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  • On Becoming a Productive University: Strategies for Reducing Costs and Increasing Quality in Higher Education
  • Vicki J. Rosser (bio)
James E. Groccia and Judith E. Miller (Eds.). On Becoming a Productive University: Strategies for Reducing Costs and Increasing Quality in Higher Education. Bolton, MA Anker Publishing Company, 2005. 358 pp. Cloth: $39.99. ISBN: 1-882982-79-7.

It's no secret that external constituencies scrutinized and challenged the way higher education, as an institution, performs and conducts its internal affairs—nor it it a secret that they will continue to do so. More than ever, constituencies are imposing their collective "will" on higher education through the allocation of financial appropriations. As appropriations in most states continue to decline, remain flat, or show only minimal increases, higher education is continually asked to do more with less. As a result, the control and influence of these constituencies are having a profound effect on the structures and processes of academic decision making.

While business organizations report profits and losses to their stakeholders, institutions of higher education are required to report measures of effectiveness and productivity to state policymakers. The terms may differ, but the intent remains the same: How do institutions of higher education prove the worth and quality of their students' learning?

On Becoming a Productive University quickly reminds us of costs, efficiency, effectiveness, productivity, and quality. The book has 31 chapters organized by six strategic themes for reducing costs and increasing quality: organizational strategies, assessment strategies, faculty development strategies, [End Page 417] technology strategies, curricular strategies, and classroom strategies. While the title seems to suggest a primary focus on the financial environment, many of the chapters examine a variety of models and programs to enhance the quality of student learning.

The first two strategic themes examine organizational and assessment strategies. "Organizational Strategies" include six chapters that cover areas such as understanding the climate of reduced resources, planning productivity through strategic planning, applying the Holon framework (used to inquire into the problem domain by facilitating change—in this case, capturing relevant higher education issues from the stakeholders' point of view within an abstract representation of a social situation), budgeting through incentives, integrating faculty responsibilities and institutional needs, and approaching entrepreneurial productivity.

Assessment strategies (four chapters) examine program planning, productivity and quality of graduate education, the use of integrated and systemic assessment of learning, and the effectiveness of the Delaware study, which benchmarks teaching loads, instructional costs, externally funded faculty scholarship, and out-of-classroom faculty activities.

The remaining four strategic themes involve faculty development, technology, curriculum, and classroom strategies. "Faculty Development Strategies" (five chapters), covers preparing future faculty members to improve productivity, learning to teach large classes well, using soft-system management to develop online part-time staff development, meeting institutional goals through technology, and examining faculty productivity beyond the numbers.

"Technology strategies" (four chapters) include topics such as planning an integrated technology plan and mission, using technology to increase learning effectiveness, increasing instructional capacity through virtual learning, and examining the relevant costs of online education. "Curricular Strategies" consist of six chapters that address the high attrition in doctoral education, building bridges for student engagement, enhancing the cognitive approach for curricula, restructuring capstone courses, learning in nursing education, and enhancing engineering education productivity.

Finally, six chapters examine "Classroom Strategies": classroom productivity, student-assisted teaching, college teaching productivity, large enrollments in quantitative science instruction, student experiences to enhance learning and retention, and the archaeological research portfolio.

Needless to say, the breadth of information about reducing costs and increasing quality presented by these authors is enormous, and I commend them for their willingness to undertake the challenge of addressing these very tenuous and often sensitive topics. As the editors note, "The intent of the book is to provide an overview, at multiple levels, of ways that higher educational institutions can conceptualize and enhance productivity and quality" (p. xx). The book offers examples for enhancing program quality through measures of institutional efficiency and effectiveness, often related to student learning outcomes. In other words: How does higher education show its worth, through various productivity measures, to those external stakeholders who control the flow of financial resources?

The book is quite comprehensive and substantive...


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