An Exploration of the Diffusion and Adoption of Four Innovations in Higher Education

Open Access
Derousie, Jason Charles
Graduate Program:
Higher Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 14, 2014
Committee Members:
  • John Jesse Cheslock, Dissertation Advisor
  • John Jesse Cheslock, Committee Chair
  • Liang Zhang, Committee Member
  • David R Johnson, Special Member
  • Michael John Dooris, Committee Member
  • higher education
  • diffusion of innovation
  • no loan
  • test optional
  • MOOC
  • common application
Higher education is at a crossroads; increasing tuition, declining government support, low graduation rates, and controversy over whether students are making gains during college, have led many to call for the sector to innovate or perish. The reality is that institutions of higher education constantly introduce innovative policies and programs to improve outcomes and improve efficiency. Most of these innovations never gain recognition beyond the confines of the campus where they were originally introduced, but others are adopted by additional institutions and eventually become widespread. This dissertation examines four innovations that have been introduced since the late 1960s: test optional admissions policies, membership in the Common Application Association, no loan financial aid policies, and massive open online courses (MOOCs). Through the lens of diffusion of innovation theory, factors related to diffusion and adoption in higher education are considered. Specifically, the study looks at: (1) what types of institutions have adopted each of these four innovations and at what rates they have been adopted; (2) what factors are related to adoption; and (3) what similarities and differences exist between the four innovations that influence the type of adopter, adoption rate, and ultimately whether an institution adopts. To explore these questions, the study utilizes analysis of descriptive statistics and discrete-time survival analysis on a longitudinal data set of more than 1,300 four-year public and private not-for-profit institutions. Findings of the descriptive analyses suggest that the attributes of the innovation are related to both the types of institutions that adopt and the rate of adoption, and that adoption is related to prestige and competition. Findings of the survival analysis suggest that while characteristics of the institution, the social network within which the institution functions, and the environmental context for the institution all matter, the specific factors that impact adoption within each area are not consistent across the four innovations. In general,though findings were mixed, characteristics related to increased prestige (higher tuition, age, greater selectivity) are related to having higher odds of adoption, though the effect size and significance differ by innovation. Additionally, similar institutions and institutions within similar geographic regions also have greater odds of adopting.