Does Structure Matter? The Evolving Nature of Online Organizational Structures in Higher Education Institutions
Concurrent Session 6
In response to the ongoing dialog in the online community about where online programming “lives” in an institution of higher education, CORAL research collaborative launched a study to investigate the intersection of organizational structure and academic functions of colleges and universities throughout the United States. Let’s discuss the findings together!
In response to the ongoing dialog in the online community about where online programming “lives” in an institution of higher education, CORAL (Collegiate Online Research Leaders) research collaborative launched a study to investigate and determine a typology of the structures of online education units in U.S-based colleges and universities. Moreover, the study intends to make sense of the potential trend identified in the CHLOE 3 Report (2019) that indicates more institutions are now identifying with a more centralized online operation; as well as address the gaps in the literature around online organizational structure and its implications on important student lifecycle functional areas (e.g., Student Onboarding, Student Support, Academic Functions, and Administration).
With the understanding that higher education institutions are complex organizations, this study seeks to create a typology of organizational structures of online units that institutions can identify with, and then use to better understand strengths and challenges of the [their] current structure(s) through the findings of the study. Specifically, Chief Online Officers (COLOs) at institutions across the United States were asked about the precedent conditions and decisions that lead to the current structure of the online unit within the institution in regards to the five areas of organizational design:
1) Work specialization - the degree to which tasks in an organization are divided into separate jobs.
2) Chain of command - answers the question of “who reports to whom?” and signifies formal authority relationships.
3) Span of control - represents how many employees each manager in the organization has responsibility for.
4) Centralization - refers to where decisions are made in organizations.
5) Formalization - the degree to which rules and procedures are used (not simply codified) to standardize behaviors and decisions in an organization.
COLOs were then asked to indicate what the implications of the current structure of the online unit within the institution is/was and/or if any changes are planned. Each quarter interviews are conducted with Chief Online Officers covering one of the four dimensions designed by the CORAL team as important student lifecycle functional areas within an institution:
1) Student Onboarding – marketing, enrollment, admissions, financial aid, entrance evaluations, and new student matriculation services.
2) Student Support Services – student retention services, student engagement, student well-being, and learning support.
3) Academic Functions – curriculum, programmatic oversight, instructional design, quality assessment, and faculty professional development and support.
4) Administration – online program manager (if applicable), institutional research, information technology, finance, and facilities.
This presentation will include an overview of findings from the first round of qualitative interviews specific to the online Academic Functions conducted in the late Fall of 2019. Attendees will have an opportunity to self-assess their Academic Function according to the organizational structures used in the study, analyze the implications of their current structures, and discuss possible future changes for optimal performance.
Attendees can expect to:
Evaluate and identify the organizational structure of their online academic affairs function.
Analyze the implications of the current organizational structure of their online academic affairs function.
Compare and contrast the benefits and consequences of other organizational structures of online academic affairs function for future strategic planning.
Reflect on future changes that may optimize online academic functions at their institution.
CORAL is comprised of educational administrators from a diverse set of higher educational institutions across the United States who were participants in the Online Learning Consortium’s (OLC) 2018 Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Education (IELOL) program. CORAL collaborative members are engaged in several research studies. This study was planned with advisement from the lead researchers of the CHLOE reports as well.