Stratified University Strategies: The Shaping of Institutional Legitimacy in a Global Perspective

Stensaker B., Lee J. J., Rhoades G., Ghosh S., Castiello-Gutierrez S., Vance H., ...More

JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION, vol.90, no.4, pp.539-562, 2019 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 90 Issue: 4
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/00221546.2018.1513306
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.539-562
  • Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University Affiliated: Yes


Globalizing forces have both transformed the higher education sector and made it increasingly homogenous. Growing similarities among universities have been attributed to isomorphic pressures to ensure and/or enhance legitimacy by imitating higher education institutions that are perceived as successful internationally, particularly universities that are highly ranked globally (Cantwell & Kauppinen, 2014; DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). In this study, we compared the strategic plans of 78 high-ranked, low-ranked, and unranked universities in 33 countries in 9 regions of the world. In analyzing the plans of these 78 universities, the study explored patterns of similarity and difference in universities' strategic positioning according to Suchman's (1995) 3 types of legitimacy: cognitive, pragmatic, and moral. We found evidence of stratified university strategies in a global higher education landscape that varied by institutional status. In offering a corrective to neoinstitutional theory, we suggest that patterns of globalization are mediated by status-based differences in aspirational behavior (Riesman, 1958) and "old institutional" forces (Stinchcombe, 1997) that contribute to differently situated universities pursuing new paths in seeking to build external legitimacy.