APU Business

Management in Higher Education

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management-higher-edBy Dr. Marie Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

Most of the time when you hear a conversation about higher education, the focus is on the academics and the importance of education. We seldom talk about the running of an education institution, treating that job as if it is a negligible task.

Based on my experience, managing in higher education is the same as managing in a corporation. Every industry has a senior team responsible for developing and administering a vision for the organization. In order to achieve the vision, there must be supporting departments (i.e. marketing, operations, technology, human resources) to make it happen. The expertise and technical skills needed for these supporting roles are the same in education. How one processes accounts payable and receivables doesn’t change because it is a college environment.

My traditionalist friends would not be pleased to hear me say, “You still have to run a business!” Nevertheless, it is true. There was a time when I would have said that higher education was more collaborative. However, I am noticing practices I once attributed to educational leadership, such as shared leadership/governance, teamwork, and employee development, becoming popular and acceptable in the corporate world.

I remember when I started my career in human resources that it was hard to get a job in the field if you didn’t have the experience. Once I obtained my first job, I soon found out that moving on to new roles became easier.

My second job in the field was at a public state university and it was a wonderful experience. After two years, I was offered a promotion in another region as the director of human resources, which allowed me the opportunity to make a difference in both the college and in the local community. After a couple of years, I decided to return to school full-time to earn my master’s degree with the dream of one day returning to higher education on the academic side. Now that I have worked on the academic side for more than 12 years, I realize that I love the experience of being a part of the higher education industry.

Recently, a friend of mine accepted a position as the vice president of finance at a community college. He was so excited about making a contribution in an industry he considers to be a worthy cause. Both of us had the same goal as many of my closest friends. We may have started on the management side, but we felt a calling to more closely support the academic mission of education. The reward is becoming a part of training and educating minds willing to ramp up and stay competitive in a modern knowledge economy. Management in education is just as challenging as managing any organization, but we have both found our calling by applying our skill sets to an industry with a mission we embrace.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is a professor and program director of the Management program at American Public University System. She received her BA in Psychology from Wellesley College, MS in Instructional Systems from Penn State University, and her Ph.D. in Organization and Management from Capella University.

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