Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Educational Leadership


Marion, Russ

Committee Member

Cawthon , Tony

Committee Member

Havice , Pam

Committee Member

Spearman , Mindy


College admissions is a highly-competitive, business-oriented, and collaborative profession where women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions. A study is needed of the barriers that have the potential to hinder the advancement of women in this unique and challenging field, as well as the opportunities and approaches to leadership that may lead to their success. The southeast region of the U.S. was chosen for this study because it is an area where women have been successful in advancing into leadership roles in admissions. The primary research question was: How do female chief admissions officers describe their lived leadership experiences? The secondary research questions delved into the leadership journeys of the women and their current leadership experiences. A review of the literature identified a number of relevant studies concerning the career development and obstacles to advancement of female leaders as well as issues related to the current roles/responsibilities and challenges of chief admissions officers. The researcher conducted this review and the overall investigation with a critical and feminist theoretical orientation.
Using the methodical structure outlined by van Manen (1990), the researcher conducted a phenomenological study. Six participants from public master's and research institutions in the southeast U.S. were selected for the study through purposive sampling and then interviewed at their institutions. The data that was collected from the interviews was analyzed and coded according to a holistic and line-by-line approach (van Manen, 1990). The following eight themes emerged that described the essence of the leadership experience of the participants: (1) Entering the Profession, (2) Sucked In, (3) Mentors, (4) Chipping Away at the Big Issues, (5) Balancing, (6) Like a Roller Coaster, (7) Leadership as a Social Process, and (8) Creating Positive Outcomes.
The findings reveal that the leadership experience of female chief admissions officers is characterized by their adaptation to elements of the traditional bureaucratic organization as well as their development of a relational style of leadership that is built upon social interaction and positive outcomes. Their experience is also impacted by relationships with mentors and the complex world of admissions in which they function. A data display was developed to illustrate the interplay between these components of the phenomenon. The researcher offered a critical and feminist interpretation of the results and presented recommendations for practice and further study that may help other women attain a presence and succeed in the male-dominated world of leadership.