A Framework for Institutional Turnaround at a Historically Black University

Ruby G Fielding, University of Pennsylvania


Many small private, non-profit liberal arts colleges and universities struggle to survive and thrive especially in the face of declining enrollment, increased competition, the demographic shift, little to no returns on endowments, and dwindling philanthropic support. These small colleges typically are four-year private institutions that admit fewer than 2,500 students who may be high or low academic achievers, frequently church-affiliated, and most likely to close. Enrollment decline or stagnant growth can signal an institution is headed for trouble. Not all institutions demonstrate the same indicators of trouble, but they do show common harmful patterns. For example, common indicators include 5% or greater declines in fall enrollment for three consecutive years; 50% deferred maintenance of plant and equipment; diminishing ratio of net worth (assets) to debt-load; placement on financial warning with the regional accreditor; to name a few. Albeit troubled historically black colleges and universities’ (HBCUs) warning indicators follow a pattern similar to their peer historically white institutions (HWIs), their distress is frequently exacerbated by historical perceptions, systemic racism, and more than a century of being underfunded. This study used qualitative research to examine the decline experienced by an HBCU and the strategies employed by its leaders to turnaround their institution. MacTaggart’s (2010) three-stage turnaround circle is used to assess the effectiveness of the strategies implemented to change the trajectory of the decline. This single case study revealed that the institution employed strong, competent leadership who was guided by meticulous strategic planning to stabilize the finances of the university and grow student enrollment by expanding and marketing new curricula, extra-curricular, and co-curricular programs. Once additional revenue was realized, its leaders implemented measures to rebrand the institution. However, many external (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic) and internal (e.g., organizational culture) environmental factors impacted the institution’s efforts to achieve the enduring transformational stage of the turnaround process. Policy makers, governing boards, presidents, and leadership should find the study useful in implementing turnaround strategies through the lens of HBCU leaders and the obstacles they encountered throughout their journey.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Fielding, Ruby G, "A Framework for Institutional Turnaround at a Historically Black University" (2022). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI29320084.