CATALYST V21N4 - Community Services: Organizational Concepts Revisited

Volume XXI, Number 4
Fall 1991

Community Services: Organizational Concepts Revisited

Benjamin R. Wygal
Florida Junior College
Originally published 19--, XI(4).

The community services function has been the most dynamic and diverse feature of community college development during the last decade and will be one of the most important challenges of the 80s. Yet, more often than not, its style of planning has been haphazard.

While many community colleges developed sophisticated organizational structures for community services and devoted institutional support for the function, most often the function developed under the committed leadership, creativity, and resourcefulness of an individual who caught sight of a special mission. The strength of that mission transcended the awkwardness of structure. That structure has, naturally, undergone change in the past decade. In the face of such change, it seems important to examine some organizational concepts for community services and to consider some conditions that facilitate the growth and strengthening of the community services function in community colleges.

The purpose of this effort, then, is to look at some organizational patterns for administering community services at community colleges, to set forth some of the conditions that contribute to successful patterns of organization, and to suggest some features of organizational development that may be helpful both in analyzing community services administration and in dealing with emerging community services functions in the 80s.

Just as the community services function grew and expanded greatly in the past decade, organizational structures and administrative titles related to the area likewise proliferated. While there was tremendous growth in transfer programs and occupational programs and their structures in the community colleges in the early part of the 70s, the patterns of these programs and structures had more consistency than the developments in community services. The activities and organizational structures for community services were (and still are) extremely diverse.

This diversity in structure is present in two distinct areas--one could view them as the vertical and horizontal dimensions of a graph. The vertical dimension represents the status of community services within a given community college; that is, in terms of reporting levels, involvement in decision-making, and the general focus of importance accorded it by the governing board, the president, and on down throughout the organization. The horizontal dimension represents the relationship of community services to all the other activities and programs of the college; that is, the degree of integration with, or separation from, the other programs.

On the vertical dimension, one may find at the community college an array of titles for community services administrators: vice- presidents, deans, directors, coordinators, etc. At many colleges, the two words "community services" are not found in any title, but the function is performed by one holding a title such as "Dean of Continuing Education" or "Director of Community Education." In other institutions, the community services function is simply an "add on" to another activity. Yet, a wide range of successful community services programs may be found among all of these examples. The point is that the key to success in community services is not found in appellation; it is found in status--the importance placed upon it in the college.

Obviously, many variables may contribute to the relative prestige of the community services function in community colleges. Some desirable conditions that create or maintain important status for community services are the following:

  • State-level policy and financial support undergirded by a continuing priority for community services in community colleges.
  • A strong statement on community services in the mission statement or statement of philosophy and objectives of the individual college.
  • Inclusion of the community services function in the mainstream of programs and services statements and not tacked on as a "frill."
  • Commitment by the local board of governors to the concept of community services, and appropriate priority given to it.
  • A strong commitment to community services by the president, as evidenced by financial decisions and recommendations, personal attention to development, appropriate involvement in decision- making, and visible philosophical commitment.
  • Adequate status of the community services leader(s) within the individual community college.
  • Essential policies, procedures, and processes to ensure clarity of the community services mission and to provide viable mechanisms for accomplishing its goals.

Turning to the horizontal dimension on that one may examine community services organizational concepts in the community college, the observer finds a very wide continuum. At one end of the continuum is the institution where all community services are assigned to a distinctly separate unit. At the other end of the continuum, the community services and activities are fully integrated with the individual educational programs and units of the college. Successful community services programs may be found organized along all points of the continuum, but, regardless of placement along the continuum, when there is a successful program, some important conditions usually exist:

  1. The community college family must be fully committed to a status for community services equal to the other educational and service functions of the institution. Assuming that certain desirable conditions which create and maintain that important status for community services exist, the rationale for organizational structure decisions is based first on service.
  2. Whatever form of organizational plan is selected or developed, it provides the greatest involvement, interaction, and cooperation with community organizations, agencies, and institutions, groups and individuals while delivering the maximum appropriate community services.
  3. The selected organizational structure promotes the greatest visibility, understanding, and concept acceptance of community services both inside and outside the institution.
  4. The placement of community services functions promotes maximum involvement of the functions in building teamwork and cooperation, developing policy and procedure, and making decisions within the college.
  5. The plan for administrative organization ensures the best interests of the community services function through staff, program, and organizational development.
  6. The form of organizational structure guarantees appropriate involvement in "tough" decisions concerning overall program priorities and financial and human resources allocations.

No discussion of the horizontal dimensions of community services organizational concepts and patterns would be complete without looking at an interesting development in certain community colleges during the 70s. This development was the establishment of a separate unit to include community services, and was known as "the open campus," "college without walls," or some other name denoting a noncampus-based structure primarily serving nontraditional clients. These units have most often been developed in multicampus or multiunit community colleges.

Again, the examples vary greatly in both the form of initiation and implementation. They also vary greatly in degrees of success. Purportedly, the major justifications for introducing such separate units were to focus more attention on the achievement of the institution's mission related to community services, to give greater visibility to the various program services in the community, and to concentrate the effort given to these services in one major administrative unit.

Institutions initiating these "open campuses" or separate units have had a variety of difficulties and success in planning and implementation. A number of factors may contribute to facilitating progress in the planning and implementing processes:

  1. The board, president, and staff must have a basic philosophic commitment that the new separate unit will support the concept of community services as an integral part of the college's mission, rather than serving as a substitute for effort needed to convince the college community to adopt the idea of community services as central to the community college mission.
  2. The college must have a true commitment to focus attention and energy on community services, rather than viewing it as a new idea to try or as a restructuring effort designed to solve some basic management problems in the institution.
  3. There must be careful planning that includes adequate involvement and promotion of acceptance within the institution. Otherwise, the emergence of the idea will be seen as the pet project of someone (usually the president), which will cause alienation and noninvolvement in the enterprise.
  4. There should be clarity and specificity of purpose developed with a sensitivity to the effects on other units previously active in community services activities, rather than impreciseness in the goals of the emerging separate unit and an insensitivity to feelings of unappreciated development and loss of "territory."
  5. There should be adequate financial and human resource development for the new "open campus," rather than insufficient budget projections and unrealistic dependence on income from projected sponsored programs.
  6. There should be a carefully developed statement of relative status among the various units (including the new one) particularly in decision-making and the developing of policies and procedures, rather than ill-defined decision- making involvement and inadequate provision of specific processes for policy and procedure development.
  7. When the plan for the new separate unit is implemented, there should be adequate attention given to fulfilling the commitment to the important status of the unit, rather than insensitivity to the nuances of visibility or lack of it in day-to-day operations of the total institution.
  8. Careful attention should be given to setting up the unit's organizational plan, including such aspects as processes, procedures, budgets, and resource development plans, rather than bringing programs together abruptly, and either (a) exacerbating feelings of reduction of responsibility and truncation of mission on the part of the other units, or (b) using the new unit as a dumping ground for unwieldy, unpopular, or bothersome programs.
  9. Cooperation and teamwork should be valued and promoted, and the development of the new separate organization should not be at the financial and human resource expense of other units. This can prevent the cultivation of unhealthy competition that could potentially prompt internecine warfare among the units.
  10. Assiduous attention should be given to the selection of administration and staff for the new separate unit (qualifications coupled with commitment, enthusiasm, and energy are most valued), rather than using the new unit as a place to solve "administrative" problems by "transferring" problem people to the new unit.
  11. Adequate time and resources should be given to developing and implementing a plan for cooperation with external agencies, organizations, institutions, and other groups and individuals, rather than allowing the new separate unit to become caught up in internal struggles that overwhelm good intentions to interact with the community.

At the same time that some community colleges developed separate units to carry out the community services function, a number of institutions (multicampus as well as single-unit) chose the opposite end of the horizontal continuum. These institutions fully integrated the community services function with the total educational and service programs. Similar successes were achieved in growth, development, and management of community services. Among the advantages of the fully integrated pattern of organization are the following:

  1. The idea of community services penetrates all activities of the institution. Thus the community, governing board, institutional leadership, faculty, and staff may consider the community services dimension in practically every educational and service activity pursued. All can have a feeling of "ownership."
  2. There is a built-in provision for participation in all of the decision-making processes of the institution.
  3. There is an automatic inclusion of community services with all other programs in the processes for the development of policies, procedures, and plans.
  4. There is an expanding rather than contracting opportunity for all who have ideas about and desires for involvement in community services.
  5. There is less opportunity for unhealthy competitiveness during difficult financial, priority, and program decisions.

As noted above, successful models have been established as separate units, as fully integrated operations, and in other forms along the horizontal continuum--each in the presence of certain conditions that succor success. Ultimately, those community services organizational models that have been successful have achieved important status vertically.

In the beginning, these successful models gave much time to entrepreneurship, growth, relationship, and cooperative development. Now, while continuing efforts in those areas, it is time to attend more to management and continuous and appropriate planning, including such elements as financial and human resource planning, balanced resource development planning, strategic planning, market planning (including needs assessment), and planning for alternative futures.

Organizational development is an important tool for facilitating the achievement of these efforts. Various means may be employed to strengthen the administration of programs. Leaders, including those for community services, should analyze various approaches to developing their organization and adopt or adapt a scheme that seems to best meet the unique needs of that organization. Regardless of how the community college chooses to organize its community services function, it must continue to develop that organization to survive successfully and to meet the emerging community services opportunities of the 80s.

Organizational development, generically speaking, is more than management by objectives, and can be more than a management structure for planning--it can be a mechanism for the totality of planning. For example, it uses a systems approach wherein change is perceived as essential and inevitable if an organization is to attain dynamic equilibrium. This is why it relates so well to the ever-changing community services function. Not only is organizational development a well-planned and formalized effort, it involves all parts of the total system. And, through it, program goals and objectives, such as those for community services, are developed through team effort, and therefore are in harmony at all times with institutional goals and objectives.

Some of the major components of a comprehensive and formalized organizational development plan include:

  • A visual description, such as a chart or diagram, which depicts the administrative or bureaucratic structure of the institution, including the structure for the community services function. The way the community services function interacts with the community can be shown by a second visual depiction.
  • Identification and definition of the purpose and scope of each major function, program, and area of concentration within the community services organization (a) as it currently exists and (b) the way it should be if that is different from the current organization. Needless to say, to get where we want to go, we need to know where we are now.
  • Delineation of the major goals and objectives that give direction to community service activities, and services in each major function, program, or area of concentration. This obviously includes needs assessment and market planning.
  • Identification and justification of the community services staffing pattern, budget plan, space and equipment needs, etc. This can help ensure successful implementation of programs and services.

While each community college will have to establish its own particular model of organizational development, that model should result in a number of major benefits to the institution, and of course, to the community services function. Some of the benefits that effective organizational development result in include:

  • Providing a process for maintaining community services within the context of the institution's mission and approved institutional goals and objectives.
  • Providing an opportunity for community services leaders to have input into the development or refinement of overall institutional mission, goals, and objectives.
  • Reducing the disruptive nature of organizational change by providing a strategy for reacting to probable and possible future events and changes.
  • Facilitating organizational decision-making.
  • Providing a framework for the process of goal setting, assignment of work priorities, resource allocation, and evaluation of program effectiveness. In terms of human resources, it aids in more effective selection and retention.
  • Clarifying the nature and scope of community services operations in relation to other college operations; in relation to cooperation with organizations, agencies, institutions, and individuals in the community; and in relation to analyzed community needs.

Going through the organizational development process is in itself an important benefit to an institution. The staff growth realized through this analysis and development process improves the ability to grapple successfully with community development issues and other emerging concepts related to community services. While some view any method of planning as tedious and time consuming, the clarity organizational development provides actually results in freedom- -freedom from the frustration of ill-defined goals, unsure levels of decision- making, and inability to cope with change.

In conclusion, structure alone does not ensure successful community services operations in community colleges, but the development of the organizational structure can remove stumbling blocks and assist in achieving the goals of the community services function. As noted above, there are a number of desirable conditions that help create and maintain important status for community services in the college organization. In addition, there are preferred conditions that tend to succor success for the community services function whether it is organized into a separate unit, fully integrated with the other programs of the institution, or somewhere in between these two extremes.

Finally, effective organizational development may ensure both survival and success in meeting the emerging challenges for community services in the 80s. And, while the "bottom line" is still the commitment, creativity, and resourcefulness of individual community services leaders, proper organizational development and structuring do help.

Copyright 1992 by the National Council on Community Services & Continuing Education. Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for sale