Most universities and colleges, four-year and two-year, have been altering how they operate because of budget shortfalls, rising costs, and low enrollments. However, before completely embracing business models for such things as manipulating college freshmen with unethical practices, or trying to control what employees say through fear to protect the college's image, such as Mount St. Mary's was caught doing, such administrators need to think more carefully about the deep differences between colleges and businesses and how such models can ultimately hurt more than help. Re-examining their missions, goals, and past histories, as well as having careful, deep, ongoing discussions with faculty who are consistently engaged in the core mission of such institutions - educating students - could help with this. However, micromanaging and intimidating faculty and staff, or trying to control what and who they speak to, trying to control student media and any other form of publicity and speech, the way Mount St. Mary's and other institutions (such as the one where I teach) have done recently, do the opposite of what those administrators intend. Those kinds of corporate behavior might work on Wall Street, but they ultimately back-fire in academia.
Colleges do need to change. The TIAA-CREF Institute stated in its report, "The Higher Education Business Model Innovation and Financial Sustainability:" "The cost of higher education continues to rise while financial support from states and the federal government continues to decline, students and parents become more price sensitive, and market volatility hurts gift giving and endowments. What’s more, the value of a college degree is being questioned given high levels of student debt and generally poor employment prospects." However, corporatizing is not the answer. If anything, that causes more harm than good. For example, utilizing a student survey to weed out weak students in order to increase retention rates rather than to get those students the support services they need, which is what sparked the conflicts at Mount St. Mary's, will only anger or alienate the majority of students and their parents, as well as faculty and private donors. It's unethical in an educational institution. A business could perhaps do that to determine what consumers to stop marketing to, or what employees to lay off, but a college can't do that and expect anyone to take it seriously as an institution of learning dedicated to its students' success, which depends on many factors, quite a few of which can be helped with the right kind of supportive intervention like tutoring or counseling. Some students need to learn their limits and how to be responsible. Some need to be taught how to study or organize their time. Sometimes those particular learning experiences only occur after failure. Colleges and universities have a responsibility to give students all possible support and to make students' success and well being their first priority. No educational institution can exist without students. College administrators need to remember that students are the main purpose for their institutions' existence.
However, those students won't learn anything without faculty. The faculty are the second most important element of a college or university. Without faculty, there is no teaching and no learning. Faculty know this. Faculty are the ones who work directly with students and who witness their moments of epiphany, struggles, and progress. Faculty also generally serve as advisers, and so also hear about students' dreams, fears, and problems. Faculty answer students' questions, assign their work loads, interact with them in classrooms and sometimes outside the classroom in office hours, tutoring sessions, clubs, or organizations like student newspapers. No one knows more about how to reach and help students. No one knows more about what students need, especially what students need to know in the particular course that a faculty member teaches, as well as how likely a particular student is to succeed and why. This is the reason administrators need to listen to faculty when we tell them what students need. Yet rarely do administrators even ask.
Most colleges and universities operate within what is known as a shared governance system. That has been the cornerstone of academia's curriculum and operations for a very long time. Its purpose is to establish a system of checks and balances precisely so the kinds of abuses that have been publicized in the media lately don't happen, or are rectified quickly when they do. This is also why tenure is so important. Tenured faculty are generally the only faction truly able to stand up to high level administrators like a college president or provost if a decision or policy is damaging to the students and/or those who serve them, like faculty or counselors. Yet, as a recent statement by the Higher Education Program and Policy Council of the American Federation of Teachers states, "a direct assault is being launched on the practice of shared governance in higher education... To exploit the commercial and political potential of this industry, they seek to run our colleges more on a 'corporatized' business model." However, as many for-profit colleges have been discovering recently in their own dramatic decline, this corporate model simply does not work. Education is not a commodity to be sold or capitalized on. It is a slow, long process that requires hard work and many resources. The quality of those resources is what differentiates colleges and universities in their rankings. Administrators, trustees, and even state and federal legislators would do well to remember that. Corporate behavior destroys colleges; it does not fix them.
Colleges and universities do need to change. Perhaps the best way to approach this is to look hard at administrative costs instead of costs associated with the necessary resources for students' success. Let's start with the administrative bloat that seems to plague most colleges recently, and then the huge amount of money consumed by administrators' salaries. According to a Times Higher Education review of Benjamin Ginsberg's book , The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, Ginsberg's research shows, "In the two decades from 1985 to 2005, student enrollment in the US rose by 56 per cent, faculty numbers increased by 50 per cent, degree-granting institutions expanded by 50 per cent, degrees granted grew by 47 per cent, administrators rocketed by 85 per cent and their attendant staff by a whopping 240 per cent." His book is mostly about how and why that increase in administrators is destroying academia. (It should be a must-read for all college presidents.) Inside Higher Ed published a chart of administrators' average salaries as of March, 2015. The salaries of most college administrators are grossly larger than the salaries of faculty or staff. Any institution really serious about cutting costs needs to start with cutting administrative costs by cutting their salaries and making many of those administrative positions part-time, or eliminating them altogether.
Any institution really serious about increasing student retention, enrollments, and graduation rates, which affect a college's reputation and financial stability in these times, needs to focus on increasing the resources that directly affect students, such as ensuring they are taught by well paid, full-time faculty with the time and credentials to focus on those students, as well as the counseling, tutoring and other support staff necessary for students' success. Anything less than that, like the overwhelming trend among colleges to replace full-time faculty with part-time adjuncts till those vastly outnumber the full-time professors, must stop. The practice of trying to control the student media and undermining students' freedom of speech and press must stop. Those practices scare away and/or drive away students, resulting in dropping enrollments and retention. They undermine student success. They undermine the institutions' success. Colleges and universities are not corporations. They are places where students go to learn, not to buy a degree.