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Higher Education Governance
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State policy leaders now face--or soon will encounter--critical decisions about their colleges and universities for two reasons: First, the success of American colleges and universities over the last half-century has given rise to high societal expectations. Second, unprecedented challenges to higher education are emerging from substantial demographic, technological, economic, and organizational transformations in our society. Two policy approaches are possible. At one extreme, most institutional pressures urge reliance on past success, and offer the advantage of organizational stability and predictability, but also the possible disadvantage of failing to meet new needs in a rapidly changing environment. At the other extreme, significant organizational changes may be required to respond to market pressures and to the pace of dramatic societal transformations, but such response can bring the possible disadvantages of organizational instability, and of unintentionally discarding hard-earned lessons of the past. This tension between continuity and change will characterize the early decades of the next century. Problems and solutions will be difficult to identify; framing them for purposeful policy adaptation will be even more challenging.

This paper is based upon a multi-state study of state governing structures for higher education.1 For the full text of the study, including detailed specific case analyses, please refer to Designing State Higher Education Systems for a New Century, to be published in December 1998 by Oryx Press. Our purpose in this paper is to trace and summarize the complexity of general patterns in higher education governance that our study revealed. We wish to describe the structural relationships that deeply affect institutional efficacy, and therefore must inform higher educational policy decisions. Most importantly, we found that state policy strikes a balance--sometimes explicitly, sometimes by default--between the influence of the market (defined broadly as forces external to state government and higher education) and the influence of systems or institutions of higher education. An effective balance within and across three policy levels--the macro state policy environment, system design, and practical work processes--promotes the general welfare. The goal of state policy, then, is to exercise state authority to achieve public priorities by balancing, within and across complex policy levels, the influence of academic institutions and the influence of the market, broadly defined.

In Part I, we summarize the current context of change, the challenges that led us to our study of the policy implications of structures. Part II describes the research and the conceptual framework that was developed as a result of that research. In Part III, we discuss the policy implications of this research and suggest that states can improve their responses to impending challenges by developing and aligning three levels of policy direction. The concluding Part IV returns to the importance of public policy and policy leadership in achieving balance among institutional and market forces in the context of continuity and change.


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© 1998 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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