Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. John B. Nash


While total enrollment for Title IV universities in the United States has declined 4 percent from 2013-2018, overall online course enrollment has rapidly increased by 22 percent (National Center for Education Statistics, 2020). Not long ago, distance education had limited diffusion in universities and was considered a tertiary, experimental “add-on” to education (Burnette, 2015). Now, online learning is becoming a transformative power striking profound influence and change on all aspects of higher education (Otte & Benke, 2006). Beaudoin (2015) claims this may be the most crucial change impacting education since the printing press. This study explores the tasks, processes, and challenges for distance education administrators (DEAs) developing online programs at public universities.

This online enrollment growth is managed and sometimes attributed to DEAs responsible for the timely and quality delivery of online courses and programs. DEAs do this by directing tasks and orchestrating people from every level of the organization (Otte & Benke, 2006). DEAs may hold established titles like dean or vice-president, or newer titles like chief learning officer, vice-provost of online education, or director of distance education (Nworie et al., 2012; Shaw et al., 2018). Despite this rapid growth in online public universities and an increase in administrators managing this growth, there is a paucity of literature exploring the experiences of DEAs developing online programs.

In this study, I used explanatory case study methodology (Yin, 2018) to answer the research questions and provide rich descriptions of the process of change in developing new online programs at a public university. Data were collected from semi-structured interviews with seven administrators responsible for starting different online programs at a single university site. A conceptual change model was created to help guide the inquiry and create a priori themes for analysis. Four progressive change process themes were established in the data: infrastructure, initiate, implement, and institute. A variety of associated tasks with each theme were explored. Additionally, current and future challenges for DEAs were investigated.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)