Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Higher Education Administration

Major Professor

Norma T. Mertz

Committee Members

E. Grady Bogue, Shawn Spurgeon, Cynthia Fleming


College rankings such as US News & World Report (USNWR) are used as benchmarks for measuring quality in higher education (McManus-Howard, 2002). These ranking systems utilize traditional measures of academic excellence such as academic reputation, student selectivity, and financial resources, to assess institutional quality in higher education, which appear to disadvantage institutions with specialized missions such as historically Black colleges and universities. The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe indicators of the institutional quality of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as identified by administrators at four different HBCUs.

Data were collected from 12 in-depth interviews with administrators at two HBCUs in Tier I and two in Tier II of the 2010 USNWR HBCU rankings. Data were analyzed using an on-going inductive approach to identify patterns across interviews and by tier. Overall, it was found that the participants in this study were largely accepting of the six USNWR indicators for assessing the quality of HBCUs. This finding was unanticipated given that the existing literature strongly suggests a misalignment between the USNWR indicators and the traditional mission of HBCUs. Only one administrator rejected every indicator, choosing to substitute a different set of indicators.

Participants sought to modify several of the indicators to make them more consistent with the fundamental characteristics of HBCUs. They also offered additional criteria they felt described the unique qualities of HBCUs, and were currently absent from USNWR. When comparing the responses of administrators in Tier I and Tier II, there were no clear differences in their support for the USNWR indicators. However, administrators in Tier II offered more modifications and additions than administrators in Tier I, suggesting that Tier II administrators were less satisfied with the indicators as they are currently defined, than administrators in Tier I. At the very least, the aforementioned findings tend to raise questions about the ways in which the administrators in this study think about HBCU institutional quality. Implications for practice and recommendations for future research are discussed at the end of the study.

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