Preferred Name

Daniel Finseth

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Strategic Leadership Studies


Benjamin Selznick

Margaret Sloan

Thad Calabrese


In the face of declining enrollments and increasing accountability and expectations, private colleges and universities will be facing greater internal and external pressures to deliver higher quality education at a lower cost. In this environment, multiple stakeholders are focused on institutional sustainability. To address these concerns, it is important to understand whether there are leading indicators that may aid in the anticipation of institutional decline. While there is a body of work addressing institutional metrics that serve as predictors of higher education financial viability, there has been little emphasis on complex organizational dynamics. This integrated mixed methods study employed grounded theory to explore how higher education experts understand organizational vulnerability. To gain insight and develop theory, interviews were conducted with institutional leadership, policy makers, and other experts in the field of higher education. This allowed for development of a model which improves understanding of the complex factors that signal institutional decline. Concurrent with the qualitative study, a financial analysis indicator was evaluated to provide an assessment of institutional vulnerability for private colleges and universities. The objective was to use the predictor to identify at-risk institutions. The qualitative and quantitative portions of the study were combined using an iterative, equivalently driven, bidirectional process to address whether the vulnerability theory developed in the study could be used to explain the dynamics of the institutions with an at-risk predictor score. Implications and application of the research for private college and university stakeholders are discussed.



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