College faculty, College faculty, Corporate, Cost of Education, Domestic, Not-for-Profit, Public education, Required, University & College - Written by on Thursday, October 20, 2011 7:35 - 0 Comments

Management Consultants Coming To a Campus Near You? First They Do Dallas

by Akbar Simonse via Flickr under CreativeCommons

Are traditional universities and colleges increasingly seen as places ripe for restructuring, work-outs, bastions of inefficiency? This jargon and field is normally the domain of corporate America. Boardrooms and C-level suites often hire them to study the bureaucracy of a company and make recommendations that a Board of Directors uses to justify decisions to add technology, lay off employees or change strategy.

Are legions of management consultants, turn-around specialists and efficiency gurus soon to show up at quads around the country at the request of regents, presidents and chancellors in search of solutions… or in a quest for justification to trim fat, boost IT, expand online degrees or reorganize university management structures? Or for newer universities, a chance to set a totally new strategy of blending learning and “no-frills” affordable campuses? The answer may be “all of the above.”

In Texas, John Ellis Price is an early mover on this front. He is president of The University of North Texas System and CEO of the campus at Dallas, which gained a stand alone status in 2009. Mr. Price has turned to management consulting firm Bain & Co. (loosely related to Mitt Romney’s private equity firm Bain Capital). Bain worked with Cornell University, the University of California at Berkeley, and theUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008 and 2009. Bain charged Berkeley $7.5 million. But InsideHigherEd reports it will donate $1 million of its services to UNT-Dallas at no charge.

InsideHigherEd reports (Oct. 17, Building Something Different):

The unconventional partnership is a reflection of Price’s unconventional goal. He’s not trying to emulate Ivy League institutions, the University of Texas at Austin, or even his university’s own flagship campus, which, like so many universities, has pursued a research-intensive path.

Instead, he wants to create a model of higher education that, he says, is more accessible, more flexible, and more student-focused. “The one thing at the forefront of everything we do is what can we do to drive down the cost of instruction and the time that it takes to complete a four-year degree while maintaining quality,” Price says.

Over the next year, Price and Bain will convene a group of 10 community, business and education leaders, known as the “21st Century Commission,” to help the university draft a strategic plan to grow from about 2,000 student to 16,000 by 2030. Judging by statements from Price, Bain consultants, and members of the commission, the plan is likely to include several ideas that have been discussed with increasing frequency by higher education reformers, such as an emphasis on online technology in education delivery, a restructuring of the traditional 15-week semester, and consideration of new ways of financing education.

The piece by Kevin Kiley notes that these kinds of ideas met opposition from faculty at other campuses. Some argue that it gives students what they want rather than what they need in a well-rounded education, that it dilutes the educational experience and strips faculty of rights and dignity. At UNT-Dallas, however, many faculty are young and without tenure so these kinds of concerns don’t seem to crop up, according to Kiley’s piece.

If UNT-Dallas ends up adopting these ideas, and if they prove successful, the university could influence how other institutions adapt to a changing higher education landscape. The initiative could also have ramifications for Bain, which has already shown interest in consulting with universities on administrative issues. Success in creating a new kind of university could drive other institutions to seek the firm’s assistance (or those of other firms) to delve further into university structure, including previously untouched areas such as academics, research and student life.

The UNT-Dallas could be a test case. It’s the first public university inside the Dallas city limits. The 264-acre campus is a part of town underserved by higher education, which officials hope could use a lower-priced Bachelor’s program. The university had 1,000 student sin 2009, growing roughly 14% a year since 2000.  It has programs in business, education, criminal justice, applied arts and sciences .

Price says he took his position in 2001 with the goal of creating a new model of higher education. “I had a strong belief back then, which is still a strong belief today, that current universities are outdated, outmoded and, in many cases, irrelevant,” he says. “I wanted to lead an effort to create a new paradigm for how a university in the 21st century could function, and I figured that if anyone had the chance of being successful it would be a new university, one that was created from the ground up.”

 Bain’s work at UNT-Dallas focus on long-term planning rather than institutional analysis. At UNT-Dallas, it won’t be limited to organizational structure, purchasing and IT decisions alone. Rather, it can possibly examine the academic core.

“While Bain is giving us consulting on a pro bono basis, this is also investment for them,” Price says. “When this project terminates in successful recommendations that are implemented, that’s going to result in more and more clientele asking them to look at other universities and make recommendations at those as well.”While Price and the consultants have made it clear that low-cost, high-quality education is their goal, how they get there, and what that looks like, is up in the air. The commission will consider questions about all aspects of the university, such as how many buildings it will build and whether the campus should be residential or commuter, and questions about curriculum, such as which majors the university will offer, how much instruction will take place online, and how faculty hiring and promotion will be structured.Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, has advocated for an undergraduate degree that costs no more than $10,000. Gottfredson says that number came up in the commission’s first meeting, but Price says that meeting the governor’s expectation is not his goal.

The composition of the committee gives some hints about its likely direction. One of its most notable members is Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor who recently published a book, The Innovative University, about forces in higher education, such as online communication, that will disrupt traditional models. Kim Clark, the president of BYU-Idaho, was also slated to be on the commission, but Henry J. Eyring, BYU-Idaho’s vice president for advancement and Christensen’s co-author, will be filling his seat while Clark recovers from a kidney transplant. BYU-Idaho, which has bucked convention on several issues, features prominently in the book and was featured by the American Council on Education at its annual meeting last spring.

Via InsideHigherEd

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