5 change management strategies for higher ed programs

How administrators lead faculty through academic program eliminations and additions
By: | March 26, 2019
Five change management strategies for higher ed programs include following a structured process, avoiding a top-down approach, extending input beyond the faculty, gathering comprehensive data to share and exhibiting transparency.Five change management strategies for higher ed programs include following a structured process, avoiding a top-down approach, extending input beyond the faculty, gathering comprehensive data to share and exhibiting transparency.

Change management is seldom easy for any higher ed administrator. And nowhere is this more evident than with the core of any college or university: its academic programs. In fact, the process can be something of a minefield, with faculty feeling threatened and the media poised to report dissension when programs are eliminated.

Here are five change management strategies that administrators can use when leading faculty through academic program eliminations and additions.

1. Follow a structured process

When leaders at Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania considered adding bachelor’s degrees after only offering associate degrees, they thought about eliminating two-year programs with low enrollments or high attrition. The result was a huge cultural shift for all involved, according to Erica Barone Pricci, vice president for academic affairs.


Related: UWEC creates Rapid Action Task Forces


Change management leaders gave stakeholders ownership of various stages of the process. A faculty committee recommended which bachelor’s programs to begin first and how to phase in future ones. A cross-departmental group met regularly for about two years to implement the transition and facilitate communication. The consensus: Add bachelor’s degrees in business, criminal justice and human services, and phase out two-year programs in education, life science and computer information systems.

2. Avoid a top-down approach

Changes often fail when they’re too centrally driven, says Andrew Laws, managing director of Huron Consulting Group’s education business. He says the most successful change management initiatives are ones in which leaders, deans, chairs and faculty have the incentives and the data needed to optimize decisions. Faculty should be included from the outset when significant changes are proposed. Ideally, administrators work side by side with faculty to determine program relevance to the community, says Margaret A. Hamilton, president of Lane Community College in Oregon. Faculty members are best equipped to conduct detailed program reviews.

3. Extend input beyond the faculty

While faculty involvement is paramount in change management, industry leaders should also be consulted before making major program changes. External and internal constituents should be included, says S. Manian Ramkumar, interim dean of the College of Engineering Technology at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. RIT moved three programs into different colleges on the recommendations of alumni, advisory boards and industry leaders. From Ramkumar’s perspective, the reorganization has been well-received on campus and in the community. He attributes its success to the broad-based involvement of all concerned.

4. Gather comprehensive data to share

Change management decisions should be data-driven, says Larisa Genin, associate dean for faculty, accreditation and undergraduate programs in the School of Economics and Business Administration at Saint Mary’s College of California. Consider data such as launch year, number of majors, enrollment trends, class sizes, sections offered, number of faculty, and metrics on retention, graduation and post-graduation. These data points would allow assessment of the effectiveness of each academic program, and help determine which programs could be eliminated, she says. Low-performing programs could be infused with more resources in hopes of hitting the desired metrics of success to sustain viability prior to elimination.

5. Exhibit transparency

Clear communication is vital to the future of any program. Lackawanna’s Pricci suggests clearly linking decisions to student needs and overall institutional health. Initially, there were many opinions about which bachelor’s programs to start and which associate degrees to eliminate. The administration’s consistent message centered around resource allocation, not resource elimination, she says. Communicating clearly and openly during change management initiatives set the stage for productive work, even when programs are not doing well, says CEO Drumm McNaughton of The Change Leader.

See the full version of this article in from the November 2018 issue of University Business.