Program expansion as an adaptive strategy: Case studies of three specialized institutions

Tamara Anne Rozhon, University of Pennsylvania


This study explored why and how specialized institutions seek to expand their curricular offerings. Specialized institutions occupy a unique niche in the higher education marketplace, but like all colleges and universities they are subject to changes in the environment that necessitate a response. This study explores program expansion, defined here as an increase in the number and type of degrees offered and viewed as an adaptive strategy. Through case studies of two institutions and drawing upon Sporn's seven propositions for a theory of adaptation as its framework, the drivers, strategy, decision making process, implementation process, and effects of program expansion are analyzed. The case study institutions, Alliant International University and the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, have pursued different strategies that resulted in program expansion. Alliant International University expanded programs through an acquisition. The Pacific Graduate School of Psychology expanded programs through partnerships. The author's own experience at The Chicago School, a, specialized institution that underwent program expansion by adding new degree programs on its own, is explored as a third example. Adaptation at specialized institutions is affected by (a) a sense of impermanence fueled in part by financial instability, (b) a quest for legitimacy within the higher education marketplace, (c) openness to the environment, (d) businesslike decision making, and (e) strong presidential influence. In addition, the author found that adaptive strategies at specialized institutions are more readily accepted by internal constituents if the strategy requires incremental rather than abrupt movement away from the institution's core identity as a specialized institution. The study also found that program expansion at specialized institutions had a transformative effect on the institution. Some of the factors present at the case study institutions are also present in other categories of institution. Therefore the findings have relevance beyond specialized institutions. These include a highly focused mission, tuition dependency, financial vulnerability, new leadership, a desire for increased legitimacy or greater prestige in the higher education marketplace, and business-like decision making. Modifications to Sporn's (1999b) theory of adaptation are recommended in order to better reflect adaptation at specialized institutions that underwent program expansion.

Subject Area

School administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Rozhon, Tamara Anne, "Program expansion as an adaptive strategy: Case studies of three specialized institutions" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3310492.