Statewide budget cuts and public higher education: An administrative response to fiscal stringency

Paul Mitchell Kelly, Fordham University


Public higher education is an extraordinarily complex system. Environmental influences and trends acting upon the system restrict administrators in what they can do for students. Research suggests that a knowledge of these influences and trends is necessary for administrators attempting to understand the process of education and to formulate strategies to achieve financial stability. Northeast City College (a fictitious name to assure confidentiality) was forced to confront the issue of cutting its operating budget as mandated by the state legislature. The case study covered the period 1988 through 1993 and examined and evaluated administrative responses to fiscal stringency and the impact of those responses upon the delivery and effectiveness of services within the physical framework of the college. Five research questions were drawn from the conceptualization of open systems theory and were used to guide the study: (a) How did environmental pressure affect the mission of the college? (b) What adjustment did the governance structure make as a result of the changing mission during the fiscal crisis? (c) What leadership strategies did the governance structure use during the crisis situation? (d) What organizational changes occurred as a result of the leadership strategies? (e) What were the effects on faculty and students as a result of the organizational changes? The research design encompassed six dimensions including environmental pressure, mission and purpose, governance, strategies, organizational change, and results. Data collection methods included participant observation, archival records, interviews, and examination of documents. Major conclusions of the study include: (a) the administrative decisions tended to be incremental in response to the incremental external pressure; (b) because of the relationship between the college President and the greater political system, a symbiotic relationship emerged between the college and the legislature; (c) to increase engagement and acceptance, the governance structure allowed the faculty's ideas and influence to be used to solve fiscal difficulties; (d) the college President used strategic planning during crisis periods; (e) among the many forces operating upon the college, the environment had the greatest influence, the governance structure the next greatest, and the faculty and students the least amount of impact; and (f) the educational system proved efficient in providing outcomes that were effective in terms of its stated goals and objectives.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration|School finance

Recommended Citation

Kelly, Paul Mitchell, "Statewide budget cuts and public higher education: An administrative response to fiscal stringency" (1995). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9530954.