The dynamics of leadership and change at three small colleges

Michele Drabant Perkins, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation is a qualitative case study of three small, private colleges in New England: American International College, Franklin Pierce College, and New England College. Like many small colleges, these institutions are highly tuition dependent and vulnerable to shifts in enrollment trends or demographics, with no financial safety net in the form of endowment to protect them from the volatilities of the market. Each has experienced a financial crisis in the recent past, and has made changes in response to crisis that resulted in renewed stability and vitality for the institutions. This research sheds light on the following issues: (a) the differences in the approaches these colleges have taken in making change, (b) how presidential leadership style is critical in establishing and sustaining change, and (c) the impact that presidential leadership has on the interrelationship of key leadership constituencies (board, president, and faculty) in influencing an institution's willingness and ability to change. The study examines these three cases through the lens of leadership theory and organizational change literature and also examines how the types of leadership correlate with types and levels of organizational change. Thirty-nine interviews were conducted with representatives from the three leadership constituencies: boards of trustees, president/administration, and faculty. Data from college documents and observations were also used in the construction of the case studies. This research found that the president is key in establishing and sustaining positive change and that the successful president employs a transformational leadership style. Further, the successful president promulgates institutional vision, leading the institution to comprehensive, interpretive change on an incremental basis. Such leadership unifies the institution and leads to the state of synergistic power, where each leadership constituency enhances the power of the other, creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Subject Area

School administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Perkins, Michele Drabant, "The dynamics of leadership and change at three small colleges" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3255865.