Publication Date

Fall 2015

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Barbara Burch (Director), Kristin Wilson, and Joseph Cangemi

Degree Program

Educational Leadership Doctoral Program

Degree Type

Doctor of Education


Higher education institutions currently face a climate that can best be described as tumultuous. Funding cuts and increased external pressure and accountability are forcing institutions to evaluate the way in which they do business. Process improvement methodologies such as lean and Six Sigma have been successfully implemented in industry; colleges and universities are evaluating how these methodologies will fit into higher education. The central research question was: “What are the internal institutional barriers to persistence?” Lean principles served as the theoretical framework for this study. Lean principles rely on subject matter experts to evaluate the processes in which they are involved; these experts make and implement recommendations for continuous improvement. The purpose of this research was to better understand the situation, variation, and complexity of processes in community college admissions, financial aid, and advising departments and their impact on student persistence from the perspective of those who work closely in those environments. This study utilized subject matter experts to identify institutional barriers.

The study involved frontline community and technical college staff working in admissions, financial aid, and advising. A purposeful sampling grid was used to select participants from colleges in the comprehensive community and technical college system. Responses from the semi-structured interviews were recorded and transcribed. Data from the 10 participants were entered and coded. Interviews were synthesized and analyzed for patterns and themes.

Results were organized by the research questions and summarized in outline format. Only the most prominent findings are noted, including: (a) lack of cross training, (b) convenience barriers, (c) lack of standardized work, (d) territorial behaviors, and (e) customer service barriers. Lack of cross training resulted in the need for students to visit multiple departments in order to accomplish simple tasks. Convenience barriers included lack of evening and weekend hours and issues with the actual application. Lack of standardized policies and procedures across the college system particularly with transcripts and walk-in availability, presented a challenge for students in navigating the system. Customer service barriers affected the student experience through the lack of a point person and discouragement of hand holding


Education | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research