Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Jay Dee

Second Advisor

J. Keith Motley

Third Advisor

Samuel D. Museus


The lack of equitable educational outcomes for students of color continues to be a glaring problem for community colleges. Community colleges are challenged to find solutions to address long-standing achievement gaps. One institutional response has been to implement high impact practices (HIPs) as a means to improve persistence, retention, and graduation rates for all students. HIPs, however, have produced mixed results in terms of enhancing student success, and evidence suggests that students of color participate in fewer HIPs and thus receive less benefit from them. This study considers the proposition that students of color may decide not to participate in HIPs, or may not derive benefit from the HIPs in which they participate, if these practices are implemented in an organizational culture that does not value diversity. The purpose of this study was to understand how community colleges can foster learning environments that promote success for all students where the educational benefits of diversity are valued, equitable outcomes for students are facilitated, and traditionally underrepresented and underserved groups are empowered.

This multi-site case study, using critical theory and culturally-engaging organizational culture concepts, examined the complexities of organizational culture at the perspectives of racially and ethnically diverse students. Study findings suggest that students of color at these colleges perceived the organizational culture as welcoming and valuing students, but also focusing on efficiency via enrollment and retention strategies. Diversity was understood primarily in structural and strategic terms. Furthermore, students described instances where diversity was engaged through a deficit lens that included fear of diversity. While the students described their colleges and faculty positively, they also discussed events and actions that revealed a cultural misalignment between organizational culture and the students’ own definitions of success. Fear of diversity resonated in the classroom and in interpersonal relationships with faculty and peers. Diversity was not infused in the curriculum. Recommendations for colleges are presented to foster intentional questioning of how organizational cultures are enacted and to promote equitable practices that align with diverse students’ definitions of success.