Loose coupling at a large public university and the impact it has on students: A case study of the unintended consequences of policy implementation
When students leave the university they enter a world filled with complex organizations. The U.S. education system socializes students to function well in the workforce (Bidwell, 2005; Hallinan, 2005; Bowles & Gintis; 1977, 2002). The focus of this study is how attending a large public university prepares students for life in complex organizations. Schools along with families are primary socializing agents of students (Hallinan, 2005). Policy is a powerful tool used by complex organizations to shape and structure individual behavior (Morgan, 1997; Schuman, 1976). Policies and policy implementation are designed to produce intended consequences, or outcomes; however, policy implementation has unintended and unanticipated consequences as well. One study of higher education found students who attend college are comfortable with complex organizations (Schuman, 1982). Large public research universities have grown into complex organizations, described by Kerr (1995) as "Multiversities." It is in this multiversity environment that a student learns about complex organizations. Although policy consequence studies exist, exploration of unintended consequences is not a typical dissertation topic. Organizational structure affects student learning (Berger, 2002). Unintended consequences of policy implementation in the loosely coupled, complex organization of a large public university remain relatively unexplored.
This phenomenological study explored the unintended consequences to student's lives of a single policy, Absence from Class Due to Illness, in the loosely coupled, complex organization of a large public university through observation of study participant experiences. Study participants included university personnel: faculty, administrative deans, health service physicians, health service staff, and students interviewed between June 2006 and February 2007. Data collection included semi-structured interviews and document review. The complexity of the university appears through this single policy lens and allows us to see how students learn to live in this complex environment. The dissertation discussed three student learning themes emerging from study participant stories (1) learning the system, (2) making the system work, and (3) handling ambiguity. Implications and future research for the study of higher education are discussed.
0745: Higher education