Philip_Disalvio_photoContributed by Philip DiSalvio, Ed.D.
University College
University of Massachusetts Boston

The ground has shifted in fundamental ways in higher education and it is becoming increasingly evident that strategic structural reorganization will play an important role in the financial survival of many institutions. Just as the hospital industry in the 1980s strategically transformed its organizational structures as a result of changes in funding, a similar paradigm shift is occurring in higher education.

Consider the relationship between strategy (i.e., actions that achieve organizational goals) and structure (i.e., organizational design). The principle of “strategy following structure” is emblematic of traditional higher education. Institutions typically take inventory of their available resources and, in turn, respond by introducing new learning offerings based on that availability.

Understanding the close links between strategy, structure, and the environment, it makes sense that organizational structure should expand options rather than constrain the strategic choices institutions can make. In a harsh higher education environment posed by funding shortfalls and fierce competition, higher education institutions must be optimally structured to meet those challenges. Accordingly, the principle of structure following strategy may be more fitting in the current higher education environment.

Given that organizational structure influences efficiency, effectiveness, and market agility, many higher education institutions are ripe for the academic side of their operation to look closely at their organizational structure — and to ask whether their structure is aligned with the ability to keep their competitive edge, capture niche markets, and leverage internal strengths.

What organizational designs best leverage key areas of strength? What college structures best sharpen the strategic focus of the institution and position the institution to take advantage of future opportunities — and gain a competitive advantage?

These questions are particularly relevant in a time where public institutions are receiving less state funding and private independents are looking for ways to bolster their bottom lines.

This series explores these questions through a case study that chronicles a “structure following strategy” approach — i.e., the reconstitution of a continuing education division into a degree-granting academic unit (i.e., a college).

Intended for higher education leaders and practitioners, this series describes the transition and provides an analysis of the implications of such a reorganization strategy. The insights and ideas drawn from the structural organizational change — from a division to a college — and an account of the ongoing challenges, opportunities and effects of such a strategy may be helpful to higher education leaders considering a similar reorganization strategy.

Each article in the series will address aspects of the transition and associated leadership issues. Upcoming articles in the series include:

  1. Making the Case for Structural Organizational Change — Reconstituting a Division into a College
  2. Transitioning from an Entrepreneurial Identity to an Academic Identity — Launch Milestones and Leadership Transitions
  3. Managing the Organizational Challenges & Leveraging the Opportunities in a Reconstituted Unit
  4. Considering a Similar Reorganizational Strategy — Lessons From the Field

NEXT: Making the Case for Structural Organizational Change — Reconstituting a Division into a College