Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ask the Administrator: Suggestions for Research?

A canny correspondent writes:

I work for a community college system and am working on an Ed.D. in leadership. I am casting around for research questions and wondered if you had any thoughts regarding useful research questions centering around community colleges, systems and educational leadership.

Ooh, I like that.

I'll preface this with something along the lines of “my degree is in an evergreen discipline, rather than in higher ed, so there may be reams of research in these areas that I just don't know about.” And an embarrassing amount of the stuff I have seen about higher ed is autobiographical case studies in which the folks who started a given initiative write about it, so it's neither objective nor comparative.

(Of course, one could say the same about my blog. The difference is, it's a blog.)

So a few things I'd like to see studied systematically:

  • The least harmful and/or most sustainable ways to deal with reduced budgets. The usual drill is to start with travel and subscription money, to replace retiring full-time faculty with adjuncts, to reduce 'release time,' to cheap out on instructional and office supplies, and to consolidate a few administrative positions. (My job used to be two jobs. I think that explains a lot, actually.) But each of those comes with its own costs, some of which are slow to surface but equally slow to remediate. (Reducing travel for one year does little long-term harm. Reducing travel for several years starts to reduce the quality of your faculty and staff.) Are there better ways?

  • Buyouts of tenured faculty. How are these best handled, or should they be rejected altogether? Should they be done with across-the-board offers, or only with low performers, or with high performers as a reward? (The 'moral hazard' with low performers strikes me as staggering.) What's the right price?

  • Department chairs: elected or appointed? Term limits?

  • Which funding models are least volatile? In some states, they have “state community colleges,” in which most of the external funding comes from the state. In other states, most cc's are defined (and paid for) by counties, with varying levels of state support. (Ohio seems to do both, which I find mystifying.) It seems like all public higher ed is vulnerable to shifts in the economy, but are there particular models or combinations that are more sustainable and stable than others?

  • Cc's have been slow, compared to the rest of higher ed, to cultivate the 'alumni/donor' philanthropic area. What 'best practices' have the most successful cc development offices found? Since we don't have high-profile sports, and most of our most successful alums identify with their four-year or graduate schools, how can we best capitalize on their ties to us?

  • Comparative governance models. Some states have local Boards of Trustees for each college; others have a single statewide Board. Does one model lead to better (however defined) outcomes than the other?

That's off the top of my head, anyway. The common denominator, I think, is that they're mostly comparative. That seems to be what's lacking in most of the literature I've seen, which, admittedly, is less than it could be.

Good luck with your project!

Wise and worldly readers – what would you like to see studied systematically?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.