Organization Theory and Higher Education


W. Richard Scott

Year of Publication: 
The Journal of Organizational Theory in Education

I have been a long-term student of organizations, but only an episodic student of educational organizations. I am the author or co-author of two texts that attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of the state of organizations, an early text written with Peter Blau (Blau and Scott 1962/2003), and a later text that first appeared in 1981 but has been updated periodically up to the present (Scott 1981; Scott and Davis 2007). I have focused most of my empirical research on professional organizations—including welfare agencies, health care organizations, mental health systems, research institutes, non-profit advocacy organizations, engineering construction projects, and also, from time to time, schools and colleges. Also, during the past three decades, I have reframed much of my work to emphasize the large role played by the institutional environment in shaping organization structures and processes. These interests were reported in a text first appearing in 1995 but updated regularly up to the most recent edition appearing this year (Scott 2013).

My early research on educational organizations was conducted during the late 1970s and 1980s, in collaboration with Elizabeth Cohen, Terry Deal, Sandy Dornbusch, and John Meyer, among others, as we studied elementary and secondary schools (e.g., Cohen, Deal, Meyer and Scott 1979; Dornbusch and Scott 1975; Meyer and Scott 1983; Scott and Meyer 1994). We examined a wide array of empirical issues, including teaming in elementary schools, effects of fragmented centralization of funding on schools and school district organization, and the loose coupling of formal structures to the work of teachers. These studies contributed to the emergence of neoinstitutional theory as an important framework allowing organization researchers to rediscover the importance of cultural and symbolic environments in the structuring of organizations (Meyer and Rowen 1977; Scott 2013).

More recently, I have returned to the study of educational organizations in work carried out in collaboration with Mitchell Stevens and Michael Kirst. In a project funded by the Gates Foundation, we developed a research agenda for examining higher education using a wider lens that draws attention to the changing ecology of higher education in the U.S., although we recognize that these trends are global (see Stevens and Kirst, forthcoming). In particular, we refocused attention on the important, and overlooked, role of “broad access colleges”—colleges admitting most of their applicants—that are responsible for educating more than 80 percent of students enrolled in higher education. I will say more about this and related work below.

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APA Citation

Scott, W.R. (2013). Organization Theory and Higher Education. The Journal of Organizational Theory in Education.