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The Review of Higher Education 1985 Volume 9, No. 1 Pages 1-4 Copyright © 1985 Association for the Study of Higher Education All Rights Reserved INSTITUTIONAL EFFECTIVENESS IN HIGHER EDUCATION: AN INTRODUCTION Kim S. Cameron Assessing the effectiveness of colleges and universities is an enigma. On the one hand, judgments of effectiveness are made regularly by potential students, parents, faculty members, funders, legislators, alumni, accreditation associations, research granting agencies, and employers, not to mention the managers charged with maintaining and enhancing institutional effectiveness. The necessity of evaluating institutional effectiveness from the standpoint of users is universal in higher edu­ cation, and tens of thousands of dollars a year are spend on various types of evaluations by these groups. Furthermore, one cannot propose a theory oforganizations or administration for higher education without relying on effectiveness as the fundamental dependent variable. Effec­ tiveness lies at the center of all institutional and administrative models and prescriptions. On the other hand, effectiveness is extremely difficult to define and measure in colleges and universities. Indicators of effectiveness are not obvious, principles for improving and maintaining effectiveness have not been developed, no standards exist against which to judge effec­ tiveness, and ambiguity persists regarding the meaning of the word and its relationship to other similar concepts. A multiplicity of proxy vari­ ables have been proposed and utilized, but each has been severely criticized as being irrelevant, overly restrictive, or misleading. In short, despite the importance of accurately assessing effectiveness in institu­ tions of higher education, agreement has not been reached regarding how to do it reliably and validly. It has never become clear what are appropriate criteria. At the outset of this special issue on institutional effectiveness in higher education, it is important to differentiate the meaning of effec­ tiveness from other terms that often are used synonymously, such as quality, efficiency, and excellence. In order to better understand what effectiveness is, it is also necessary to clarify what it is not. Effectiveness is a construct, and as such, is a mental abstraction. It cannot be pinpointed, counted, or observed since it is primarily a senKim S. Cameron is at The University o f Michigan. 1 2 The Review of Higher Education semaking device used to interpret reality. No precise boundaries exist for determining what is and what is not effectiveness; hence, it is possible to determine a necessary but never a sufficient set of indicators for the construct (see Cameron & Whetten, 1983, for a more thorough discussion of effectiveness as a construct). Like almost all terms in our language, the meaning of effectiveness is socially determined. Some disagreement over its definition has and probably will continue to exist. Consequently, by differentiating effectiveness from other concepts we are reflecting our own biases about what effectiveness means. On the other hand, to be precise about the focus of this special issue, it is necessary to draw some boundaries around its meaning and separate effectiveness from these other descriptors. “Quality” is almost always defined in business and industry as the absence of errors. High quality products, for example, are those that work without having to be repaired. Low quality is indicated by faults or mistakes. Because it can be counted and objectively specified, quality is a concept, not a construct. In higher education, quality has become a catch-all label, but it is most closely aligned with reputation and visibility. A reputation for high quality in colleges and universities is mainly determined by faculty productivity [i.e., publishing (see Conrad & Blackburn, 1985, for a thorough review of predictors and correlates of quality)]. Visibility also is strongly associated with faculty produc­ tivity, so that quality is most often used in higher education as a concept (not a construct) with faculty publications as the core indicator. Quality also differs from effectiveness in its attachment to a com­ munity within an institution. Quality judgments are made in relation to the disciplinary community (e.g., scholarly and professional activity), not the campus community. Effectiveness judgments, on the other hand, are based as much on the campus community (i.e., the functioning of the institution itself) as on performance relative to a discipline (see Alpert, 1985, for a discussion of differences between disciplinary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1090-7009
Print ISSN
0162-5748
Pages
pp. 1-4
Launched on MUSE
2017-02-01
Open Access
No
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