Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Wayne D. Lewis, Jr.


National research studies have indicated that students are enrolling in more online courses annually (Allen & Seaman, 2010, 2014, 2015); yet, not all higher education institutions are adopting online education. In order to understand more about adoption of online education in higher education and presidents’ perceptions of online education, this study investigated the adoption of online education by traditional liberal arts colleges(TLACs). These institutions and their presidents currently face numerous challenges and threats as TLACs try to remain relevant in the 21st century while maintaining their liberal arts mission. The importance of this study lies in the realization that many higher education institutions and leaders are making decisions about the adoption of online education while also examining if and how online education aligns with their existing environment, mission, culture, and curricula.

Drawing upon the diffusion of innovations theory as the framework for informing data collection, this study employed a two-phase, sequential mixed method design. Two research questions guided this study: 1) To what extent has online education been adopted at TLACs?; and 2) How do presidents at TLACs think about the adoption of online higher education in general, within traditional liberal arts institutions, and within their institutions specifically? In order to determine the level of online instructional education activity at each TLAC, the first phase was exploratory. The research sample for phase one of the study consisted of 55 TLACs that solely provided undergraduate curriculum in the arts and sciences. Major findings from phase one of the study indicated that more than half of TLACs (61.82%) did not have online education and did not offer any online courses. The remaining TLACs adopted online education either as fully online (16.36%) or hybrid (21.82%) courses. In the second phase, qualitative interviews with 11 TLAC presidents out of a population of 55 potential participants (20%) were conducted to understand how these administrators feel and think about the adoption of online education. Analyses of the TLAC presidential interviews resulted in three emergent themes: Apprehensions Regarding Online Education, Perceived Inferiority of Online Education, and Potential Opportunities From Online Education.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)