Learning to be an effective leader of a United States higher education institution is as hard as learning how to walk on a tightrope. First of all, you have financial considerations similar to a business. Even though many higher education institutions are not-for-profit, they still have pressure to improve the utilization of their endowments, and to manage costs. There is no path to developing an ESL vocational school that does not require a big initial investment. Many universities were founded with a large private endowment and a wealthy board of trustees to pay for their land, buildings, faculty, staff and other operational expenses. Others received large land and financial grants from state and local governments. All higher education institutions, not only for-profit colleges owned by investors, have financial stakeholders.
Fortunately, money is not all that is needed to build a higher education institution. The term frequently in Turkey is “You cannot drive a water mill with hand-carried buckets of water.” No amount of funding by itself allows you to be higher education institution. If you have enough money, your biggest challenge is to get the right to operate, i.e., a degree-granting license is required by federal and state departments of education. Institutions seeking accreditation must meet many requirements, and face ongoing scrutiny by accrediting bodies. Without meeting the requirements of the Department of Education and having institutional accreditation granted by regional commissions, your entity cannot be recognized as an education institution. Without such recognition, an institution cannot get any federal funding and their students cannot get Pell grants. Academic credits and diplomas earned by your students do not consider legitimate to transfer to other institutions. Becoming an accredited institution is essential for higher education institutions.
And after an institution gets their license to operate, they find themselves in a really competitive environment, not only locally and nationally also globally. Technology and overseas campuses have made the market for higher education increasingly global.
Obtaining Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation
An example accreditation agent is the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). According to their, the MSCHE is a voluntary association dedicated to quality assurance and improvement through accreditation via peer evaluation. Based on 2014 records, MSCHE has five hundred twenty-seven (527) accredited institutions and eight candidates pending accreditation. There is a period of candidacy of up to five years and periodic on-site evaluations or other reporting techniques to review and evaluate assessments of institutional achievements.
The standards for Middle States accreditation consist of clearly defined
(1) mission and goals,
(2) continuous planning and resource allocation based on mission, vision and strategic planning, namely successful strategic planning and using resources to support development and change to support institutional quality,
(3) using institutional resources effectively,
(4) the mission of the institution defines clearly the role of leaders in developing policy making decisions,
(5) administrative structure and services substitute quality improvement for scholarly improvements,
(6) provide academic freedom and demonstrate observance to ethical standards while serving to public and the constituencies, and
(7) assessment of the institutions defined with evaluation of their mission and goals as well as applying accreditation standards. Following these seven MSCHE standards for educational effectiveness are,
(8) helping students to pursue their educational goals,
(9) providing support service to support student achievement,
(10) supporting faculty members academically,
(11) encouraging student learning goals and objectives,
(12) providing education not only in professional fields but also oral, written communication skills and improving critical thinking and technology capability,
(13) delivering related educational activities, and
(14) assessing student learning indicators such as graduation. These standards are all reviewed during the course of the accreditation process.
As part of the review process, education institution must present strong syllabuses for each course and academic environment. Without observing graduated students any accreditation commission’s process cannot start. The main reason is that accreditation agents need to review some achievements to evaluate an institution. Unfortunately, while one accreditation might be enough to get government funding, it does not qualify an institution to provide specialized education. Standards help higher education leaders understand their competitors and better prepare current to offer certain academic degrees. All these processes help ensure that a new institution provides the appropriate education experience for attending students.
Before higher education institutions make decisions about changes in their strategic plans, they need to balance financial feasibility with their mission and values to determine objectives for benchmarking.
The importance of mission and goals is emphasized at the beginning of any accreditation criteria. An educational leader’s primary mission is to make a positive difference in an education institution and its community. A precise and understandable mission statement can be the most powerful defining action of an educational institution. Based on the mission statement, the education leader can develop goals describing the desired positive impacts on people and communities. The mission and goals should describe the desired effect on people’s behavior, circumstances, goals, abilities and capacity in a safe learning environment. It should provide equal opportunities to all students. Evaluating actual practices against a mission is the only real way for a leader to assess how well the mission and goals are implemented.
Successful strategic planning and using resources to support development and change applied to support institutional quality is the second MSCHE standard. Effective user of resources is reflected in financial representations of an institution’s strategic and operational plans. The limited resources needs to be driven by the institution’s plan, so that it can achieve the ultimate purpose of intentionally moving the institution toward enhanced service and improved quality. Before higher education institutions make decisions about changes in their strategic plans, they need to balance financial feasibility with their mission and values to determine objectives for benchmarking. This leads to the third standard, which is using institutional resources effectively and efficiently.
The fourth criteria concerns the role of leaders in developing policy-making decisions. This is the leadership part of the standards setting process. Views on the role of leadership have changed over time, not only in business but also in higher education institutions. During the 1980s and 1990s, businesses in developed countries recognized the need to dedicate more input to organizational change, and there was a very high demand for transformation. These types of transformations required strong leaders who were able to convey the need for change and deal with the transformational change so change can positively inspire people and organizations to continuously learn, thus promoting continuous improvement. Traits like flexibility, resilience, and creativity in the change process were emphasized for effective leadership practices in higher education.
Visionary leaders in higher education recognize the social climate in which they live and work. They take risks, and cope with the effort of transforming the vision into detailed measures and action plans. Therefore, visionary education leaders need to notice what is currently happening in the higher education marketplace and at their own institutions, evaluate what is the most important for the future, and focus activities and resources accordingly. While deans and senior administrators operate with physical resources such as capital, skills, and technology, college or university leaders also operate on emotional and spiritual resources such as values, commitment, and ambitions. Making effective decisions requires visionary leadership.
The fifth criteria requires scholarly improvements. An education leader must be effective at applying teaching and learning processes. Larry Cuban described an educational leader as a person who holds a managerial role as an “administrative chief,” a political role as a negotiator and facilitator with parents, administrators, and other constituencies, and an instructional role as a “teacher of teachers.” Therefore, I believe that education leaders need to communicating well in terms how goals are achieved based on the mission, beliefs and core values of an institution, maintains focus on teaching the teaching strategy and learning process in the long run to provide academic and scholarly environment.
To promote an academic learning climate education leaders are responsible for promoting teacher growth and professional development in their positions, rather than simply supervising and evaluating teachers.
Ethical standards are part of the sixth accreditation criteria. As Donald T. Philips mentioned in his book, “Lincoln on Leadership” it will work well to apply Abraham Lincoln’s principle “Be the very embodiment of good temper and affability. If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem”. Demonstrating reliability and consistency will provide a foundation on which an education leader can effectively foster transparency in the academic environment. Mother Teresa said “Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” Because higher education institutions cannot, based on their values, tolerant unethical leadership as much as businesses. Thus, higher education institutions must have high ethical standards not only for their students, but for all stakeholders in their communities. Institutions should not accept students who cannot use their knowledge to improve their future circumstances. An ethical culture with high integrity is another essential that needs to be maintained in any case.
Criteria seven through nine emphasize quality in the outcomes of education. Measurement of quality in higher education needs to consider desired outcomes (the ultimate results desired or actually achieved) as well as processes (the programs, services, and activities developed to produce the desired outcomes) and resource inputs (e.g., students, faculty and staff members, financial resources). An input-based definition of quality is not by itself useful. Student outcomes are what matter. High graduation rates are considered as important indicator of an institution’s and education leader’s success. Leaders should evaluate placement of students in their field of study to measure of the quality of outcomes.
Criteria ten requires supporting faculty members academically. Several criteria mentioned by the Middle States Commission focus on faculty members and collaborating with them in decision-making processes. The culture of higher education institutions emphasize collegial leadership where the leaders engage their faculty in understanding how well their organization is running relative to the its mission and goals.
Criteria eleven to thirteen emphasize student learning goals and objectives, and supporting education activities in higher education institutions. Because education is a changing process both locally and globally, change imperatives for higher education institutions include the redesign of education, more flexible faculty, increased efficiency, removal of boundaries, and entry into new markets. Change initiatives need to emphasize the institution’s mission and vision statements. A well-designed educational leadership agenda is based on a well-design mission, vision and set of strategic goals. The mission should include the teaching/learning process, promoting academic achievement, and maintaining a supportive environment for academic professionals. This can foster a unity of spirit and action for everyone within a higher educational institution. Descriptions of these criteria refer to listening to the customer and stakeholders, and getting both up-down and down-up feedback, which makes leaders more willing to listen to students’ needs. At the end, the leaders of the institution need to remember that neither the faculty nor the institution’s policies will be questioned. Their leadership will be questioned or applauded based on the results delivered.
The last criteria emphasize that leaders should concern themselves with creating and reinforcing a culture in their institutions that provides their customers and stakeholders with confidence that the institution will really prepare each student to have meaningful career opportunities after graduate.
Having new higher education institutions in the United States follow these criteria in their operations helps to ensure that they will meet acceptable institutional standards. Regional accreditation agents might have different names for their criteria, but all have more similarities than differences. They place emphasis on mission and vision as institutional guidelines for policies and core values, and how well the institution’s president maintains and enforce these values will have a major impact on the reputation and public image of their institution. Each operational process needs to be evaluated based on the mission, vision and strategic plan developed by the institution’s leaders. And leaders on top of the institution’s hierarchy need to share the power of authority with others who plan and deliver service to students.
Written by DR. SİBEL AHİ