The Market Logic in Higher Education: The Changing Organizational Landscape at the Beginning of the 21st Century

Brown, Joshua, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Roksa, Josipa, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia

This project examines how universities respond to the market logic permeating the field of higher education by asking: “How and why did particular religious universities give greater attention to a market-based strategy of higher education at the beginning of the 21st century?” Each of the three papers in the dissertation employs an institutional logics framework to further understand how processes “inside” the university shape financial resources, organizational legitimacy, and institutional boundaries. The study uses mixed methods of analysis to examine four sources of organizational data—university magazines, presidential communiqués, in-person interviews, and IRS Form 990 tax records. The eight universities in the sample varied on the dimensions of religion (Catholic and Protestant) and enrollment growth (high, medium, low, and negative). Collectively, the findings of the three papers highlight that the presence of the market in higher education is more complex than present depictions suggest. The responses to market pressures varied notably across institutions as they developed distinct approaches toward resource acquisition (survival, sustainability, and profitability), legitimacy work (foundational legitimacy, relational legitimacy, and strategic legitimacy), and engagement with and negation of institutional logics (market, profession, religion, and state). While limited by an examination of specific institutions at a given point in time, this project illuminates the complex environment and varied responses of higher education institutions. The results highlight why and how present approaches in higher education and non-profit policy informed by a professional logic are limited in their ability to effectively engage university practices influenced by the market logic.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
market, higher education, institutional logics, religion, university, tuition-driven, organization theory, college
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