Transformation of a Traditional Academic Process – Nu Leadership Series

“ A skilled Transition Team leader will set the general goals for a Transition, and then confer on the other team leaders working with him the power to implement those goals. ”
Richard V. Allen

Just like an alcoholic in denial, higher education must first recognize its problems. Although externally the 4,000-plus academic institutions appear healthy, there are several problems including low college-completion rates, soaring tuitions, and business complaints of inadequate graduates. Davis, author of Future Perfect, argues that traditional educational institutions are trapped in a paradigm; the basic academic structure hasn’t changed since the 12th century unless by outside forces. Traditional institutions are designed to educate traditional students, but the current norm is the nontraditional students.

What is causing traditional institutions to slowly change their views on managing their organizations? It is my theory that more knowledgeable students and the market demand are forcing traditional institutions to think differently. Organizational design changes are an intriguing subject for educational institutions because much has not changed since its inception. One of the pressing issues that higher education must bow to is the market.

The quickening pace of technology, global competition, and innovation, has caused students in these institutions to think of themselves as customers. Currently, students are now customers who have the power to force change in an economic manner. Students now have numerous options for being educated or trained. Therefore, students don’t need to depend on the local universities to educate them. They can seek the universe for the right program with the correct fit.

Nadler and Tushman, management experts, argue that market forces have transformed the rules of engagement for organizations. Berg, author of Lessons from the Edges, maintains that the market has increased dominance of professional programs in higher education. The nontraditional student can be traced back in American history. On June 22, 1944 President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the “GI Bill of Rights.”

The passing of this legislation brought the enrollment of 1,013,000 veterans into American campuses; however, many administrators at the time view it as converting these noble institutions into “educational hobo jungles.” Likewise, today’s academic traditionalists complain about the erosion of the traditional student by catering to adult learners. Clearly, these market reactions should make any reasonable person rethink their organizational processes.

Unfortunately, established universities continue to fight to maintain their academic monopolies, but they don’t understand the consequences of their inactions. Established universities should be nervous about current social trends. Non-traditional universities, like the University of Phoenix, are becoming more popular with both traditional and nontraditional individuals.

In volatile markets, change is rapid. Nadler and Tushman, authors of Competing by Design, maintain that managers should adapt in the following ways: (a) develop a rudimentary understanding organization design for an inherent competitive advantage and (b) recognize effective organizational design as ongoing.

Students, governments, and tax payers are becoming less patient and more demanding of traditional institutions. Traditional academic institutions are then forced to recognize their problems. Therefore, academic leaders should listen to the demands of the marketplace if their organizations want to survive the Knowledge Worker Revolution.


Berg, G. (2005). Lessons from the Edges. San Francisco: American Council on Education Praeger.

Clayton, M. (2002). New models for higher education. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved May 5, 2006, from

Davis, S. (1996). Future perfect. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Nadler, D. & Tushman, M. (1997). Competing by Design. New York: Oxford University Press.