Powerful or Powerless? Chief Online Education Officers’ Legitimate Power over Online Program Quality in U.S. Higher Education Institutions

Georgianna Laws


As the online higher-education market continues along its trajectory of steady growth, it becomes increasingly competitive.  Since quality sets online programs apart in the current competitive market, it is a priority for higher-education institutions.  Consequently, presidents and provosts at many U.S. higher education institutions have been placing the quality of online program administration under the purview of a new role known under the umbrella term of chief online education officer (COEO).  However, when looking for empirical research to help calibrate the COEO role in a way that maximizes its influence on quality, senior leaders find a gap in the literature.  The purpose of this quantitative, correlative, non-experimental study was to ask COEOs from all over the nation to use the Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard (QSC) to share their perceptions of the quality of their institution’s online program.  Additionally, COEOs were asked to self-assess their ability to influence quality based on their legitimate power and to describe environmental factors that could potentially impact their legitimate power.  Key findings indicate a strong, positive correlation between overall legitimate power and overall quality, as well as between overall legitimate power and the hierarchy of COEO job titles (E1).  Additional environmental factors significantly correlated with legitimate power categories included the number of units making a full report to the COEO (E3) and the breadth of COEO’s current portfolio of responsibilities (E12), among others.  Finally, data indicate that the hardest quality category to influence is technical support.


chief online education officers, higher education leadership, online program, quality assurance, Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard, legitimate power, environmental factors, United States of America.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v25i2.2101

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