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Reengineering the University: How to Be Mission Centered, Market Smart, and Margin Conscious

reviewed by Patricia Hoffman-Miller - October 17, 2016

coverTitle: Reengineering the University: How to Be Mission Centered, Market Smart, and Margin Conscious
Author(s): William F. Massy
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
ISBN: 1421418991, Pages: 288, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

Higher education institutions frequently undergo transformative processes reflective of societal norms, while concomitantly tackling micro and macro level factors delineated by the markets they serve. Although they are sometimes awkward and unwieldy, the results ultimately address much needed systemic reform efforts. During the past 25 years, numerous efforts at reform have occurred at traditional four-year universities with varying degrees of success. Despite these endeavors, the multi-faceted challenges confronting these institutions have continued to plague university presidents, governing boards, faculty, students, and education consumers alike. In response to these external pressures and numerous university reform models, researchers and scholars over the past 25 years have examined the impact of initiatives such as resource utilization and efficiency (Sanyal, 1991) and operational efficiency using variations of popular business models like Total Quality Management (Coates, 2005; Hogg & Hogg, 1995; Spanbauer, 1995). They have even adopted increasingly rigorous accreditation standards to hold universities more accountable for student learning. The lack of success of these reforms by university leaders and governing bodies results in the entrance of for-profit outliers, viewed by some as delivering a more cost effective product without adequate quality controls. For-profit institutions defend their approach as a response to embedded inertia on the part of university officials and leadership. Duffield (2002) posits that the disjunction between societal need and institutional inertia requires a deeper examination of higher education’s role; especially when campus leaders are CEOs instead of public servants and the campus increasingly becomes less of a place of public purpose.

This fundamental question provides the backdrop for William F. Massy’s book, Reengineering the University: How to Be Mission Centered, Market Smart, and Margin Conscious. Massy presents a compelling articulation of undergraduate education at traditional four-year universities. In this seminal work, the author provides a thorough overview of higher education with particular attention to the urgent need to reengineer and not replace undergraduate education. This is partially done for the role this level of education plays in meeting societal needs in addition to what Massy calls its value proposition. However, his cogent argument in support of this value proposition is not one-sided. In Chapter One, the author succinctly outlines the challenges of traditional universities through the identification of three significant problems: demands of the marketplace (e.g., competition from for-profit universities), loss of political confidence, and lack of reform efforts. The industrialized higher education model resulting from these challenges often creates tension among the functions of mission, market place, production, and finance. As a result, it does not fit available business models where profits, and not product, drive reforms and change.

Reengineering the University is written for anyone concerned with the present and future purpose of traditional four-year undergraduate education. It presents a viable and refreshing framework for university leaders and governing bodies as a model for true reform. Using Massy’s framework, it is possible to focus the appropriate level of attention on the process of reengineering without losing site of a university’s primary mission: teaching and learning. While concurrently maintaining mission focus and the institution’s intrinsic value to society in an atmosphere demanding cost effectiveness and wholesale reform, a cohesive approach may be the only strategy available in an era of austerity. There is no question that universities face external trends threatening their equilibrium and compromising their ability to manage the juxtaposition of a quality learning experience, reduced resources, and resistance from stakeholders due to increased costs of higher education. The constant evolution of low cost for-profit institutions demands accountability in measuring student learning metrics, evaluating unsustainable cost escalations, and reexamining the academic business model.

In Chapter One, Massy delivers a concise description of undergraduate education and the market forces impinging upon the success of total reform efforts. He cautions policymakers and politicians to avoid “[attributing] malevolence to what really is bounded rationality and legitimate concerns about risk” (p. 6) in response to cost containment efforts. While rationally grounded, these criticisms do nothing to change that; “university leaders understand at some level their institutions must change. But too often they feel powerless” (p. 7). Thus, the need for continuous improvement is often mired in concerns expressed by the university, college, department, or faculty. Each of these entities has a legitimate fear of change and its impact on academic quality. The ability of leadership to properly manage the competing interests expressed in their value propositions is the ultimate test in the quest to deal with change and reform, resulting in leaders and governing bodies often “[forming] a self-reinforcing circle that, over time, warps the institutions’ values in ways most stakeholders see as unfortunate” (p. 38).

In Chapter Two, Massy describes why the old academic business model is no longer sustainable due to flaws inherent in the process of learning, teaching, leadership, and governance. His focus on “[mitigating] the flaws in order to restore sustainability in ways that do not jeopardize the enterprises’ fundamental values” (p. 41) is another essential component of this book. He identifies five areas unique to higher education that contain the most serious flaws and barriers to reform: over-decentralization of teaching, unmonitored joint production (teaching and research), disassociation of educational quality from cost, lack of good learning metrics, and overreliance on market forces. Taken either individually or collectively, the process of adopting or enforcing reform focusing on one or more of these five areas would result in a critical backlash from faculty and other members of the university community. Massy acknowledges this opposition and recommends whole model innovation using a portfolio approach centered on classes of initiatives. This includes enhancing teaching and learning initiatives, promoting cost-related initiatives, and improving financial planning and budgeting. To achieve successful reform, the assumption of responsibility by faculty, departments, schools, or central administration is essential. Massy emphasizes the need for an adoption of pilot projects, a continuous improvement cycle, and support from university central leadership and governing bodies.

Chapter Three provides insight into the importance of new teaching scholarship in the reengineering process. Active learning is critical as university leaders plan pilot projects to avoid lack of student engagement by focusing on David Kolb's idea of andragogy (adult learners are different from child learners). Massy offers universities several suggestions as part of the new teaching scholarship, particularly where “‘Kaizen,’ [which] means ‘change for the better’” (p. 82) is imperative. Some of the recommendations include peer assisted learning, Stanford design thinking, flipped teaching, learning analytics, course re-design, and generally accepted learning accreditation principles. These recommendations warrant consideration by university leadership given the decline in student engagement across the country. Appendix A is a must read as it provides a useful version of the Principles of Teaching and Learning, an important guide to faculty professional development design.

Chapters Four and Five fully explore the cost of teaching, financial planning, and management. The recommendations and models presented within these chapters are clearly defined and coherent. They also have numerous applications for university planners to use. Massy’s introduction to activity-based costing (ABC) and course-based ABC presents an exciting opportunity for universities to avoid the typical overreliance on traditional faculty full-time equivalents in making decisions that affect resource allocation. His overview of five primary sources of measuring cost (single-factor, cost per unit, multi-factor ratios, top down allocation, and activity based costing) allow decision makers to extrapolate from available data and decide on the basis of reliable and useful information. Chapter Five is cogent and particularly salient through Massy’s presentation of multiple recommendations for analyzing the teaching production functions inherent in all universities (p. 123). His observations in this chapter are critical regarding financial planning and budgeting. The author also warns university leaders to recognize that failure to separate financial planning from resource allocation has driven universities to charge higher tuition rates (p. 196).

Reengineering the University is a powerful read with many thought provoking and aha sections. It also provides a roadmap for authentic educational reform. While the recommendations and proposed solutions in this book are noteworthy and deserving of critical attention, the resources and time allocated to university leaders, departments, and faculty may be an impediment to successful implementation. Nevertheless, this is an important book for everyone involved in university planning and future reform initiatives.


Coates, H. (2005). The values of student engagement for higher education quality assurance. Quality in Higher Education, 11(1), 25–36.

Duffield, A. (2002). Beyond dead reckoning: Research priorities for redirecting higher education. National Center for Post-Secondary Improvement. Retrieved from https://web.stanford.edu/group/ncpi/documents/pdfs/beyond_dead_reckoning.pdf

Hogg, R. V., & Hogg, M. C. (1995). Continuous quality improvement in higher education. Statistical Science Review, 63(1), 35–48.

Sanyal, B. C. (1991). Improving the effectiveness of higher education institutions: Studies in the management of change. NORRAG News, 36–39. Retrieved from http://www.norrag.org/ar/publications/norrag-news/online-version/higher-education/detail/improving-effectiveness-of-higher-education-institutions-studies-in-the-management-of-change.html

Spanbauer, S. J. (1995). Reactivating higher education with total quality management: Using quality and productivity concepts to improve higher education. Total Quality Management, 6(5), 519–538.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 17, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21681, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 9:22:45 PM

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