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MIS program in smaller colleges: politics and other problems.

I. Introduction

A phenomenon among colleges and universities in the last ten years has been the offering of a Computer Information Systems (CIS) program. The interdisciplinary nature of this type of program is reflected by the fact that different departments administer this program from institution to institution. Also, the curriculum varies widely among schools.

It was assumed, at the outset of this study, that the level of diversity in the operation of CIS programs would be greater in smaller colleges and universities than in larger institutions. It was felt that political conflicts would be greater in these smaller schools due to the consolidation of classes in one department. An example of this would be a computer literacy class which could be offered by either Business or Computer Science.

This paper summarizes the results of a survey on undergraduate CIS programs in small colleges. More specifically, the survey considers 1) the CIS programs and courses in different institutions, 2) perceived political contention among related departments, and 3) other related problems.


A sample of 203 ACBSP (Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs) member institutions which provide four-year college education was selected. The sampled colleges and universities have less than 4,000 students individually as of June 1, 1991.

A total of 72 usable responses were received (35.5%). Fifteen, or slightly over 20 percent, answered they did not offer CIS programs. Therefore, approximately 80 percent of the responding institutions has CIS programs. About 70 percent of those responded had the institutional enrollment ranging from 1000 to 3000 students.


A. CIS Program

Four major groups were identified that housed a CIS program; 1) Business; 2) CIS/Management Information Systems; 3) Computer Sciences, or Mathematics/Computer Sciences, and 4) Mathematics or Natural Sciences. As shown in Table 2, Business departments or schools housed about 45 percent of the sampled CIS programs, while 21 percent were in separate CIS or MIS departments. There were no significant cases where Computer Sciences had the CIS programs.

The CIS concentration or major was labeled by many different names which included Management Information Systems, Computer Information Systems, Computer Information Sciences, Business Information Systems, and Information Management. Among those, however, Management Information Systems and Computer Information Systems were dominant. Interestingly, Business departments preferred MIS (54%) to CIS (23%), while the rest preferred CIS (57%) to MIS (7%). Does this imply anything?
Table 1

Size(*)                           Responses

Less than 1000              7       (9.7%)
1000 - 2000                27      (37.5)
2000 - 3000                23      (31.9)
3000 - 4000                15      (20.8)

Total                      72     (100.0%)

* Institutional enrollment
Table 2
Housing of CIS Programs by Departments

Department(*)                         Frequencies

Math./Natural Sciences           4       (7.0)
Computer Sciences, Math/CS      12      (21.1)
CIS, MIS                        15      (26.3)
Business                        26      (45.6)

Total                           57     (100.0%)

* Slightly different names were combined to the closest.
Table 3
Minimum Required Credit Hours

                            (In semester equivalent hours)

Department                 Sample      Sample      Standard
                            Size       Mean(*)       Error

Business                     24          24.93       1.54
CIS/MIS                      14          32.93       2.02
CS/Math/Nat Sc               15          29.13       1.95

Overall                      55          28.23       1.04

* ANOVA shows significant mean differences at .05 level. Scheffe's multiple
comparison showed significant mean difference between Business group and
CIS/MIS group at .05 level.

Next, the minimum credit hours (semester equivalent) of CIS courses on the average was 28.2 hours. When the means of the three major providers of CIS programs - Business, CIS/MIS, and CS/Math - were compared, though, significant differences were found among these groups. As shown in Table 3, the CIS/MIS groups required 8 hours more on the average than Business counterparts did. In other words, Business departments overall would require more management and organization courses for the CIS program and fewer CIS courses.

The number of CIS major or concentration students as of June 1991 ranged from 6 to 250. Approximately one third had less than 20 students, and one half reported less than 30 students.

B. CIS Curriculum

Some years ago, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Data Processing Management Association (DPMA) suggested a model curriculum for the undergraduate CIS program respectively. The ACM model worked out general structures of the program, while the DPMA model listed both core and elective CIS courses. A half decade later, the CIS curriculum has become more diverse and less standardized. Particularly in small schools, the program tends to be customized. It may be due to the limited personnel and computer resources in smaller schools let alone the rapid changes in information technology.
Table 4
Number of CIS Major Students


Less than 20                        16   (33.3%)
20 - 40                             12   (25.0)
40 - 60                              7   (14.6)
60 - 80                              6   (12.5)
80 -                                 7   (14.6)

Total                               48   (100.0%)

Nevertheless, the CIS curriculum may well be categorized into five fields for this study. They are:

Group I: Computer concepts and information technology courses including computer literacy, business application software, computer architecture, hardware/software concepts.

Group II: Various programming and data structure courses

Group III: Information systems process courses including system analysis, systems design, introduction to MIS, DSS/ES, systems control, and project.

Group IV: Data and database management courses, and

Group V: Data communication and other CIS courses including seminar, graphics, internship, and coop.

First let's look at the number of CIS courses. Table 5 summarizes how many core and elective CIS courses are offered by the three different CIS housing departments. The total number of core courses averaged 8.5 courses, about 39 percent of which were Group II courses - programming and data structure. Group IV and V were less frequent.

Business departments provided fewer core courses than CIS/MIS departments did. As discussed earlier, business departments, compared with CIS/MIS departments, required fewer credit hours of CIS courses for a degree. Compared with Business departments, CS/Math departments appeared to have more Group II courses - programming. This was found to be nonsignificant statistically (p=.12). To sum, a typical CIS program in smaller institutions was comprised of computer concept, programming, and system process courses.

Next, Table 6 shows the list of frequent course titles in the above five areas of the CIS discipline.

C. Political Conflicts and Other Difficulties

Limited number of students, faculty, budget, and other resources may well explain possible political conflicts among competing departments in smaller schools. In the area of CIS education, political contention between the two major program administrators, Business and Computer Science, seem to be "inevitable and typical," as one response of this survey described it.

Perceived political conflict was measured in a single measurement. Forty five percent agreed with the existence of such conflicts to some extent among departments. Differences among departments were insignificant. Major types of conflicts and several examples were as follows:

First, which department should house the CIS program and courses?

"Attempts to house all computer courses in CS department..."

"Business added MIS minor...a threat to CS."

"Other department offers identical courses."

"Computer literacy class teaching business software must belong to business department."

"Large percent of business students failed computer programming classes when classes were taught from CS department rather than Business School."

Second, what must be the contents of the CIS courses?

"What should be the focus of CIS program, CS or Business?"

"Whose computer needs...first?"

"What extent should the...department have computer courses?

"Many departments offer computer classes...But each department is hesitant to give credit for classes taken in other department."

"Duplication of some classes between CS and Business School."

"Some conflicts with regard to business courses required for a degree."

Third, how should the program be operated?

"Control of the content of CS service courses required of all business students."

"Conflicts in scheduling computer labs. All computer labs are under the control of the computer science department..."

"Variances in faculty views on 'proper' hardware, software, and network control, priorities."

"... Math/CS department controls the computer budget for the school and |has~ the right of purchasing application software."

"...faculty are rarely consulted |in purchasing equipment.~ Decisions are made by 'non-teaching' people."

"...|our~ department gets no FTE credit for the course."
Table 5
Number of CIS Courses

                   Computer &    Programming      System Anal.   Data &
Others                    Info. Tech    & Data Struc.      & Process     DBMS


Mode                  2                2             2              1      0
Max.                  4                7             4              2      1
Min.                  0                0             0              0      0
Median                2                3             2              1      0
Mean                1.8              3.2           1.9            1.0    0.4
Sample               26               26            26             26     26

Mode                  3                4             1              2      1
Max.                  7                4             4              2      3
Min.                  1                1             1              1      1
Median                3                2           1.5              2      1
Mean                2.8              2.6           2.2            1.7    1.5
Sample                8                7             6              3      6


Mode                  1                2             3              1      1
Max.                  5                7             5              2      2
Min.                  0                0             1              1      0
Median                1                4           2.5              1      1
Mean                1.7              3.6           2.5            1.0    0.9
Sample               14               14            14             14     14

Mode                  1                2             1              1      1
Max.                  4                3             6              1      3
Min.                  1                1             1              1      1
Median                1                2             1              1      1
Mean                1.7              4.0           2.0              1    1.3
Sample               11                4             7              3      6

CS/Math/Nat. Sc.

Mode                0.0                5             1              1      0
Max.                  6                6             3              1      1
Min.                  0                0             0              0      0
Median                1                5             2              1      0
Mean                1.8              4.3           1.7            0.7    0.4
Sample               15               15            15             15     15


Mode                  2                5             2              1      0
Max.                  6                7             5              2      2
Min.                  0                0             0              0      0
Median                2                4             2              1      0
Mean                1.8              3.3           2.0            0.9    0.5
Sample               55               55            55             55     55

Mode                  2                4             1              1      1
Max.                  7                4             6              2      3
Min.                  1                1             1              1      1
Median                2                3             1              1      1
Mean                2.3              2.6           1.9            1.3    1.3
Sample               27               19            16              8     18

"Competition for the same well prepared student...CS is more common term...makes marketing the CIS difficult."

In addition, other problems were also pointed out for the smooth operation of the program. First, many schools need more qualified faculty. Problems of part-time, inexperienced, and low-paid instructors were often addressed. Second, many mentioned the need for up-to-date equipment and software. Computer labs were not adequate. More monetary commitment by the administration was also requested.

Third, some said that the number of students, particularly in upper-level classes, were decreasing. Different experiences in computing by the students sometimes made it difficult to design the contents of some low-level classes. One response was about the poor mathematics background of the general students.

Other problems included the lack of publicity of the CIS program among students. An internship program was said to be difficult to implement due to the remote location of the school. Accreditation was also addressed as a problem, for it demanded major modification of the program.

D. Success Factors

When asked about what would be the success factors for a CIS program, most pointed out several of the following:

1. Qualified faculty - CIS faculty need to be experienced, and well trained both practically and academically. Active interaction with CIS practitioners was recommended.

2. Adequate facilities - Schools need a variety of computer equipment, which is up-to-date and sufficient. Computer labs must be equipped with advanced hardware and software.

3. Interdepartmental and administrative support - Equipment must be allowed to be shared. Related departments and personnel need to cooperate, even to the extent of offering classes jointly. Promotion of the program could be initiated by the administration.

4. Quality curriculum - The CIS curriculum must fit the industry needs, and be relevant to business by keeping it current with new technology. It must emphasize both information technology and management disciplines. Internships and coops are important. The curriculum must be periodically evaluated. PC-based curriculum was also voiced.

5. Marketing of the program - Students, via different channels, need to be informed of the application-oriented nature of the CIS program, in contrast with theory-oriented computer sciences. Program's targeting job titles and their trends also need to be communicated to the general students.

6. Lack of motivated students.
Table 6
Frequencies of CIS Courses(*)

Title                                                Core   Elective


Introduction to Computing                            32
Busines Software                                     19          8
Operating Systems                                    10          2
Computer Systems                                      9          2
Microcomputer Applications                            7          6
Software and Hardware Concept                         7          1
Software Engineering                                  4          2
DP fundamentals                                       4
Computer Architecture                                 2          6
OS and Architecture                                   2          6
AI                                                               6


COBOL I                                              43
COBOL II                                             25          1
Pascal                                               20          2
Data Structure                                       19          4
Assembly                                              8          7
BASIC                                                 8          4
Programming & Algorithm Development                   8
RPG                                                   7          2
Fundamentals of Programming                           7
File Processing                                       7
FORTRAN                                               5          5
System Programming                                    5          2
Advanced Programming                                  5
Structured Programming                                5
C                                                     4         10
Application Programming                               4          4
Logic & Documentation                                 3
Programming Languages                                            6


Systems Analysis                                     23
System Analysis & Design                             23
MIS                                                  21          2
Systems Design & Development                         18          2
Project                                              13          1
DSS & ES                                              7          5
Information Resource Management                       5          2
EDP Audit & Control                                   1          4


Database Management Systems                          28          3
Database Design                                      15          1
Database Applications                                 8          1
Advanced Database                                                3


Data Communications                                  12          7
IS Topic                                              8          3
Coop/Internship                                       5          4
Seminar                                               4          2
Computer Graphics                                                5

* Courses with less than 3 required or 3 electives were omitted.

E. Reasons For Not Offering CIS

Slightly over 20 percent responded that they did not offer CIS program at that time. However, many of those did offer a part of CIS courses including programming. The main reasons of not providing the program were lack of instructors and poor computer facilities.


A. Political Conflicts

The survey confirmed the reality of the political conflicts over housing, content, and operation of the CIS programs among the related departments in smaller high educational institutions. The underlying factors and detailed nature of such organizational stresses, however, need to be studied further.

Which department should own a brand-new program like CIS would raise an inevitable political stress in smaller institutions in allocating their relatively limited resources including faculty and financial means. Furthermore, the CIS program of itself is an interdisciplinary program; no rule articulates the program be located at any specific point along the program's technical-organizational continuum.
Table 7
Perceived Political Conflicts(*)

Department             Sample         Sample      Standard
                        Size           Mean         Error

Business                  26          .962        .198
CIS/MIS                   15          .600        .261
CS                        15          .533        .261

Overall                   56          .750        .135

* Ordered from 0 to 4; None to Extreme.
Table 8
Reasons For Not Offering CIS Program

Reasons                                       Relative Frequencies

Lack of interest by students                         11.1%
Lack of CIS instructors                              33.3
Poor facility, including lab                         22.2
Lack of support from school administration           18.5
CIS program not financially stable                   11.1
Other                                                  .4

Total                                               100.0%

More often than not, contention takes place between Business departments and Computer Science departments in smaller schools. A typical example is in operating computer literacy or low-level computer applications classes which generate the most student credit hours at most of the schools. In designing the CIS program, as the survey shows, Business departments have more management courses in lieu of some upper-level computer science courses than CS or CIS departments do.

Different nomenclature is also noticeable: Management Information Systems at business schools and Computer Information Systems at computer science or CIS department are dominant. Does this difference indicate the differences in CIS curriculum between the two? Or, simply an artful device to avoid the political confrontation? More theoretical question to be raised will be: What are MIS and CIS? Must we define them to bear different definitions?

At the same time, there has been an increasing number of separate CIS or MIS departments in smaller schools. These new departments, as the survey shows, offer more CIS courses that the other departments offering the same program. This may reflect the growing needs for the CIS program in those schools. For the majority of the smaller schools, however, independent CIS departments may not be realized until there will be enough number of CIS students to self-support the new department.

B. CIS Curriculum

In 1983, the ACM curriculum committee on information systems identified the unique nature of the CIS curriculum distinguished from that of the computer science, based upon which the committee deliberated on a model structure of the CIS curriculum. According to the model, there are three components: (1) CIS technology; (2) CIS concepts and processes; and (3) organization functions and management. Another model curriculum was released by the DPMA for the undergraduate CIS programs. The curriculum was designed to guide students in acquiring the foundation of knowledge and marketable skills that would qualify them for "entry-level positions as system analysts, programmer/analyst, application programmers, or information systems specialists." The DPMA model suggested eight core courses, 12 electives, and 9 business support courses.

The surveyed institutions as a whole were offering CIS courses more or less in line with the above suggested general curriculum structures. However, when looked closely, there were not a few programs which had a very limited number of required courses with none or several elective courses. Those programs were built mainly on programming plus introductory microcomputer applications courses. Of course, opposite cases with very rich and diverse program contents were not rare. However, smaller schools, by and large, need to enrich their CIS program via nourishing the existent classes as well as adding new courses especially in the areas of system design, database management and telecommunications.

We may be tempted to ask whether the CIS curriculum in those institutions should or can be standardized as in most larger institutions. Considering the limited student and instructor sizes, those schools may not easily fatten the program.


The survey reviewed the problems in running a CIS program in small colleges and universities. These problems include political contention among related departments, less diversified courses, ill-trained instructors, outdates facilities, and decreasing number of majoring students.

Support of the central school administration is essential for the success of the CIS program. As the survey responded, however, the administration often lacks understanding in the nature of CIS education. With the top administration promoting interdepartmental support, the CIS program will be more than successful. For example, a CIS class can be jointly instructed by Business and Computer Science departments.

Creation of a new CIS department may not be viable when student head counts are small. In those cases, the CIS program would be better housed in any of the established departments. Operational optimality of the program should be the bottom line in any case.

The CIS program should be enforced in terms of number of courses and course contents. Offering as few courses as possible and still covering the critical content areas is essential given the course load of the faculty. Focused selection of courses must be a crucial guideline. In other words, the diverse needs for the CIS courses needs to be narrowed down into a few so that the courses, even though limited in number, will be effective and satisfying the students' needs. Targeting a specific CIS job title may be a viable guideline.
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Title Annotation:Management Information System
Author:Kim, Jae W.
Date:Dec 22, 1993
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