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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

"Responsiveness" in American Higher Education: The Evolution of Institutional Governance Structures

"Building a framework to understand a complex system, such as American Higher , requires a focused approach. The richness of history behind colleges and universities in the United States can lead analysts in any number of directions." according to Jonathan W. Stoessel, currently pursuing a PhD in Higher Education Leadership, Management and Policy at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ.

Photo: Student Pulse

From economics to , to curriculum and accreditation, approaches to analyzing the system have grown exponentially as more stakeholders have been brought into the conversation. As the demand for has become an international imperative, perhaps it is more fitting to analyze what makes the American system unique. In his work, the “International Comparative Study of Higher Education: Lessons from the Contemplation of How Others Might See Us” (2003), Bruce Johnstone identifies eight characteristics that truly distinguish the American model of Higher Education from its international counterparts.

While significant study could be focused on any of the characteristics he presents, the idea of a high level of “responsiveness” to national, state and local constituencies requires further examination. Johnstone (2003) speaks to this characteristic pragmatically by noting that a lack of responsiveness would make the system seem ignorant to the needs of the government, industry and students invested in the ultimate success of colleges and universities. Additionally, if the “system” of higher education is not reflective in its own practice, it will fail to be responsive as well. Shifts during the history of American higher education included changes in the governance and oversight of higher education, the role of the college, and who held the right to attend.

American higher education system responsiveness is marked by an evolution of institution governance structure, protection of academic freedom, and accountability. Curricular Responsiveness fortifies broader changes across the system with a focus on changing student needs and populations. Before proceeding with a focused history of responsiveness in American higher education in each of these two contexts, the basic tenets of responsiveness in general should be defined more specifically.

Definition of Responsiveness 
The idea of responsiveness can be defined in a number of ways depending on context. Silver (2007) notes that the ancestry and historical of colleges and universities has a hand in determining its definition in regard to higher education. Additionally, the stakeholders in higher education (i.e. students, faculty, administration, government, industry) contribute to this definition out of their dependence on the success of such institutions. Two basic tenets of note are the idea that colleges and universities ought to become “functionary organs” of society (Silver, 2007), and build a “social contract” (Benneworth and Jongbloed, 2009) between stakeholders inside and outside the walls of institutions. More specifically, that “social contract” also obligates the system of higher education to be responsive to itself in terms of governance, oversight, and quality control.

Additionally, the idea of the “social contract” invests in the flexibility of the system for curricular changes. This contract speaks to the necessary commitment on the part of colleges and universities to have curriculum meet the needs of the stakeholders identified above. Consequently, the strength of the “social contract” increases as the boundaries of an institution become more permeable (Benneworth and Jongbloed, 2009). The absence of such a relationship would make defining responsiveness and describing its history in the American context irrelevant. Therefore, the decision to respond to outside pressures systematically or curricularly is what distinguishes the American model from its European predecessors (Kerr, 2001), underscoring Johstone’s claim more finitely. The (2) ideas mentioned above do not only define responsiveness, but provide a framework for examining its history in more detail. System responsiveness and curricular responsiveness each hold their own definition(s), which provide depth the historical and contemporary examples cited below.
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Source: Student Pulse


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