Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


What Attracts Students To A Small, Private University?

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Ashutosh Sohoni (Other)

Third Advisor

Mark Early (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Bonnie Tiell (Committee Member)


Few research studies have examined reasons why students choose to attend small, private universities, and even fewer have captured the selection criteria of the students in a qualitative manner (Carr, 2012; Pampaloni, 2010). This study sought to identify reasons why students chose a small, private university, particularly students who chose not to participate in intercollegiate athletes or performing arts.

Using a qualitative framework, the researcher conducted 26 semi-structured, in-person student interviews. The findings of this study contribute to the scholarly literature on the topic of enrollment management at private universities in terms of insight and strategies that can increase university enrollment. The researcher sought to explore students’ opinions about factors that were important to them in selecting their institution of choice.

Ten primary themes emerged from the interviews: (1) Aspects of affordability and scholarships were important for attending Surreal University (SU). (2) The ability to participate not only in athletics or performing arts programs but also in other activities was significant to attend SU. (3) Academic programs were cited by 20 of the 26 students as very important in their selection process. (4) Students cited the importance of internships that are built into the curriculum at SU. (5) Proximity to the university was important to students. (6) All but 2 of the 26 students interviewed began their college search via the university’s website. (7) Students indicated that the university’s offering of dual enrollment programs at local high schools was important. (8) Students cited local proximity to SU as a reason for their choice primarily because of name recognition and familiarity. (9) Students noted that campus visits contributed to their choosing SU. (10) Finally, students were excited to be able to take part in the study-abroad opportunity or in the university’s honor programs.

Given the current outlook for private higher educational institutions in terms of projected decreases in college-age students during the next decade, understanding why students select one institution over another is a valuable tool (a) for determining how and where to invest scarce resources and (b) staying on top of current trends related to the college selection process. Specifically focused on small private institutions that have low to moderately low endowment levels and are very tuition driven in terms of how the institution meets its operational budget goals. This study will enhance previous models for enrollment leaders regarding the importance of creating an enrollment plan based on research of the current student body.