Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Educational Leadership, Evaluation and Organizational Development

Degree Program

Educational Leadership and Organizational Development, PhD

Committee Chair

Gross, Jacob

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Alagaraja, Meera

Committee Member

Alagaraja, Meera

Committee Member

Cunningham, Henry

Committee Member

Hooper, Lisa

Author's Keywords

community engagement; engaged scholarship; institution-wide assessment; higher education; collective case study; grounded theory


This qualitative, collective case study is designed to examine the processes by which urban, metropolitan institutions determine the impact their community engagement has within the local community. The study addresses the lack of research on community engagement at the institutional level, the processes that track and coordinate engagement, as well as the perspectives of community partners in this work. Research is more developed regarding individual engagement activities and student learning outcomes than it is to institutional accountability structures or community impact. Studies that center the institution as the unit of analysis are needed to address these limitations in research and practice. A collective case study using grounded theory was designed to address the research question. The use of grounded theory aligns with the exploratory nature of the research, allowing for data from institutional contexts to inform an area of research with limited models and theories. Three institutions were selected as cases to provide comparative data. Multiple data sources informed each case. Data were collected over eight months, including a two-month pilot phase to revise interview protocols and planned implementation. Findings across cases indicate that institutional processes vary, and determining the extent and impact of their community engagement efforts at the local level are limited. Respondents in all cases noted pockets of high engagement activity, and in some cases subsequent assessment, but these levels vary in quantity and quality. The capacity to determine impact was cited up to the individual project, program, or course level. Respondents further suggested the ability to identify, track, and report these activities, creating an institutional narrative on a particular area of impact, was limited without greater institutionalization of engagement. Community representation and voice in institutional assessment processes were limited or not included, though community input at the unit level was cited across cases. Findings suggest that as institutional capacity for engagement and its assessment builds (i.e. institutionalization), systematic solicitation of community perceptions of impact may serve as a proxy for realized community outcomes. Findings further indicate that greater attention to community engagement assessment can support institutional relevance, productivity, and mission attainment. Conclusions and recommendations for research and practice are presented in the final chapter.