According to the 2012 publication New Direction for Higher Education, private nonprofit institutions implement varied administrative structures for a number of reasons.
For example, some institutions have a model in which the administration of online programs is fully integrated into the administration of all programs in the institution. However, since around 2007, researchers have noted a move away from the fully-integrated model to one where online programs are operated and administered by an entirely separate academic division.
More recently, some institutions have adopted a hybrid approach: services including registration, financial aid, technology, and billing are integrated into the administration of the entire institution. Advising, recruiting, program development, and curriculum development are administered by the division for online learning.
But which model works best overall? And do the functions of individual administrators have any effect?
Studying the 120 nonprofit private colleges part of CCCU (located in 32 states and serving more than 300,000 students annually), Hoey and her team discovered 10 revelations:
Administrative structure: Of 45 respondents, 18 reported online programs were a separate division within their institution and 13 reported a somewhat separate division, accounting for roughly 75 percent of all responses.
1. The more online programs offered to adult learners, the higher the enrollment in online programs
2. Institutions with at least somewhat or an entirely separate division and separate governance body for online programs had significantly higher enrollment than institutions without a separate governance body.
3. Institutions with at least somewhat or an entirely separate division and a separate governance body for online programs had significantly more programs than institutions without a separate governance body.
5. Institutions with a somewhat or entirely separate division for online programs reported significantly higher efficiency with new program proposals and with curriculum and program revision than institutions with no separate division.
6. No differences in efficiency were noted for new program development or student services.
Administrators of online programs: Of 46 respondents, 78 percent indicated their institution employed an administrator dedicated to online programs. 75 percent of those admins served in a full-time capacity.
7. Institutions with a dedicated administrator have higher enrollment than institutions without a dedicated administrator.
8. Having a dedicated administrator had no statistically significant difference in the total number or programs offered.
9. Neither enrollment nor total numbers of programs was different among institutions based on the authority implied by the titles of the admin.
10. Institutions with an administrator reported significantly higher efficiency with new program proposals, new program development, and curriculum and program revision; student services was not rated more efficient at institutions with an admin.
Reviewing the study, Hoey notes that, overall, it seems that “institutions with somewhat or entirely separate administrative structures are more efficient in proposing and developing new programs and revising the curriculum and format of existing ones.”
However, though separation of admin for online programs may improve efficiency, this structure does not in itself help to increase enrollment or more programs.
“Institutions that strategically plan to grow must not only develop a somewhat or entirely separate administrative structure, but give that structure the authority to make policies and set procedures,” emphasizes the report.
Institutions that participated in the study who not only had a separate or somewhat separate administrative structure, but also a separate governing body, had significantly more enrollment and more programs than all others.
To read the full report, “Evaluating the Impact of the Administrator and Administrative Structure of Online Programs at Nonprofit Private Colleges,” click here.