Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Higher Education (EdD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


Ketevan Mamiseishvili

Committee Member

Michael Miller

Second Committee Member

Michael Hevel


Education, Higher education, Institutional change, Liberal arts colleges, Organizational adaptation, Recession


Liberal arts colleges strived to adapt to environmental shifts at the turn of the twenty-first century and remain relevant in American society while the Great Recession of 2007 compounded their challenges and created new fiscal and enrollment burdens, which forced these institutions to confront paradigm-changing circumstances. In an effort to advance the historical perspective of liberal arts colleges and expand the organizational adaptation research base, the current study aimed to understand how private liberal arts colleges adapted during the Great Recession of 2007 by examining institutional changes at three private liberal arts colleges and their effects on the institutions' operations. To fulfill this purpose, the study was guided by four research questions that studied the nature of the environmental pressures during the recession, the adaptive strategies employed to combat pressures, the effects of those strategies on the institutions' operations, and institutional constituencies' perceptions of these strategies. This multiple-case study analyzed data from 3 liberal arts colleges located in the southeastern region of the United States, which included 30 participant interviews, public and private documents, and observational field notes. The findings were presented in 2 parts - a descriptive case record of each institution and a cross-case comparative analysis of the study's themes as they related to the study's research questions. The findings focused on the challenges of decreased endowments and increased enrollment pressures; described an array of institutional adaptive strategies implemented in areas of fiscal management, academics, athletics, personnel, fundraising, and enrollment; discussed the changing operations of the role of the board, administrative approaches to leadership and decision-making, and faculty involvement in organizational adaptation; and analyzed perceptions of change that linked organizational effectiveness to leadership and institutional identity. The study's themes were examined within the context of Cameron's (1984) and Birnbaum's (1988) organizational adaptation frameworks, which included the population ecology, life cycles, resource dependence, symbolic action, and cybernetics models. Finally, recommendations for future research, policy, and practice focused on issues of self-governance and institutional identity. The study's investigation of the modern liberal arts college adaptation highlighted the prominence of both the external environment and institutional factors in its story of survival.