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Organizational Culture and Brand Equity at Virginia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Open Access

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Colleges and universities are increasingly experiencing pressure to distinguish themselves in a competitive higher education marketplace. From their inception, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have navigated distinct challenges and perceptions in comparison to their historically White counterparts as a result of their distinctive missions, including disproportionate access to funding and resources, as well as challenges to their academic rigor. The purpose of this study is to understand perceptions of organizational culture and brand equity, and how those perceptions influence each other at four-year HBCUs in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Using the lens of the constructionist paradigm, the study focuses on staff, faculty, and student insights about culture and brand at each university, as reflected in their interactions with their respective institutions. This multi-site case study was conducted using multiple qualitative methods, including interviews, document analysis, and observation, which created a rich description of organizational culture at each institution and across the selected institutions. Schein’s (2016) Model of Organizational Culture, Keller’s (1993) Dimensions of Brand Knowledge, and Hatch & Schultz’s (2008) Vision-Culture-Image Alignment Model, were utilized to understand both organizational culture at Virginia’s four-year HBCUs and what connections exist between culture and institutional brand equity through the eyes of students, faculty, and key administrators.This study identified 10 themes to understand the culture of Virginia’s three HBCUs and the phenomenon of brand equity. Sense of history and identity, leadership and governance, strategic planning, and resource dependency emerged as themes that described organizational culture. Student characteristics, lack of quality recognition or recall, and perceived benefits shaped perceptions of brand equity. Finally, the relationship between students, faculty, and staff, relationship with community, and university brand roles surfaced as themes to capture the relationship between culture and brand at the three institutions. Through each of these themes, organizational culture and brand equity were highlighted and connected to emphasize how the three historically black institutions in this study could leverage their cultural identity and branding to manage and change external perceptions, both individually and collectively. This exploration of culture and brand revealed the importance of HBCUs taking control of their institutional narratives, while sustaining an organizational culture that supports students and is responsive to the community and the higher education marketplace long-term. The study also proposes recommendations for research, policy, and practice that better demonstrate the success that HBCUs achieve with students who have been traditionally underserved.

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