How Culture Affects the Efficacy of Colleges and Universities (Part I)
By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University
This article is part 1 of a two-part series on higher education culture.
The cultures of colleges and universities play a significant role in their efficacy and in the impact they have on students. Culture, in the organizational context, has been defined as a system that includes values and other symbolic systems that distinguish one human community from another and influence the behavior of individuals in each group.
Every school wants to be the best at what it does, whether that be the Ivy League schools vying for unsurpassed performance quality, community colleges striving to deliver greater and greater value in their offerings, big state universities promoting in-state opportunities and the victories of their NCAA teams, or online schools blazing a trail through new technological innovations.
Obviously, values — insofar as they guide the efforts of higher education — may vary from school to school, based on what each institution considers important. However, in each instance, culture is derived not from one source but from the totality of circumstances at any given time. And it is ultimately the interplay among these factors that drives the zeitgeist of an institution.
Government Presence Is One Factor that Influences Culture at Academic Institutions
One of the factors that influence culture at academic institutions is the presence of government. Public colleges and universities in the United States and in many other countries receive the vast majority of their funding support from government tax initiatives. Therefore, government has a vested interest in the prerogatives of these institutions.
In the post-secondary system, many public schools receive funding from both state and federal governments, and sometimes smaller jurisdictions such as counties and cities help fund them as well. And this can occasionally lead to conflicts in terms of which interests to prioritize.
For example, one obvious point of concern that governments may have is in promoting their specific economic interests. Governments primarily want schools to produce educated, competent professionals in their respective fields, so they can contribute to the economy.
Now, the federal government may have little interest in the state in which these graduates reside and work; taxes are taxes, after all. However, state and local governments may wish to invest heavily in programs that support local economies, in hopes that graduates will foster those industries.
As an example, this effect is obvious in the cities of Orlando and Las Vegas, where the University of Central Florida (UCF) and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) respectively host two of the largest and most well-known hospitality schools in the country. This should be no surprise, as these cities are also the top two tourist destinations in the country.
Governments Also Watch Academic Performance Standards
Another concern that governments may have is in academic performance standards. Much in the same way that primary and secondary schools are evaluated based upon student performance, colleges and universities are evaluated by passage rates, grade point averages (GPAs), and other metrics.
If this is the way we wish to define educational efficacy, then governments certainly have an interest in making sure that their schools are producing the best students for the most challenging jobs that need to be done. The federal government is understandably concerned with making sure that American students outperform the rest of the world, while state and local governments compete with their regional counterparts.
Governments Are Concerned with Ensuring Competitive Tuition Rates
Finally, governments are concerned with ensuring tuition rates are competitive in order to maximize enrollment. Studies have shown that cost is a huge factor in deciding on an educational program, particularly in a struggling economy such as ours. So affordability is a top priority to keep universities running at maximum enrollment.
Industry Influence on Higher Ed Culture
A second contributor to the culture of educational institutions is the industry (or industries) that the school intends to serve. With larger universities, this obviously concerns multiple disciplines and fields. But this influence can be observed on a discipline-specific level also.
Consider again the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management and the UNLV William F. Harrah College of Hospitality. First, it is worthy of note that these two schools likely would not exist in their current forms without the generous charitable contributions from hospitality entrepreneur Harris Rosen and casino magnate William F. Harrah respectively (their contributions were obviously so pivotal that the schools bear the names of these two industry benefactors).
However, founding benefactors aside, the hospitality industry plays a large part in shaping the culture of these programs. At the UNLV Harrah College, for example, curriculum for the career development course (required for undergraduates) is based upon partnership studies between the school and local casino hotel companies. The goal is to determine, among other things, the most desirable types of experiences for job applicants, the best format for a resume, what skills students need most, and more.
The school regularly hosts networking events and sends students to industry-driven conferences and conventions. A school-sponsored internet job posting board caters to the employment needs of industry partners. When a new building was constructed a few years back to house the rapidly growing hotel school, UNLV relied on $24 million in private industry funding for the project.
In return for such support, the industry hopes to gain talented and educated young hospitality professionals to service the next generation of customers. This industry service may be how we choose to interpret educational efficacy. Nevertheless, the partnership and interconnectivity between school and industry play a large role in shaping UNLV culture.
In the second part of this series, we’ll look at a few more ways in which culture within higher education affects the efficacy of schools and programs.
About the Author
Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.