About the In-Depth Institutional Structure Question Set

The Institutional Structure climate factor focuses on the mission, leadership, structural organization, decision-making, and communication within the institution. Supervisory Relationship provides insight into the relationship between employee and their supervisors and employees’ ability to be creative and express ideas related to their work. Cooperation and effective coordination within work teams is explored within the Teamwork climate factor. The Student Focus climate factor considers the centrality of students to the actions of the institution as well as the extent to which students are prepared for post-institution endeavors. Together, the unique focus of each climate factor provides a comprehensive picture of campus climate at an institution.

As institutions of higher education seek to improve and meet external demands, issues specifically related to the Institutional Structure climate factor often create challenges. Research suggests that organizations function best when they are effectively coordinated, labor and control is appropriately divided, and structural design adapts to current circumstances (Bolman & Deal, 2013). However, PACE survey data consistently reveals that community colleges have relatively negative perceptions of campus climate related to these areas, which are connected to the Institutional Structure climate factor. The Institutional Structure report is designed to provide insight into employee perceptions of institutional structure climate, specifically related to the institution’s mission, leadership, decision-making, organization, and communication. Gaining insight into these areas is particularly helpful considering the unique structural organization found in institutions of higher education.

Mintzberg (1979) described the structure of institutions of higher education as a professional bureaucracy, in which a highly specialized workforce conducts decentralized work according to standards often determined by external bodies. Within a professional bureaucracy, two hierarchies often emerge: one democratic, from the bottom up; and one bureaucratic, from the top down (Mintzberg). As a result of the decentralized structure and highly specialized workforce within a professional bureaucracy, institutions of higher education may face problems of coordination between units and staff, difficulty in innovation due to an inflexible structure, slow change processes, and complex relationships, particularly with regard to authority, decision-making, and control of work.

Institutions of higher education have also been described as loosely coupled organizations (Weick, 1976), where functions and units might be momentarily attached and responsive to one another, but each retains its own identity and is often minimally interdependent. While loosely coupled organizations have benefits such as a lower probability that every environmental change will necessitate a response or greater ability to sense necessary adaptations (Weick), they are not without problems. Institutions of higher education that are loosely coupled may experience difficulty in diffusing new policies or procedures, improving weak or problematic functions, and in streamlining processes so that each autonomous unit is not duplicating the work of other units.

Understanding the climate around institutional structure within a community college is more important now than ever. Over the last decade, community colleges have faced a challenging environment defined by resource constraints, greater demands for services and unprecedented enrollment pressure (Boggs, 2004). Hill and Jones (2001) suggest that organizational renewal and better understanding of an institution’s mission and mode of operation might assist community colleges in surviving and overcoming these challenges. Furthermore, Ayers (2002) identified organizational structure, empowerment, interdependence/communication, and shared vision—all components of the Institutional Structure climate factor—as variables which might provide community college leaders with an understanding of how to foster positive campus climate and effectively respond to internal and external challenges.

The Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research recognizes the need to understand more about institutional structure and provides a tool that institutional leaders can use to gain insight into climate around institutional structure at their campus. The collected data will be analyzed using a six-factor framework derived from the current Institutional Structure climate factor and higher education organizational structure literature. The Institutional Structure subscale six-factor framework includes:

  • Mission
  • Leadership
  • Decision-Making and Influence
  • Policies and Structural Organization
  • Teams and Cooperation
  • Communication and Information Sharing


Ayers, D. F. (2002). Developing climates for renewal in the community college: A case study of dissipative self-organization. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 26(2), 165-185.

Boggs, G. R. (2004). Community colleges in a perfect storm. Change, 36(6), 6-11.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2013). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership (5th ed.). Jossey Bass.

Hill, C. W. L., & Jones, G. R. (2001). Strategic management: An integrated approach (5th ed.). Houghton Mifflin.

Mintzberg, H. (1979). The professional bureaucracy. In The Structuring of Organizations (p. 348-379). Prentice-Hall.

Weick, K. E. (1976). Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21(1), 1-19.