students (and their parents), but they also add to the burgeoning college-related debt of graduates. Almost 69 percent of graduates in 2013 had average college-related debt of $28,400 – representing an increase of 2 percent over the prior year (Reed & Cochrane, 2014).

Students are also increasingly concerned about the value of their college degree and the extent to which degrees prepare them for the future and for the workplace – concerns that are also shared by employers (Cai, 2013; Krueger & Dale, 2011; Rothwell & Kulkarni, 2015). Additionally, institutions of higher education are facing significant financial problems. After reaching a record high of $89 billion in 2008, state funding was slashed dramatically and is anticipated to decline further in the future, with a new normal in which students and their families will be expected “to make increasingly greater financial sacrifices in order to complete a postsecondary education” and in which colleges will be forced “to find ways of increasing productivity and to absorb reductions in state support while increasing degree production without compromising quality” (SHEEO, 2014, p. 47).

Some might believe that higher education is simply going through a difficult time following the Great Recession of 2008. However that is simply to restate the problem, not to answer it. The task environment of higher education has undergone significant change over the last few decades and it will continue to be more hostile and challenging in the future. It is obvious that the internal workings of higher education are failing to meet current expectations and are likewise incapable of meeting the challenges that will be demanded in the future. There is an urgent need to revisit and to reinvent strategic leadership in higher education and a sense that “those institutions that embrace the true spirit of their educational mission, engage students and communities, and find creative solutions to the challenges facing them will survive and thrive” (Goldstein, Miller, & Courson, 2014, p. 12).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Value-Added: The best definition so far as education is concerned is provided by Rothwell and Kulkarni (2015) : “A college’s value-added measures the difference between actual alumni outcomes (like salaries) and predicted outcomes for institutions with similar characteristics and students. Value-added, in this sense, captures the benefits that accrue from both measurable aspects of college quality, such as graduation rates and the market value of the skills a college teaches, as well as unmeasurable ‘x factors,’ like exceptional leadership or teaching, that contribute to student success” (p. 1).

New Vocationalism: In contrast with older traditional forms of vocational education, new vocationalism refers to the efforts of the educational institution “to build on the abilities that gained them [students] a place at university and develop a strength that experts in lifelong learning have concluded will serve them well for their entire life: willingness and ability to learn without close supervision” (p. 28).

Culture: A set of discernible assumptions, attitudes, conceptualizations, and values possessed by members of a specific group that is transmitted through socialization and communication involving key symbols, narratives, stories, and a recalled past.

Employability: The ability of an individual to enter, remain, and advance in the labor force. Employability can be understood from two perspectives: (1) From the employee’s perspective, employability is a function of the knowledge, skills, competencies, and personal attributes that are possessed and subsequently supplied to the work market; and (2) From the employer’s perspective, employability is a function of perceived attributes, job-fit, and of the availability and continuing demand for the work-related knowledge, skills, and competencies presented by the individual.

Higher Education: The system of postsecondary institutions that provides learning opportunities for those who wish to obtain academic degrees and professional qualifications. In the US, the system includes state-sponsored (“public”) two-year colleges (“community colleges”), four-year colleges, and state research universities. This pattern is also replicated in the private and for-profit higher education sectors. Higher education in the US is not coordinated at a national or federal level. The definition of higher education employed in this chapter does not include postsecondary institutions of a vocational nature, which are invariably organized on a private or for-profit basis.

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