Towards an Understanding of an Institution: The Perceived Legitimacy of Online Business Degree Programs

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Keller, Roy Heath
Conjoint analysis; Institutional theory; Legitimacy; Online Business Programs; Online education
thesis / dissertation description
Organizational forms can become institutionalized in the sense that their existence and application is taken-for-granted and perceived as legitimate by stakeholders. Over time, new organizational forms can emerge that challenge perceived legitimacy of the established form. From this perspective, this dissertation examined institutionalization in the context of online business degree programs (OBDP) in higher education. Specifically, this dissertation examined OBDP as an emerging institutionalized form in relation to its cognitive legitimacy (taken-for-grantedness) and sociopolitical legitimacy (appropriateness) from the perspectives of four key stakeholder groups (students, faculty, academic administrators, and business practitioners). Survey results suggest that OBDPs are perceived as cognitively legitimate across each of the groups studied and socio-politically legitimate in each the four groups studied except for faculty. Furthermore, a conjoint experiment was conducted to determine the influence that four program related characteristics (accreditation, reputation, placement after graduation, and physical linkage) have on the legitimacy perceptions of OBDPs. Conjoint results indicate that each of the factors studied were significant predictors of legitimacy with accreditation being the most significant across each of the four groups. These findings provide a novel test of institutional theory as well as contributing to practice by offering strategic guidance to business schools either currently offering ODBPs or those planning to develop an online version of an existing program.