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Mission Statements: A Thematic Analysis of Rhetoric Across Institutional Type

Mission statements are ubiquitous in higher education. Accreditation agencies demand them, strategic planning is predicated on their formulation, and virtually every college and university has one available for review. Moreover, higher education institutions are constantly revisiting and revising their mission statements: as recently as the mid-1990s, the Association of American Colleges found that fully 80% of all colleges and universities were making major revisions in their mission statements, goals, curricula, and general education courses. It would seem that not having a mission statement begs the very legitimacy of a college or university. Of course, the crafting (and re-crafting) of such documents consumes considerable institutional resources, particularly that most precious resource: time. So, why bother? Some would argue that articulating a shared purpose is a requisite first step on the road to organizational success. Others are far less sanguine about such efforts and view them as rhetorical pyrotechnics—pretty to look at perhaps, but of little structural consequence. The purpose of this study is to begin an exploration of these hypotheses by first attempting to understand what institutions actually say in their missions and by exploring the relationship between these rhetorical elements and institutional type.