ERIC Identifier: ED301145
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Alfred, Richard L. - Weissman, Julie
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.
Public Image and the University. ERIC Digest.
Colleges and universities are resource-acquiring institutions. They
understand that positive public attitudes about higher education are important
because they affect their financial stability and support of their academic
programs. Faculty and administration have come to recognize that pubic
understanding and support for postsecondary education goals is important to
institutional well-being. Given this reality, higher education institutions have
no choice but to be cognizant of their stature with important constituencies if
they expect to gain and hold public support. If colleges and universities are to
enhance their stature in a period of rapid social change, substantive strategies
must be developed. Without specific action, most institutions will find
themselves the target of continuing criticism by external publics, ranging from
students and parents making decisions about enrollment to government agencies
making decisions about financial appropriations.
The central topic of this report is not marketing, public relations,
strategic planning, or management strategies to improve institutional visibility
over the short run. It is rather institutional stature, its development and
determination, and strategies for its enhancement. A constant theme dominates
the report: Although colleges and universities are unquestionably affected by
trends in the external environment, they can plan, respond, act, and organize
themselves to improve stature. This report examines the deeper, more fundamental
dimensions of stature and then moves beyond that examination to the dynamics of
enhancement--the coordinated actions that institutions can take beyond marketing
and public relations to address forces in the environment while simultaneously
educating the public about important goals, purposes, outcomes, and benefits of
WHAT IS STATURE?
Postsecondary institutions generally seek
congruence between social values associated with or implied by their activities
and the values in the larger social environment of which they are a part. When
an actual or potential disparity exists between institutional and societal
values, a threat to stature will exist. These threats take the form of legal,
economic, and social sanctions associated with changing attitudes and
perceptions of the institution by external publics.
Stature can be understood as the aggregate of positive perceptions and
representations held by specific individuals, groups, and publics in reference
to particular characteristics and/or performance attributes projected by
colleges and universities over time. Its forms of expression in colleges and
universities are multiple, as are the contexts in which it can be viewed.
Stature can be perceived in a macro context in which higher education exists as
a sum of parts that together make up a social institution. It can be seen in a
micro context in which individual institutions and campus locations become the
units of analysis. Both of these contexts require consideration in the
examination of stature, how it forms, and its consequences for colleges and
WHAT ARE THE DIMENSIONS OF STATURE?
To comprehend fully the
multiple dimensions of stature implicit in the preceding definition, it is
important to array its dimensions in a model that will enable practitioners to
understand features of the concept and the relationships that make each
dimension relevant to the others. The model developed and presented in this
report depicts stature as the product of (1) an environment compromised of
multiple forces that influence the exchange of resources between colleges and
universities and different constituencies, (2) inputs in the form of
constituents' needs and expectations for educational programs and services that
carry stimuli from the environment to the institution and induce decisions about
programs and resources, (3) attributes of organization and performance that
facilitate or retard institutional responsiveness to external constituencies by
influencing important decisions related to domains of activity, (4) a conversion
process that transforms constituents' needs and expectations and environmental
stimuli into decisions about programs and resources, (5) outputs that carry the
results of institutional programs and services to multiple constituencies in the
environment, (6) communication that involves formal and informal procedures for
disseminating information about outputs to constituencies, and (7) feedback that
transmits public perceptions relative to the outputs produced by an institution
in one period back to the conversion process as the inputs in a later period of
time. Each dimension interacts with the others. Together they produce stature
for an institution.
WHAT ARE ORGANIZATIONS DOING TO ADVANCE STATURE?
response to changing conditions in the economy, public opinion, and the behavior
of competitors, profit and nonprofit organizations have instituted a variety of
techniques to enhance stature. Measured through sales volume, corporate
visibility, and change in public opinion, most techniques have focused on
improvement in corporate products and services based on information about
consumers' needs, preferences, values, and satisfaction. Significant resources
have been spent on opinion research, marketing, improvement in services, and
staff development to improve the public's perception of organizational products
Colleges and universities differ sharply from other complex organizations in
certain characteristics. Institutions seeking to improve their understanding of
stature and how it develops may benefit from the experience of other
organizations, however. A few institutions have grasped the importance of
institutional stature and, borrowing from successful practices in other complex
organizations, have designed and implemented strategies to improve it. The
majority of colleges and universities, however, have concentrated on short-term
marketing practices that rely solely on communication activities.
WHAT CAN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES DO TO ENHANCE
The dimensions of stature presented in the model, when examined in
context with practices to enhance stature employed by different types of
organizations, suggest four leveraging strategies that can become the focus on
efforts to enhance stature in college and universities.
Strategic assessment: management of the effects of societal change on
institutional programs, services and resources through environmental scanning,
monitoring, and strategic planning;
Allocation of resources: Improvement of institutional responsiveness to
changing external conditions through resource allocation systems that
incorporate mechanisms for planning feedback, and innovation;
Outcomes assessment: Collection and publication of benefit-cost information
describing institutional and student outcomes, expenditures, and costs as a
means for demonstrating accountability to important constituencies;
Image management: Management of public opinion through assessment of the
effectiveness of institutional marketing and public relations techniques coupled
with redesign of organizational communications strategies to create impact with
The assumption underlying these leveraging strategies is that as institutions
come to better understand how societal forces, public opinion, and
organizational behavior interact to determine stature, they will move to develop
activities that result in enhancement. Most institutions, prodded by recent
criticism, have begun to develop marketing and public relations plans. Much
energy is expended on these plans, with mixed results. An examination of what
the literature has to say about complex organization practices and public
affairs strategies employed by colleges and universities makes it clear that
many of these efforts are cosmetic. They attack the symptoms of the problem, but
they do not address the problem itself. Instead of piecemeal public relations
efforts with selected constituencies, it would be wiser to develop a coordinated
plan for enhancement involving the leveraging strategies presented. Instead of
vesting too much faith in marketing and public relations plans that often do
little more than temporarily appease certain constituencies, institutions can
improve stature through altering their approach to management. The goal is this:
Develop assessment and communication systems that enable institutions to
effectively anticipate and respond to external forces while simultaneously
educating the public about important goals, purposes, outcomes, and benefits of
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Alfred, Richard. 1984. "Image Enhancement in American Colleges and
Universities: Strategies for Institutional Research." Paper presented at AIR
conference, Forth Worth, TX, May.
Baldridge, J. Victor. March/April 1980. "Managerial Rules for Successful
Implementation." Journal of Higher Education 51: 117-34.
Campbell, Angus. 1981. The Sense of Well-Being in America. New York:
Davies, John, and Melchiori, Gerlinda. 1982. "Developing the Image and Public
Reputation of Universities: The Managerial Process." International Journal of
Institutional Management in Higher Education 6(2): 87-108.
Hearn, James and Heydinger, Richard. 1985. "Scanning the University's
External Environment." Journal of Higher Education 56(4): 429-45.
Hutton, Cynthia. 1986. "America's Most Admired Corporations." Fortune 113(1):
March, James. 1982. "Developments in the Study of Organizations." Review of
Higher Education 6: 1-17.
Pfeffer, Jeffrey and Salancik, Gerald. 1978. The External Control of
Organizations. New York: Harper and Row. Note: This ERIC Digest is a summary of
Higher Education and The Public Trust: Improving Stature in Colleges and
Universities by the same authors (ERIC HE 021 764).