Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Morgridge College of Education, Higher Education

First Advisor

Frank A. Tuitt, Ed.D.


Adaptation, Land-grant institution, Social justice, Sustainability


Increasingly, colleges and universities in the United States are adapting toward a model of behavior that incorporates issues of sustainability. This adaptation in universities and in society has implications on the organizational and nation-state level, the very core of which may serve to reshape the social contract between the two. In addition to supplying a strong counter-hegemonic argument that alters the competitive economic agenda-setting paradigm, this study serves as a tripartite comparative case study analysis of university adaptation toward social sustainability. By employing a social capital lens to understanding social sustainability in higher education, this study seeks to examine the relationship between higher education, sustainability, and the nation-state.The conceptual framework of this analysis will draw on Putnam's concept of social capital, in the effort to understand the relationship between higher education, sustainability, and social capital as well as what a sustainability paradigm could mean in terms of a "new" social contract.

The methodology of this study is exploratory and aimed at understanding university adaptation in three ways: first, elements of organization and administration aimed at advancing sustainability; second, teaching and research efforts that have been established within a sustainability frame; and third, community and outreach efforts that examines the role of the university in its local environment as well as the work toward public service. The specific methodology employed can be categorized as comparative case study (Yin, 2003).

To validate findings, data is triangulated via a between-methods design and collected through: qualitative survey, contextual content analysis, and comparative discourse analysis respectively (Jaeger, 1988). The result is effectively a 3 x 3 mixed methods design so that each individual case study employs each of the three methodologies in order to provide a rich description of the social sustainability phenomena and offer data for comparative discourse analysis.

Findings reveal three distinct strands amongst the case studies in the analysis of sustainability discourse. Results show the importance of the role of, organizational context, personal approach of the chief sustainability agent, and organizational saga in contributing to adaptation. In this way, sustainability approaches and the priority and university adaptation differed. These three approaches can be described as: an energy/operations/facilities perspective, a research and academic-focused perspective, and a humanistic-grassroots approach.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Lyndsay Josephine Agans


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

245 p.


Higher education