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Managing organizational change

What leaders need to know about steering change in higher education.

3 min read




This post is sponsored by The University of Alabama College of Education

Colleges and universities are in a near constant state of flux, growing and evolving to meet their students’ learning needs and to address the social issues that affect their campus communities. Leaders must be fluent in managing organizational change so they can help their institutions navigate these changes successfully.

Steering change is a delicate balancing act, says Karri Holley, associate professor and coordinator for the Higher Education Administration program at The University of Alabama. In this blog post, Holley outlines why organizational change is necessary in higher education, which stakeholders are involved in this process and what leaders need to know as they chart a course forward.

Why is organizational change important in higher education?

Just like all social institutions, colleges and universities do not remain static. Changes in student demographics, changes in faculty work, changes in state funding policies, changes in the classroom and learning technologies — each represents just one component of the need for higher education institutions to adapt to change. That said, organizational change in higher education requires balance. Colleges and universities have existed for centuries, which is a testament to their crucial and steady role in advancing an educated populace, but their longevity can make changing difficult.

Who are the players involved in this process?

Students, alumni, faculty, administrators, parents and community members all play a role in organizational change. Their voices matter. Public institutions, in particular, must be responsive to the needs of the state and the people who live there. The questions of who makes decisions and how those decisions are implemented should be balanced across these multiple stakeholder groups.

How do administrators plan for this process? What do they need to know and consider as they move forward?

A consistent theme for administrators is the need to plan for the unexpected while focusing on the short-term and long-term goals of the organization. A healthy strategic plan is vital, especially one that is responsive to ongoing issues and reflects the priorities of multiple stakeholders. The most effective strategic plan considers stakeholder perspectives across both the academic and non-academic elements of the institutions. For example, maintaining a robust and rigorous academic curriculum in addition to fostering student engagement in local, national and international conversations should be an institutional priority.


About the EdD in Higher Education Administration Executive Cohort program at The University of Alabama

The Executive EdD program is designed to meet the unique needs of experienced professionals seeking a doctorate in higher education. The program helps students develop the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to advance in leadership positions by combining theoretically rich studies with an applied research approach. The Executive EdD program is based on a cohort model that allows students to build an immediate network of colleagues. Intensive coursework and a carefully structured dissertation process allow students to complete the degree in nine semesters while also continuing to work. For more information, visit the program’s website.

Karri Holley is associate professor of higher education at The University of Alabama. She earned a PhD and a Master of Education from the University of Southern California and a BA from The University of Alabama. Holley’s research broadly examines the organizational, cultural and economic influences on the structure and processes of the contemporary university, with a particular interest in graduate education. She has served on numerous advisory boards for National Science Foundation-funded projects focused on interdisciplinarity and graduate curricula. Holley has also written extensively on narrative structure and the writing process related to qualitative inquiry.