Teacher-Scholar: The Journal of the State Comprehensive University


Higher education institutions face growing challenges including declining state appropriations (State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, 2014), a decreasing number of high school graduates (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 2012), and increasing competition in the form of online and for-profit education providers (Bowen, 2013). State comprehensive universities (SCUs), as institutions often considered to be “stuck in the middle” between major research universities and smaller niche colleges, are particularly susceptible to these challenges (Henderson, 2009; Skinner & Miller, 2013). This has led many scholars to indicate that colleges and universities can no longer be all things to all people and that focused strategies are needed to ensure long-term viability (Selingo, 2013; Skinner & Miller, 2013). If dire warnings of an unsustainable future hold true, one might expect that colleges and universities would identify new operating models. However, many higher education institutions historically do not maintain strategies of seeking distinction, but instead emulate their most highly ranked peers (Christensen & Erving, 2011; Toma, 2012). This paper explores what strategic actions SCUs took during the recent recession and reasons for pursuing those strategies.