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Community college distance education strategy: A multi-case study of strategic mental models and strategic choices

John Charles Adams, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The continuing rapid growth of post-secondary distance education (DE) poses strategic challenges for higher education institutions. This qualitative case study investigated two propositions regarding DE strategies at three Midwestern community colleges. First, each college's DE leaders used common strategic mental models (ways of thinking about key environmental issues and relationships). Second, DE leaders from the three colleges employed common industry-level mental models. This research also examined DE strategy formulation and implementation at the colleges. ^ DE leaders' mental models were more divergent at both college- and industry-levels than the propositions suggested. Reasons for these unexpected results were explored and revised propositions were developed. The three colleges did not develop formal DE strategic plans. Instead, their DE plans emerged from their experiences and the initiatives of faculty and administrators. Nonetheless, the three colleges' DE strategies focused on similar issues and opportunities. ^ DE leaders identified 57 factors in 14 categories that would influence the future of DE at their colleges. At the industry-level, there was moderate to high convergence in DE leaders' mental models regarding money and technology factors, and low to moderate convergence regarding: faculty issues; leadership and college commitment; and competition, marketing, image, and quality. These five categories included 72% of the factors, but there was considerable divergence among the factors in the last two categories. ^ Although there were numerous local variations, the three colleges developed and implemented DE strategies around eight common sets of issues. These included: leadership and organization; overall direction and objectives; courses, programs, delivery methods, and services; markets, customers, competitors, and marketing; instructional development, technical support, and faculty issues; finances; quality assurance and improvement; and partnerships. These issues were consistent with those identified by other DE scholars and practitioners. ^ In order to improve practice, this study recommends that leaders tailor DE goals and approaches to their institution's history, culture, and identity and emphasize planning that anticipates continuing changes in student expectations, technology, resource requirements, and the competitive environment. ^

Subject Area

Education, Community College|Education, Administration|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Adams, John Charles, "Community college distance education strategy: A multi-case study of strategic mental models and strategic choices" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3117795.