Organizational adaptations and network influences
Collier, Lauren Keller
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Liberal arts colleges produce positive learning outcomes relative to other sectors of higher education and yet they are often overlooked or dismissed as anachronistic or elitist in contemporary research. As market forces have come to govern higher education, liberal arts colleges have been pushed to compete to enroll undergraduate students. In response, literature suggests that colleges have formed consortia to help understand student demands in the ever-changing environment and determine effective responses. This mixed-method study examined college catalogs of the membership of the Associated Colleges of the South, a tightly affiliated network of sixteen selective colleges spanning the Southeast, to explore the student service and instructional program adaptations from 1985 through 2010. The adaptive behaviors were then deconstructed to evaluate network influences (Social Network Analysis) from college characteristics which may have enabled or constrained change (Quadratic Assignment Procedures). An observed convergence of program descriptions, personnel, and structures over time suggested that social learning processes occurred within the tightly affiliated network. Findings intimate that colleges used information from their most different peers to create niches in the competitive environment. Moreover, college actors utilized network information over and above college determinants in making adaptive decisions, especially during the peak of network utility between 2000 and 2005.