Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

John Saltmarsh

Second Advisor

Dwight E. Giles, Jr.

Third Advisor

Linda Silka


Institutions of higher education are seen by the public as having unique resources to identify and solve complex societal problems. Public universities, in particular, were originally established to be of service to communities and the nation to advance public good and solve problems. However, community engagement is not an easy task for universities, and many have moved their service missions from the core of the institution to the periphery. When universities recommit to their civic missions, it requires a shift in the culture that permeates the entire campus. Part of that culture includes research centers, which are ubiquitous at public research universities and have been seen as possessing characteristics that can propel an engagement mission. However, little is known about whether research centers contribute to the civic mission of the institution and if and how universities have leveraged them to foster institutional change.The purpose of this two-phase study was to 1) determine if research centers at public research universities are contributing to the community engagement mission, 2) identify the types and characteristics of research centers that contribute to that mission, and 3) discover the role, if any, of research centers in advancing institutionalization of community engagement. Change theory provides the theoretical foundation for this study. Phase I examined the characteristics of research centers that can propel an engagement mission at four engaged universities. A research center characteristic matrix was developed that can be used to identify the centers that are the most engaged and have the potential for the most power and influence to be effective in change processes to institutionalize engagement. Phase II was a case study of one university that included interviews with faculty and administration, and analysis of documents. Results indicate actualizing an engagement mission is challenged by lack of mission clarity, limited supports, declining budgets, the traditional culture of the academy, and the overarching tension between research and engagement. Centers face the same challenges and a lack of recognition, and they are used sparingly as role models to propel institutionalization. Implications for universities, research centers, and the Carnegie Engagement classification application process are explored.


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