Mike Bills, Ph.D. is a 2020 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.
Dr. Mike Bills at his Dissertation Defense.
From L-R: Dr. Jon Wergin, Committee Chair, Dr.Laurien Alexandre, Committee Member, Dr. Terrence MacTaggart, Committee Member
- Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
- Laurien Alexandre, Ph.D., Committee Member
- Terrence MacTaggart, Ph.D., Committee Member
Private college, Tuition dependence, Board of trustees, college presidents, alumni board members, decline, financial stress, turnaround, change, enrollment strategy, optimism bias, loss aversion, crisis leadership, structural deficit, case study
Even before the COVID-19 Pandemic, higher education has been facing unprecedented threats to existing business models. Small, private colleges heavily dependent on tuition revenue are particularly at risk. These at-risk small, private colleges need to make significant changes if they are to stave off decline and turn themselves around. Most of the literature on turnarounds of colleges and universities is focused primarily on the president, and is largely the reminiscences of former presidents. The board of trustees, however, is the ultimate governing authority of a college/university. If an at-risk institution needs to change in order to survive, the board must recognize and accept the need to change, and then use its authority to take the necessary actions. Private college boards, however, are not generally known for embracing change. This dissertation used comparative case study of three small, private colleges that successfully turned around to examine how their boards of trustees that oversaw and contributed to their decline became capable of overseeing and contributing to their turnaround. Each of the colleges studied had experienced at least three consecutive years of seven figure operating deficits followed by at least two consecutive years of seven figure operating surpluses. Semi-structured interviews with the presidents, board chairs, influential trustees, CFO’s, and other cabinet level staff members were done at each institution. The interview data were triangulated with Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) data, tax returns, audited financial statements, articles in the press, trustee bios, presidential speeches and writings, and legal filings. The current findings suggest that in the decline phase, boards of trustees suffer from problem blindness, loss aversion, and optimism bias. Turning around required hiring a president more similar to a corporate CEO than an academic, moving fast to cut expenses, and recruiting diverse board members open to change. Most importantly for board members, the findings revealed that there is no White Knight or One Big Idea that turned these colleges around. Each of them had operational deficiencies in nearly every area, all of which had to be remedied to turn the institutions around. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive, http://aura.antioch.edu/ and OhioLINK ETD Center, https://etd.ohiolink.edu/.
Bills, M. (2020). Turning Around Small, Private, Tuition Dependent Colleges: How Boards of Trustees Impact Decline and Turnaround. https://aura.antioch.edu/etds/573