Mary Kinnick

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership: Postsecondary Education


Educational Leadership

Physical Description

1 online resource (4, viii, 326 p.)


College attendance -- United States, Small colleges -- United States, Private universities and colleges -- United States




Small private colleges represent a unique and important element of diversity within American higher education. Their small size, heavy dependence on tuition, and limited resources, have caused them to be repeatedly identified as singularly threatened with enrollment declines. Despite these predictions the evidence indicates that most of these colleges survived the 1980s and many thrived. This study had two major goals. The first was the characterization of institutions within the population during the 1980s with regards to environmental characteristics, institutional attributes and academic strategic actions. The second was the description of the relationships between these variables and enrollment changes in the 1980s. The population was composed of Liberal Arts I and II colleges with independent ownership and average Fall, 1980 enrollment between 100 and 1000. This study utilized data from two primary sources; a questionnaire distributed to academic officers, and several self-reported, public domain sources. The survey was distributed to all 294 institutions in the population with 219 returned (74% completion rate). Basic descriptive statistics were used to characterize the population. A list of statistically and substantively significant variables were identified using a set of criteria for causal inference. Factor analysis was utilized to develop factors from the significant variables and these factors were entered into a multiple regression model to explain variance in enrollment growth. These colleges were located in highly populated areas shared with many institutions offering two- and four-year degrees. Nearly three-fourths of the academic programs at these institutions were classified as liberal arts in 1989. The 1980s saw an increase in the number and proportion of professional programs and the number of programs for "non-traditional" students. These colleges added Associates and Masters degrees, and increased the number and proportion of graduate students. The selectivity of nearly 90% of these institutions was minimally or moderately difficult in 1989 and 84% were church-related. Two categories of environmental characteristics were related to enrollment changes in the 1980s. The first was the size of the immediate community, and the second was the level of local competition. Community size was the only environmental factor which substantively explains any of the variation in 1980s enrollment change. Four factors were identified which characterized the relationship of institutional attributes and enrollment changes in the 1980s. These factors were; the age of students, the balance of professional and liberal arts programs, and two variables related to institutional image. Collectively, three of the four factors explain ten percent of the variance in 1980s enrollment change. Eight factors characterized institutional actions influencing enrollments. These factors include adult programs and policies, institutional student selectivity, internal activities focused on traditional student pools, non-traditional student support and recruitment, non-traditional program development, changes in institutional policies (calendar and directed studies), addition of graduate programming, and increase in transfer students. Collectively, factors one, two, three, five, and eight explain over 30% of the variance in 1980s enrollment change. When all fourteen of these factors were entered into a multiple regression model, the six factors that loaded were; student selectivity, traditional student responses, nontraditional programming, transfer students, average student age, and community size. These factors explained nearly 35% of the variance in 1980s enrollment change. These findings indicate that the greatest influences on enrollment change in the 1980s were related to non-traditional students. Those institutions which showed increases in non-traditional programs, non-traditional students, and average student age, showed the greatest increase in enrollments. Those institutions located in rural regions and those which reported the use of more traditional institutional responses to enrollment challenges (e.g. freshman advising programs) showed lower enrollment gains. Finally, higher levels of student selectivity co varied significantly with enrollment rates.


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