Should College Really Operate Like a Business?

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The idea that colleges should operate like businesses is appealing. Business means efficiency and productivity. Maybe a little more of that might be just what colleges need, right?

The Business of Higher Education is a new book that looks at this question. This is no simplistic Who Moved My Cheese? look at higher education. Rather, the book’s authors believe that, in part because people keep demanding more business practices in academia, it was time to look at the “impact of business models on higher education,” according to the Inside Higher Ed article about the book.

The trouble, according to John Knapp and David J. Siegel,the book’s authors, is that there is so little research about higher education as a business:

It is ironic that there is so little management research in the applied context where the scholars themselves are employed. Business research has focused almost exclusively on the for-profit sector, though there is a growing niche in the non-profit or “social enterprise” arena. Likewise, few scholars in higher education have shown much interest in fiscal and strategic management. Consequently, few of our best academic minds are studying the business challenges facing higher education. Moreover, this void in the curriculum limits the development of future managers and leaders for our own field.

The void in the curriculum also means that people tend to think business and efficiency as anathema to higher education. Either that or assume that a good business model for the university has something to do with profit, which is peculiar. As Knapp and Siegel point out, the business model for the university is not about running the university to make money; it is about transparency, oversight, and controlling costs.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer