Since the 1990s, higher education has been faced with a significantly different context for performance expectations. Public policy makers and governing boards of state systems entrusted by the public to serve them have faced increasing scrutiny for outcomes related to student access and success, tuition affordability and efficiency in operations. During this time, policy reform largely focused on the structural design of higher education but with less attention paid to governance methods and the effectiveness of accountability tools to meet performance expectations. This study is guided by the theory that public multi-campus systems of higher education, as loosely-coupled organizations, could enhance performance when utilizing governance practices and accountability mechanisms that encourage high levels of autonomy and accountability.
Using a two-part, quantitative and qualitative research methodology, this study was designed to define and measure accountability mechanisms used in the transactional environment between state higher education leadership (board members and system leaders) and institutional leaders. Using a subset of ten state systems of public higher education, each state was determined to be either high-performing or low-performing. In the quantitative study, institutional leaders were asked in an Internet survey to rate or rank 18 accountability mechanisms on five characteristics: importance, discretion, "high stakes," and whether they reflected professional norms of higher education or were political or market-based. In the qualitative study, interviews of system leaders examined their views on the balance between accountability and autonomy in multi-campus systems.
The results from the survey indicated that four mechanisms were considered high in importance and high stakes by institutional leaders in both low- and high-performing states: strategic planning, state funding, institutional accreditation and system policies. While these mechanisms each play different roles in system governance and accountability, system leaders can utilize these accountability mechanisms as tools to develop flexible system policies and funding mechanisms, coordinate planning between system and institutional goals, and use data systems for assessment and accreditation.
Governing leaders of public multi-campus systems of higher education could use the study results as they design normative values for accountability and autonomy by considering them as mutually supportive constructs. Evidence from the study illustrated the importance of building shared commitment through connections between campuses and the system/state. In addition, system leaders should be attentive to governance policies and practices that encompass aspects of campus self-determination and provide effective incentives for responding to the system's organizational priorities.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. March 2011. Major: Educational Policy and Administration. Advisors: Dr. Darwin D. Hendel, Dr. David J. Weerts. 1 computer file (PDF); xii, 200 pages, appendices A-C.
Rothchild, Mary Todd.
Accountability mechanisms in public multi-campus systems of higher education..
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,
Content distributed via the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.