Date Available


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Year of Publication


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Beth Goldstein

Second Advisor

Dr. Willis Jones


Community colleges constitute a special type of higher education organization: their complex mission, dynamics, personnel structures, and values require a distinct set of understandings and skills to lead and manage them well. Most of the research on leadership in community colleges focuses on leaders in positions of power (presidents, provosts, etc.) and not on grassroots or bottom-up leadership. Bottom-up leaders are individuals who perpetuate change without having the backing of a formal position of authority to do so. Recent leadership research validates the importance of having change agents at all levels of an organization in order to further the mission of the institution.

This dissertation consists of three primary parts: (1) a technical report written by a three-person research team representing a synthesis of the collaborative research findings on the various leadership pathways that exist in the community college and the factors that influence individuals to engage in leadership efforts; (2) an individual research study on the perspectives of grassroots leaders who have engaged in informal change initiatives at a community college; and (3) an extension of the individual research study that discusses institutional attributes, properties, and/or conditions that foster and encourage grassroots organization.

Individual, in-depth interviews were conducted in order to identify strategies grassroots leaders used to influence top-down leadership and the major obstacles they faced. The conversational nature of these interviews allowed for two-way interactions that lent themselves to a greater understanding of the subjects’ experiences, thoughts, and motives. This study provides a greater focus on understanding the motivations, tactics, obstacles, and sources of resiliency that grassroots leaders use to affect change. The findings indicate that a variety of personal and professional influences affect a grassroots leader’s decision to engage in leadership efforts, that grassroots leaders tailor their tactics and strategies to fit the situation, and that resiliency is essential to the success of their engagement. Finally, this study makes several recommendations administrators can use to promote grassroots leadership on their campuses.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)