- Academic Turnarounds: Restoring Vitality to Challenged American Colleges and Universities
American colleges and universities, striving to maintain a high level of quality while heightening efficiency, are extremely vulnerable to precarious economic conditions. Private institutions struggle to compete in an increasingly diverse marketplace. Many public institutions find that their share of state revenues is declining in a turbulent political environment characterized by regulatory complexity and demands for accountability. In this challenging environment, small private colleges, regional public universities, and historically Black colleges and universities are particularly vulnerable to enrollment declines and accelerating deficits.
In Academic Turnarounds: Restoring Vitality to Challenged American Colleges and Universities, Terrence MacTaggart and his colleagues draw on the contemporary histories of 40 institutions that have achieved an academic turnaround to offer a guide that can help presidents, trustees, and faculty assess institutional financial health, address immediate financial problems, revitalize their institutional image, and shape institutional culture. MacTaggart also offers guidance to donors, accreditors, and others committed to the quality and vitality of American higher education.
The book begins with a four-chapter narrative delineating three distinct stages in the process of an academic turnaround. This first section, “The Natural History of Turnarounds,” is followed by two chapters on “Special Topics” dealing with subjects of interest to presidents, financial of-ficers, trustees, and those with a particular interest in the features of academic turnarounds at state-supported colleges and universities. A final section includes two chapters offering guidance to new presidents challenged to transform their institutions and advice to trustees, donors, and ac-creditors on how to positively influence academic turnarounds.
MacTaggart uses Chapter 1 to provide an overview of his three stages in an academic turnaround: restoring financial health, marketing and branding the institution, and redefining the institution’s mission and culture. A matrix accompanies the text narrative, identifying characteristics associated with each stage. For example, although a collaborative leadership style is essential, a leader may appear more autocratic in Stage 1 of a transformation, shift to a pragmatic, problem-solving role in Stage 2, and emphasize a collaborative leadership style in Stage 3.
The focus of Chapter 2 is the initial stage of a turnaround: restoring financial health. MacTaggart describes three institutional exemplars of an academic turnaround and identifies critical factors that characterize successful financial transformations; including timely and accurate financial information, transparency, clear communication, and new leadership.
In Chapter 3, Jerry Berberet emphasizes that branding and marketing have essential and reciprocal roles in creating institutional distinctiveness. Branding involves internal self-study intended to clarify institutional values, strengths, and aspirations. A marketing plan should link the institution’s services to potential students by communicating the quality of student experiences and learning outcomes. Finally, both branding and marketing must be aligned with institutional values and programs to ensure commitment from [End Page 417] the campus community and accelerate the turnaround process.
Adrian Tinsley explores Stage 3, academic transformation, in Chapter 4. He extrapolates common threads in three abbreviated case studies and points to faculty engagement as a critical element in the long-term prospects for genuine turnaround. In Tinsley’s view, the institution’s chief academic officer can play a significant role in identifying the aspirational model that best fits the institution, encouraging faculty engagement, and promoting institutional distinctiveness and quality.
In Chapter 5, Michael Townsley offers a financial management model and a strategic plan informed by a range of diagnostic and reporting tools. To illustrate the model, Townsley introduces a segmented case study of a fictitious institution at five different stages in a financial transformation. Financial indicators are aligned with each stage, and the roles of the president, chief financial of-ficer, and trustees receive particular attention.
MacTaggart uses Chapter 6 to examine the unique problems of academic transformation in public institutions. Because of the highly politicized and bureaucratic environment in which these institutions must operate, he postulates that transformations can take longer but are less likely to be preoccupied with a Stage 1 financial rescue. While state support may insulate the...