Change impacts all of us, but leaders of colleges, universities and academic medical centers face the extraordinary challenge of guiding institutions to achieve their core missions even as they are buffeted by ever more rapidly changing external and internal forces. These time-honored institutions must constantly stay ahead of competition from new business models, changing demographics, shifts in funding and the seemingly relentless stream of regulatory requirements.
Today’s ever-more complex political landscape—from the federal to the state to the local level—means leaders must spend more and more time and resources anticipating and responding to change. How will the presidential election change access to higher education? How will the U.S. Department of Education expand the College Scorecard, an online tool designed to portray student outcomes, make academic institutions more accountable? Will trends resulting from state lawmakers’ inability to come to consensus about the role of government in funding higher education and healthcare continue, and what will the impact be? What is the evolving role of these institutions in their local communities?
Meanwhile, academic institutions are increasingly interested in As-a-Service technology options and more often calling on organization change managers from the private, corporate sector to help transform themselves through organizational re-alignment, process standardization, technological innovation, and in some cases, integration with or into affiliated institutions. The ultimate objective of these operational improvements is to reallocate administrative costs to support core missions: instruction, research, public service and patient care.
In addition to all this, change in higher education is complicated by factors that are the defining characteristics of these institutions: shared governance; interpretations of academic freedom; tenure; the faculty’s strong influence on the institution’s reputation; varying degrees of focus on instruction, research, public service and patient care; and the faculty’s propensity to question most everything. Universities are among the few organizations wherein those who are “managed” can call for the replacement, through a vote of no confidence, of those who “manage.”
It is in this swirl of complexity that leaders must and do guide their institutions in achieving their missions, aligning resource allocations with institutional goals and objectives, all the while preparing for an uncertain future. Innovative technology implemented across rapidly evolving delivery models, such as cloud-based enterprise solutions or shared services, provide institutions with prescience and agility—characteristics necessary to institutional sustainability and, in some cases, survival.