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Degree Name

EdD (Doctor of Education)


Educational Leadership

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Russell F. West

Committee Members

Anthony P. Cavender, Ronald A. Lindahl, W. Hal Knight


The evolutionary process of higher education in the United States has impacted how universities are perceived by their stakeholders. "Truth" emerges not as one objective view, but as a composite picture of how people perceive the university and each other. These constructed realities are critical to an institution's well being in that how an institution is viewed can impact its level of success. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the image of East Tennessee State University as perceived by select members of the internal academy and the external communities and to examine the extent of congruency between and within the two constituencies. Data were collected through focus groups and individual interviews. Transcripts were converted to text files and coded into categories. Inductive analysis revealed themes and patterns in the data.

The academy and community participants perceived that the university projects a strong, positive image regarding: (a) aesthetics, (b) affordability and accessibility, (c) opportunities for non-traditional students, (d) a highly visible medical school, (e) unique programs specific to the region, and (f) strong community partnerships. In addition, the administrative academy participants and the four communities highlighted the tradition of "Pride Week" and the strong leadership of the university. However, the lack of adequate funding and resources negatively impact the image of the institution. An incongruency is perceived by participants in one community served by the university in the areas of (a) regionalism, (b) academic excellence, (c) fiscal resources, and (d) outreach. Incongruency exists between the internal and external stakeholders concerning where they place their emphasis in developing an institutional image. The academy focuses on process; external constituencies focus more on outcomes and products.

As a result of this study, recommendations were made regarding: (a) enhancing the positive aspects of commuter students' college experience, (b) focusing resources on unique programming, (c) developing appropriate marketing strategies, (d) examining customer service, and (e) continuing university/community collaboration.

Exploring the image of the university from a gestalt perspective is important and significant, particularly at regional universities where campuses and communities have formed partnerships to conduct community-based research and collaboratively address problems of regional importance.

Document Type

Dissertation - restricted


Copyright by the authors.