Organizational Response for Survival: A Case Study in Higher Education

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Edward Kelly


Inflation, Applicant pools, Institutional failure, Revitalization, Financial decline, Adapt

Subject Categories

Educational Administration and Supervision


Since the late 1960's a growing number of institutions of higher education have been threatened by inflation and shrinking applicant pools. Many colleges, particularly private colleges are faltering under this threat. Previous studies of failing institutions have focused on the causes of institutional failure. This present study focuses on the survival efforts of a single institution, Cazenovia College, which closed due to financial exigency and has successfully reopened. The question of concern in this study was, How does an institution threatened to the point of closing by external and internal problems manage to revitalize itself?

Case study methods, using participant observation, interviews, and document review were chosen as the methodology best suited to the study. Interviews of participants were unstructured, asking them to relate their perceptions of Cazenovia relative to the college's failure and revitalization. In essence, this study is the participants' story often told through direct quotations.

Finally, the data has been used to formulate arguments concerning the college's failure and revitalization and to speculate on the relationship of Cazenovia's survival to other colleges and universities. It is my belief that many of the conclusions regarding Cazenovia will apply to other failing institutions; however, the credibility of that judgement remains untested.

The primary purpose of case studies is the formulation of hypotheses which can be tested through replication. This case study of survival produced the following hypotheses: (1) For small colleges to survive in periods of financial decline, they must adapt to their environment, which often means change. (2) For small colleges to survive they must have Boards highly committed to the institution. (3) When the failing conditions within an institution are not admitted by the Board and President, denial will occur among other college constituencies. (4) Liberal arts faculty resist the introduction of vocational programs for three possible reasons: the difficulty of individual change, what they believe to be a loss of status and respect as liberal arts faculty, and the difficulty of changing an established role. (5) For a failing institution to revitalize itself, some group must have a vested interest in the success of the college and also believe that they have the capacity to save the college. (6) For faltering colleges to survive in periods of decline, power and control will be centralized, probably in the office of the president. (7) In periods of affluence among colleges, the consensual model will show ascendancy and administratively strong presidents will be held in less esteem.


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