Friday, September 14, 2012

Housing as an Organization

During my life I have held several jobs all of which have had very different organizational structures and cultures. The job that most stands out is my current job as a Resident Advisor for Residential Life/University Housing. I have been working as an RA for almost 3 semesters and I have gotten to know the organization quite well.

The organizational structure is very similar to a typical corporation we have a hierarchy that extends from the Director of housing down to the resident advisors. There are several different areas that are under the organizational umbrella but the one that I am most familiar with is undergraduate housing. Undergraduate housing has it's own associate director. The associate director is responsible for coordinating all of the residence hall staff members and all of the administrative duties of the department. Just under the associate director are the area coordinators. The area coordinators run groups of residence halls and function as mid-level managers. The area coordinators also manage the resident directors and the resident advisors in their group of residence halls. The resident directors live in and run the individual residence halls while directly manage the resident advisors. Resident advisors live on the floors with students, managing individual floors/communities and carrying out the necessary administrative duties of the halls.

The decision structure is a combination of both Hub and Edge policies. In general, the Hub or central office sends out directives or sets out the policies that must be enforced by the employees and the Edge, typically resident directors and advisors. Day to day decisions are handled at the Edge, and only when things get truly out of hand for large issues, will the Hub take over the decision process.

Housing as an organization faces several situations where they incur transaction costs both external and internal. Their main market is student/family housing so they face heavy competition from the local real estate and rental markets. By and large, the market is able to provide student housing much more efficiently for undergraduates. In order to compete the university has expanded its basic housing to cover food, recreation, and educational needs. This expansion increased their costs and the cost for students dramatically. The main reason that university housing has been able to stay in the market is due to the policy they enacted through the university, mandating that all freshmen must live in university housing for their first semester. The policy has not been a complete life saver and now the main goal of housing has shifted to retaining students.The comparative advantage of the market has been the driving force for recent developments in student housing aimed at accomplishing their new goal. These developments have altered both their internal and external transaction costs.

Internal cost are focused around communication between the Hub and Edge. This has lead to housing employing and developing technology and online communication capabilities for its staff, which makes communication more efficient. Externally the university has shifted to expanding its reach by improving its services like dining and recreation by modernizing its facilities. The biggest changes come from a complete redesign of the future of student housing. New buildings are being built based on input from residents that will be more modern, spacious, and comfortable.

There is more to university housing as an organization that I did not explore but if you have questions, comments, and additions I would be happy to discuss them with you.

1 comment:

  1. Given the requirement that first year students must be in the dorms or certified student housing, something I believe most parents would sign onto, perhaps it is that Campus housing provides a different set of services than the market does. In particular, it would seem that big part of the mission is to help students make the transition in moving away from home and then in embracing behaviors that are by and large healthful and compatible with doing well at their studies. Commercial housing doesn't have that as part of the agenda at all.

    My older son who is now in an apartment with his buddies spent a second year in the dorm. It was just easier for him to do that. We didn't encourage it one way or the other.

    You didn't mention this above, but when I started back in 1980 the student population was more than 92% in state. Now there many more out of state students and quite a few of them are international students. It would be interesting to know how this changing demographic impacts housing's mission.

    I went to private universities as an undergrad - first MIT and then I transferred to Cornell. The dorms were not palaces but they were more spacious than what I saw of the room in the Illinois street residence, which was tiny. I'm not sure why public versus private should make a difference on the dorms. As far as I know that cost has never been picked up by the state. On the other hand, median parental income at Illinois probably is lower than at those other places.