Strategic Leadership in Higher Education: Facilitating Collaborative Learning

Strategic Leadership in Higher Education: Facilitating Collaborative Learning

Nasim Alavi (Florida Atlantic University, USA) and Debra N. Weiss-Randall (Florida Atlantic University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch108


The widespread adaptation of strategic leadership is a result of its successful synthesis of the short-term financial benefits of a conservative managerial approach and the long-term financial growth of an innovative visionary approach. Many have suggested strategic leadership as the approach of choice for the sector of higher education, which has been facing problems with student retention, financial and time pressures, and perceived loss of the value-added of a college degree. This chapter examines how the application of the strategic leadership approach can facilitate collaborative, engaging, authentic learning in institutions of higher education.
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Strategic leadership is a synergistic approach that incorporates the best elements of two well-known leadership approaches, namely, managerial and visionary leadership (see Figure 1). Managerial leaders are reactive and focus on conserving the existing order; they deal with the day-to-day activities and short-term financial health of the organization. Visionary leaders are proactive risk takers, innovators who develop new ideas and focus on long-term growth and survival (Rowe & Nejad, 2009). Strategic leaders follow a synergistic approach whose dual goals are short-term financial stability and long-term growth and viability. The first goal encourages budget constraints while the second requires outlay of monies for innovation, to enable the organization to keep up with changing environments. Strategic leadership, grounded in ethical behavior and value-based decisions, is able to balance the needs of both of these goals (Rowe & Nejad, 2009).

Figure 1.

Strategic leadership as a synthesis of visionary and managerial leadership


Strategic leadership steers an organization through dangerous waters toward opportunities and away from dangers; it guides the organization toward a clearly defined destination in the pursuit of its goals. Strategic leadership is about leading of the whole organization, rather than leading in it (Boal & Hooijberg, 2000).

Higher education is an arena that has been facing increasing difficulties in student retention. Steep increases in tuition costs have burdened students with huge debt (Archibald & Feldman, 2010, 2012; Reed & Cochrane, 2014). More troubling, students doubt whether a college degree prepares them for the future and the workplace – concerns shared by employers (Cai, 2013; Krueger & Dale, 2011; Rothwell & Kulkarni, 2015; Shapiro et al., 2014). Rothwell and Kulkarni (2015, p. 1) describe this concept of “value-added” in institutions of higher education as “the economic success of the college’s graduates, measured by the incomes graduates earn, the occupations in which they work, and their loan repayment rates.” According to Public Agenda (2011), a leading cause of college dropout was students’ inability to handle the combined demands of work and school. The combined load also may have contributed to students’ taking longer to graduate: the average completion time for a four-year degree was 55 months, with only 40 percent of students graduating within four years (Vedder et al., 2010).

Students are worried about taking on debt to go to college; a Public Agenda survey given to college graduates and those without a degree found that 9 in 10 young adults believed that young people had to borrow too much money to go to college. (Public Agenda, 2011). Top recommendations to reduce the debt burden included offering more student aid options to part-time students, and providing childcare on site. However, the demand for more student aid and support services comes at a time when 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 a way to increase productivity and to absorb reductions in support while “increasing degree production without compromising quality” (SHEEO, 2014, p. 47).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Value-Added: The best definition 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).

Transformational Leadership: A collaborative participatory approach to leadership that uses relational exchange; management commits to encourage and include organizational participants in the decision-making process.

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 two- and four-year colleges, and research university. Institutions of higher education may be public (state-sponsored) or private, not-for-profit or for-profit. 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 vocational institutions.

Transactional Leadership: A topdown approach to leadership, with strategic organizational decision-making the prerogative of the CEO and his/her top management team invested in the CEO and other top management, and limited participation from followers.

New Vocationalism: In contrast with older traditional forms of vocational education, new vocationalism refers to an institution’s efforts “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).

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