Date of Award

Spring 5-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Community College Leadership

Committee Director

Mitchell R. Williams

Committee Member

Heidi Fischer

Committee Member

Laura Smithers

Committee Member

Dean Roughton


Community colleges are important settings for the development of social capital as well as institutions of higher learning. The democratic mission, geographic dispersion, and close relationship with multiple stakeholders throughout their service regions allow community colleges to be well-suited to act as liaisons and social architects facilitating social capital creation. This is particularly true in rural areas, where community colleges are often among the largest employers and are major cultural and civic engagement centers. In an era of persistent budget reductions and fiscal tension, there is a need to better understand the multitude of ways rural community colleges support communities that are not captured by traditional enrollment funding formulas.

This study used a multiple case study methodology and a social capital lens to document the role and contributions of rural community colleges in creating community social capital. Data was collected through interviews, focus groups, and document analysis to better understand rural North Carolina community colleges’ efforts to develop community social capital and community partners’ perceptions of such programs. This study helps fill a gap in the community college literature related to the community-building function of rural institutions.

The findings of this study confirmed that community social capital is not consistently present in rural areas and that community engagement varies substantially among rural community colleges. Community partners’ perceptions of the role and effectiveness of community colleges varied in a pattern that correlated with partners’ understanding of the college mission. Partners who worked with colleges that exhibited extensive partnerships and community engagement were better versed in the comprehensive nature of the college’s mission. Similarly, leaders from the college who displayed a culture of community enrichment and civic duty were more confident in their institution’s effectiveness as an architect of community social capital. The study has implications for college leaders who want to expand community engagement efforts and attain the fiscal support needed to fulfill their comprehensive mission, an important consideration for college leaders who serve rural communities facing significant social and economic challenges.


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