Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Nancy Mansberger

Second Advisor

Jessaca Spybrook

Third Advisor

Paul Farber


Institutional theory, organizational language, Educational Leadership, Quantitative Content Analysis, legitimacy, isomorphism


According to institutional theory, organizations in complex fields like education seek legitimacy by aligning formal descriptions of their activities to institutional rules supported by regulators, professional groups and exemplar organizations. This study presents a new technique for measuring isomorphism and the strength of institutional forces within fields using quantitative content analysis of organizational language. This method is deployed to measure alignment between the formal descriptions of 321 university-based programs for educational leaders and themes from the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (i.e., technology, finance, research, and learning) and the influence of state licensure policy and professional affiliation in the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA).

The results of this study are mixed. Essentially all programs mention the learning and research themes, signaling the usefulness of institutional theory as an explanatory framework. On the other hand, technology is mentioned by relatively few programs. Counter to institutional theory’s expectations, exemplar organizations (i.e., UCEA members) mention technology less often and state policy had no significant impact. These findings raise questions about the behavior and impact of exemplar organizations regarding new rules in fields. Data suggests that once an organization’s legitimacy becomes inertial, it reduces extraneous organizational language and becomes amorphous, perhaps to alleviate the cost of decoupling language from practice or because aligning to new themes represents more of a risk to legitimacy than a benefit.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access