Approaches to Executive Decision-Making at Public Institutions Experiencing Financial Instability in Texas



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Higher education institutions of all types are experiencing increased challenges related to acquiring financial resources to support educational initiatives. Executive leaders, particularly during periods of instability and crisis, are required to make decisions related to highly complex challenges that have the potential to influence the long-term sustainability and viability of the institution they serve. Based on historical data, existing challenges, the operational and financial disruptions created by the COVID-19 global pandemic, and projections of enrollment shortfalls beginning in 2025, institutional leaders will be required to navigate increasingly complex environments and make difficult choices amidst a collection of less-than-ideal options. The purpose of this study was to explore, through a qualitative phenomenological design, the decision-making processes of executive-level administrators (i.e., presidents, chief financial officers, chief academic officers) during periods of institutional financial instability in the state of Texas. Data was collected through individual interviews with 13 participants from public, 4-year institutions in Texas. Five themes emerged from the data, highlighting the influence of ecological systems, organizational complexity, consensus building, institutional mission, and market factors on executive’s decision-making processes. In order to better navigate periods of complex financial instability and improve decision quality, leaders are encouraged to enhance their awareness and management of environmental influences, purposefully manage relationships with key internal and external institutional stakeholders, develop reliable methods of quantitative and qualitative information gathering, increase the number of stakeholders involved in decision-making, solidify their institution’s resource allocation strategy, build buy in and consensus around assessment metrics, and unambiguously align institutional initiatives with the mission.



Decision-making, Ecological systems, Organizational complexity, Crisis, Financial exigency, Instability, Higher education finance, Neoliberalism, Four frame model, Higher education, Post-secondary education, Resource allocation, Economic crisis, COVID-19, Executive leadership, Shared governance, Shared decision-making, Public colleges and universities, University mission