Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education (PhD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


Michael T. Miller

Committee Member

McCray, Suzanne

Second Committee Member

Murry, Jr., John W.


leadership transition, university presidents, university chancellors, alumni associations


The purpose of the research was to understand how alumni executives make decisions and formulate communication strategies during university leadership change. The research was based on the trends found by the American Council on Education that the tenure of the college president has been on the decline since 2006 and is currently 5.9 years. Multiple factors have been identified in the literature that have led to this decline. The research focused on the largest constituency of most universities, its alumni base, and provides context and a description of decision making and communication strategies for alumni executives navigating leadership change. The research used interpretive phenomenology to understand the experiences of six Chief Alumni Officers (CAO) at public very high research universities from across the country. Interviews were conducted with each participant, and interpretive phenomenological analysis was used to analyze the data. The research identified that Chief Alumni Officers must first think through the context of the presidential departure or hire to appropriately manage the process with alumni. Next, building valued relationships of respect with colleagues and alumni empowers CAOs to make decisions during the change. Third, messaging to alumni is very important and builds upon the direction of university communication by understanding the best ways to share messages that resonate with alumni. Fourth, university leadership change often involves a wide variety of reactions from alumni and there is no one, single alumni voice. CAOs have to be prepared to accept and manage feedback in an authentic way that values alumni voices and supports staff feelings. Finally, the greatest success for alumni executives to make decisions and communicate effectively is through access to the president in which the insights are valued and balanced to the mutual success of all involved. The research provided a clearer understanding of the processes that take place for an external facing department during a presidential change. The findings generated a number of opportunities for future research to support more successful leadership transitions in the future. The study also included several recommendations for navigating the process from a high-level perspective that if heeded and implemented may support presidents in managing at least one key constituency in a time in which the position faces more demands and scrutiny than ever before.