Higher Education Lessons in Organizational Strategy

America’s higher education sector faces enormous and well-documented challenges that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Declining enrollment, increasing financial stress, the shift to distance or hybrid learning, and changing cultural mores among students have meant that innovation and transformation are needed for many struggling colleges to survive and thrive.

And yet, while the stakes have never been higher, the willingness of many leaders to embrace new models remains an obstacle.

Like most organizations, the TCS Education System community in Illinois has faced new challenges in recent years on a scale previously unimaginable. Our central core value of Radical Cooperation was pushed to full expression as we worked to equip our leaders with the tools and resources to advance institutional and student success.

As the risk of higher education burnout and leadership turnover continues to rise, a strong organizational strategy and shared resource model is a proven way to empower college leaders to focus on the support for the needs of their faculty and, therefore, of their students. Let’s look at four areas.

Radical cooperation

Our experience shows that higher education institutions can succeed by breaking down silos and coming together to share institutional wisdom and resources.

The TCS system was designed around the idea that collaboration, not competition, is the key to institutional success and sustainability. Under the TCS model, we offer shared resources to our member colleges for enrollment services, academic operations, strategic planning, marketing, IT and more, so they can focus exclusively on optimizing student outcomes and success.

In turn, each college brings its own unique institutional perspective to the system, which makes us all stronger.

The results speak for themselves. During a time when many colleges have downsized or even closed, our system has grown. This collaborative model also helped launch the Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, Kansas’ first and only osteopathic medical school, which will open its doors to students this fall.

Our team’s expertise in establishing collaboration with local partners and overcoming financial and regulatory hurdles was key to bringing this long-held vision to life. KansasCOM will positively impact the national healthcare landscape by adding to America’s supply of much-needed physicians while benefiting Kansas’ healthcare system and the state’s rural communities for decades to come.

Risk mitigation

Anticipating and reacting to risk is an essential leadership attribute during times of intense change, and it is important that as leaders we embrace problem solving by drawing on our collective community of experts. Organizations can reduce their risk by creating a culture that encourages the sharing of wisdom and expertise by internal leaders.

At TCS, I host weekly one-on-one summits with our presidents to review the near-term challenges they face and discuss ways to address them. Additionally, our quorum presidents meet regularly to share insights into how they are responding to common challenges.

These processes allow us to foster a culture of collaboration that strengthens each college’s ability to be sustainable and adaptable in response to a rapidly changing landscape.

Continuous improvement

Many college administrators don’t take enough time to sit down and critically examine their organizations. At TCS, we follow a disciplined process of evaluating the performance of each president, myself included, as part of our annual goal-setting project for each college and the system as a whole.

My role as President is closely tied to organizational strategy outcomes, and we constantly assess our performance against our ultimate vision and strategic plan. The board also plays a functional role in this process.

This focus on continuous improvement – ​​grounded in measurement, benchmarking, auditing and reassessment, ideation and innovation – creates an architecture of operational excellence that yields significant rewards.

Leadership continuity

Leadership changes within any organization can jeopardize institutional knowledge and cultural stewardship. In higher education, where university presidents can remain in their role for 10 years or more, the potential for detrimental outcomes is even greater.

At TCS, we’ve built an organization based on vertical integration, where top-level leaders work closely with those above them, gaining meaningful exposure to top-level priorities and learning ways of working. .

This model benefited the organization recently when a senior executive from one of our colleges announced his intention to leave. Our system’s Director of Studies was able to step in immediately and seamlessly assume the role on an interim basis.

When the stakes are as high as they have ever been for many organizations, sharing resources and coming together as leaders to support each other helps push everyone to their full potential and ensures a more resilient organization.

I challenge all organizations to consider how they can structure themselves to leverage the collective expertise of their leaders and benchmark their performance against measurable results.


Michael Horowitz, Ph.D., is the president and founder of TCS Education System, an integrated nonprofit system that works collaboratively to advance institutional sustainability, student success, and community impact. TCS educational partners include the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Pacific Oaks College & Children’s School, Saybrook University, law schools, and the Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. In the TCS model, each university retains its unique identity but also benefits from a wider support network, a true “community solution”.

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Aubrey L. Morgan