Assessment and Rankings Efforts: The Effect on Institutional and Program-Level Change Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Schmitt, Stephanie A.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Public Policy
  • This dissertation considers the effects of national rankings, specifically the 2010 National Research Council (NRC)'s Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs, on higher education institutions' behavior. National research studies of graduate education require significant resources and data, yet it is uncertain how universities make substantive, transformational changes based on participation in such quality rankings studies or their results. The dissertation provides quantitative survey results complemented by qualitative case studies to describe responses and various institutional changes that occurred as a result of the NRC study. Evolutionary change and higher education assessment theories support the assertion that incremental changes occur most commonly within institutions regardless of the external pressures from quality rankings studies. This dissertation shows that quality studies such as the NRC can influence decision-making and improvement efforts when universities embark on change processes under serious deliberation with strong leadership and appropriate support resources. The degree of learning and organizational change depends on the perceived validity of the study, feasibility of accompanying data collection and analysis processes, and underlying value and use of the study results. This research will be significant for university administrators, the general public, and policymakers. University leaders and decision-makers can engage in efforts to see how peer institutions treat the rankings and engage in improvement opportunities. They can also determine whether their own institutions could manage large assessment efforts in more effective manners. Policymakers will be interested in the results because if all the funds, time, and effort spent on rankings projects result in minimal substantive action on campuses, they may wish to revamp the projects to make them more amenable to continuous improvement processes. Private market implications for obtaining necessary research and student data are discussed as ways to meet public and governmental demands for accountability, assessment, and quality control of higher education. This work will contribute to the body of knowledge about rankings and assessment studies, particularly reviewing how they serve as information instruments to influence change and decision-making. This dissertation hopefully provides insight into policy tools, institutional structures, and processes to contribute to long-standing improvement in doctoral education in the United States.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Feldman, Maryann
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

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