Center for Research & Community Development
A Model of Institutional Effectiveness
Institutional Effectiveness is about accountability-to students, employers, accrediting agencies, government bodies, and funding sources. Institutions of education are being asked to justify the vast amounts of time, effort, and money invested by students, taxpayers, local communities, and society in general.
But Institutional Effectiveness is not only about accountability. If there were no accrediting bodies or government agencies looking over the shoulders of Higher Education, Institutional Effectiveness would still be a useful endeavor. Although the cumbersome rhetoric and tedious redundancy that is so often associated with Institutional Effectiveness makes us want to run to our offices and shut the door whenever we hear the words, the idea behind Institutional Effectiveness itself is sound and worthy of attention. We know there are ways the College could improve conditions for students and employees, and we expect efforts to be made to make those improvements. Institutional Effectiveness is about improving the College i.e. "making life better" for students, employees, and the community.
Institutional Effectiveness is also about Strategic Planning. In fact Strategic Planning and Institutional Effectiveness are sometimes used interchangeably as if they referred to the same process. It is crucial however to distinguish between Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning, and also understand how they are related to one another. Institutional Effectiveness is a continuous process of monitoring and assessing performance in order to enhance and upgrade operations of the College. Strategic Planning is the process of setting short, intermediate, and long term goals within the context of current and predicted conditions of the internal and external environment. Institutional effectiveness is a monitoring process whereas Strategic Planning is a process of setting goals and objectives. Setting meaningful goals requires an awareness and understanding of the current conditions. Therefore an Institutional Effectiveness Plan must be in place before substantive Strategic Planning can begin. Institutional Effectiveness provides an empirical foundation for Strategic Planning. A Strategic Plan that lacks a sound factual basis is little more than an aggregation of subjective opinions and impressions that emerge out of a political process.
A widely accepted model of Institutional Effectiveness developed by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association is the Academic Quality Improvement Project (AQIP). Another often used model is the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Program (Baldridge Plan). AQIP is an accreditation process that focuses exclusively on higher education. The Baldridge Plan is an award program designed for organizations in general. Both are continuous quality improvement programs that offer a vision of the ideal organization and identify criteria of quality to guide organizations in their self-assessment and goal-setting.
The central feature and strength of AQIP are the Criteria of Quality it provides for evaluating an institution of higher education. A serious deficiency however is its failure to adequately distinguish between Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning, and recognize how one relates to the other. The first activity that an institution undertakes as an AQIP Participant is a Strategy Forum, a collaborative goal-setting workshop. There is no specific mechanism described for monitoring the conditions of an organization. The model presented here fills in this gap.
The process of monitoring requires some conceptualization of the organization. There are two contrasting theories, an Atomistic view and a Systemic Relational view. In the Atomistic Model the organization is seen as divided into separate areas or groups that operate independently of one another. Each area has its own assigned tasks and responsibilities and must compete with other areas for its share of the organization's resources. If careful attention is not paid to area boundaries, conflicts over turf arise. The Atomistic view is the most customary or common way of viewing an organization.
In contrast, the Systemic Relational Approach conceptualizes the organization as a network of interrelated systems. Each area is dependent on other areas to function properly. There are no discrete boundaries between areas. Changes have a ripple effect throughout the organization. Planning in one area does not occur independently of planning in other areas. The Systemic Relational approach is the more realistic of the two approaches in that it better captures the actual nature of organizations when they function optimally.
A common shortcoming in the implementation of an Institutional Effectiveness plan is failure to adequately incorporate it into the institution's budgeting process. Too often the Institutional Effectiveness Plan is treated as an add-on, rather than as an integral part of the practices and procedures of the College. If an Institutional Effectiveness Plan is not part of the budgeting process, it becomes marginalized. "Doing" Institutional Effectiveness becomes the responsibility of just "that" committee. An Institutional Effectiveness plan is meaningful only to the extent that it has influence over the allocation of resources within the College.
In an era of cut-backs and scarcity of funds, is this view feasible? Many Action Plans fail to be implemented not because they lack merit but because they lack funding. However affordability is often more an issue of priorities than of money. With a shift in priorities and reallocation of current resources, funds can be made available for new projects. The question is not "Can we afford it?" but rather "Is it important enough?" Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning provide the means for answering this question in a rational and coherent way.
The objective of this paper is to describe a plan of Institutional Effectiveness that establishes operational indicators as the foundation for decision-making and goal-setting. Instead of adopting an Atomistic view, the model conceptualizes the organization as an organic whole with internal networks of relationships. Instead of focusing on criteria of an ideal organization, the model focuses on the process of Institutional Effectiveness itself. In this model institutional self-study is a continuous rather than one-time or periodic process.
Overview of Model
In this model of Institutional Effectiveness a picture of the College is constructed in which learning is the center, surrounded by rings of units that directly or indirectly support learning. Operational indicators of performance for each unit are defined and interrelationships among units identified. The process of Institutional Effectiveness requires continuous monitoring of the indicators. Analyses of the operational indicators, with particular attention to patterns of change, provide a foundation for making decisions regarding resource allocation and strategic planning.
Relational Organization of the College
At the outset it is essential to distinguish between management structure and what is referred to here as relational structure. Management or organizational structure refers to the hierarchy of authority among people or positions in an institution. It establishes the "chain of command" and is represented by an organizational chart. Relational structure is represented by a circle of rings that surround a core. It is a schema or complex web of functional relationships among units in an organization. Relational structure does not replace or alter management structure. Lines of authority and governance of the College remain the same in this model of Institutional Effectiveness.
The central function of the College is to promote student learning. Students are adults of all ages and learning is a multifaceted lifelong process. Thus, at the core of the organization are units that directly engage people in learning. The learning process may involve the mind, body, emotions, or social self. The learning may be curricular (credit) or co-curricular (non-credit) with content that is scholastic (academic), vocational or personal. In this model, the name for these units collectively is Academic Services.
Secondly, there are units that assist Academic Services. They provide materials and services that enable academic units to carry out their functions. For example support units enroll students, maintain records, distribute financial aid, and provide students with services such as academic counseling and career planning. Units that assist Academic Services are collectively called Academic Support Services in this model.
Finally, no institution can function without an infrastructure of units that maintain physical facilities and ensure the financial viability of the institution. These units provide offices and classrooms, hire employees, maintain supplies, handle payrolls, and so on. The units of the infrastructure do not directly carry out the core mission of the organization, but they provide the resources that enable the institution itself to function so that it is able to carry out its mission. The units of the infrastructure collectively are called Institutional Support Services.
Kansas City Kansas Community College is organized into departments within divisions within the three general areas of Academic Services, Executive Services, and Administrative and Student Services. Within each department are one or more units. The College's organizational chart is somewhat general and does not specify each individual unit. There is no one official list of all the units of the College, but one can be constructed with the use of official documents such as the College Catalogue, Personal Directory, and Operating Budget.
The following guidelines were used to compile a list of KCKCC units for the purpose of mapping relational structure:
A unit has at least one line item in the operating budget.
Every line item of the operating budget is associated with at least one unit.
All parts of the organization are included and there is no overlap of units.
Every unit has a person designated as its head who may be a Vice President, Dean, Director, Coordinator or Supervisor.
The head of the unit has a budget and is involved in day-to-day operations of the unit, but does not necessarily have final authority over the budget or the operation of the unit.
A unit may consist of just one person (e.g. College Nurse) or many people (e.g., Admissions & Records).
Function, not governance is the primary consideration in identifying the units of the relational structure. Unlike the organizational chart, the relational structure is not a hierarchy. There is no top or bottom, but rather a center or core which is student learning. Three layers of units surround the core: Academic Services, Academic Support Services, and Institutional Support Services. Connections among units are determined by their functional relationships with one another. If proper functioning of Unit A requires products or services from Unit B, then Unit A is dependent on Unit B and a functional relationship exists.
All units have some input and output. Inputs are the services, supplies, resources, and work products that are essential for proper functioning that are received directly from other units or external sources. Outputs are the services, supplies, resources and work product produced by a unit to accomplish its defined purposes. When the input of one unit is the output of another unit, a functional relationship exists between the two; the receiving unit is functionally dependent on the sending unit.
Functional dependencies are not always readily apparent. For example, much of the work of Institutional Support Services is unnoticed unless something goes wrong, e.g. trash cans overflow, the air conditioning system breaks down in mid-summer, paychecks bounce. At these times functional dependencies may become painfully obvious. Unless functional dependencies are explicitly recognized, a unit may be unaware that another particular unit depends on it. The staff may be oblivious to the effect that changes in their unit have on other units.
A map of functional relationships allows us to predict how changes in one unit will affect other units. It also allows us to trace problems to their origin. The location of a problem is not necessarily where the source of the problem is, because a problem in one unit will frequently manifest itself in other units.
In this model of Institutional Effectiveness every unit of the organization has assigned to it operational indicators that are accurate measures of the performance or output of the unit. A wealth of information about the College is already collected due to the ubiquitous records, reports and forms that exist-project requests, room reservations, student transcripts, class rosters, police reports, enrollment forms, purchase requests, travel requests, annual reports, grade reports, student applications, receipts, surveys, job applications, budget reports, withdrawal forms, grade changes, class schedules, degree checks, supply orders, and so on. From this wealth of information can be selected specific pieces of information that are meaningful measures of the activities of the units of the College or the College as a whole. For example, the workload of a unit such as Academic Computing can be measured in part by referring to the project requests it receives. The requests would be sorted according to their size and difficulty. The number of projects in each category would constitute a set of operational indicators.
Careful thought and deliberation must go into selection of the operational indicators. In some areas the best operational indicators may be qualitative rather than quantitative. It is important that unit heads accept the selected operational indicators as good approximations-the best possible--of the performance or output of their unit.
Operational indicators are NOT evaluations of staff competency. This model of Institutional Effectiveness does not change current procedures of employee evaluation. A capable hard-working employee may work in a unit with inadequate resources, dependent on services from units that are slack and unreliable. In such a case, the operational indicators of the unit will indicate a problem that is unrelated to the competency of the people who work in the unit. The solution to the problem probably requires a shift in resources or attention to circumstances in another unit. It is also possible that in some instances employee incompetence is masked by an abundance of resources. Therefore employee evaluation is a separate process from the monitoring of operational indicators of units.
Institutional Effectiveness Document
The operational indicators are continuously monitored and periodically compiled to form the Institutional Effectiveness Document. This document is analogous to a person's medical file that charts measurements such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, white count, enzyme levels, cholesterol, and so on. By monitoring body conditions and detecting changes and irregularities, the physician is able to diagnose problems and plan treatments. Once treatment is complete, the physician can review the patient's chart to assess the effectiveness of the treatment.
The Institutional Effectiveness Document is an extensive compilation of operational indicators that reveal the condition of the organization. The indicators are continuously monitored and periodically recorded in the Institutional Effectiveness Document. Significant changes in operational indicators are flagged for further study by the Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning Council. The Council interprets the meaning and importance of the information and develops strategic initiatives accordingly. Empirical findings are the basis for planning a course of action and for measuring the effectiveness of specific actions.
The operational indicators provide a foundation for asking and answering relevant questions. Particular attention is given to the indicators that show a significant pattern of change over the recent past. They raise questions such as: Why is the change occurring? What adjustments are necessary in light of the change? How should we accommodate or adapt to the change?
Suppose hypothetically there have been a sharp rise in the number of course withdrawals in the past few semesters. We ask why this is happening. Should we be concerned? What should we do about it? To answer these questions, we formulate possible explanations and then use operational indicators to test their validity. Is the increase in withdrawals more prevalent in a particular group of students (e.g., first-time, part-time, 18-20 year-olds, men, Latinos) or courses (e.g., night classes, off-campus, vocational, general education courses)? What other internal or external indicators have changed contemporaneously with course withdrawals? A focus group of students or faculty may also suggest possible reasons for the change. The database of operational indicators provides a way to test the validity and accuracy of assumptions and hypotheses. For example, suppose it is suggested that the recent spell of adverse weather conditions is the reason more students are withdrawing. A check to see whether the increase in withdrawals began prior to or after the adverse weather would tell us whether or not this is a reasonable explanation.
To the extent possible everyone in the organization should have ready access in real time to all of the operational indicators that are pertinent to their position. This would enable decisions at all levels and in all areas of the College to be guided by accurate and comprehensive information. Because of the Internet and current technology, immediate access by all constituencies is not an unreasonable goal, but it requires a centralized database. Currently isolated islands of data are scattered throughout the organization.
The initial setup phase of this Institutional Effectiveness Model is crucial to its success, because in this phase the operational indicators of each unit are established and the functional relationships among units identified. This provides an excellent opportunity for each unit to revisit, discuss, and clarify its mission, its role in the College, and the job descriptions of its members. The map of relational structure must accurately depict the operations of the College so that everyone is "on the same page."
Once the operational indicators have been defined a database is built and procedures are developed to systematically gather and enter data. In some instances measures of the operational indicators can be extracted retroactively from previous records. In addition to being continuously available via the Internet, each year a printed annual report of the indicators, the Institutional Effectiveness Document is produced.
Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning Council
Operational indicators are raw data. Before they can be useful in decision-making they must be put into context and combined with experience and judgment. This is the responsibility of the Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning Council with the assistance of CRCD. This Council is a college-wide committee with seven to ten members. It makes use of the vast expertise within the College by appointing sub-committees and Task Forces to address specific issues. Overall the Council's charge is to:
Identify important patterns and trends in the operational indicators.
Develop action initiatives in response to the patterns and trends.
Continuously monitor all operational indicators, not just those that have been especially targeted for attention.
Examine the results of previous action initiatives.
Develop a Strategic Plan with short, intermediate and long-term goals.
Annually review and evaluate the College's progress in carrying out the Strategic Plan.
Make budget requests in accordance with action initiatives, strategic plans and changing internal and external conditions.
Distinctive Features and Advantages of Model
Nearly all of the specific features of the present model are included in one or another of the countless Institutional Effectiveness plans that exist in higher education today. What is distinct and advantageous about this model is that:
An empirical bedrock of information is at the foundation of all Institutional Effectiveness decisions.
A systemic relational view makes evident crucial interdependencies within the organization.
The model focuses on the process of Institutional Effectiveness rather than criteria for an effective organization.
The model is learning-centered.
Institutional Effectiveness is linked to the allocation of college resources
Self-study is a continuous rather than periodic undertaking.
Complete information about the operation of the College is available and easily accessible throughout the organization, enabling data-driven decision-making at all levels and in all units of the College.