Community College Professional Staff Perceptions of and Challenges with Internal Organizational Communication



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The purpose of this qualitative collective case study was to explore the perceptions and experiences of community college professional staff employees with internal communication within their organization. This research explored the internal structure of community colleges in higher education, human communication, organizational communication, internal communication in higher education, the role of professional staff in higher education, and the importance of internal communication and employee communication responsibility. This qualitative study utilized a collective case study research design guided by a constructivist lens. The setting was a public two-year, rural-serving community college in the Southwestern United States, and participants included professional staff employed at the college. Data collection included semi-structured interviews and field notes. Analysis involved data organization, coding, creating themes, and the constant comparative method. Trustworthiness strategies included triangulation of data and the use of thick and rich descriptions. The results of this study indicated that participants valued internal communication and the different mediums through which it is delivered; however, participants were frustrated with the college’s use of mass communication. Participants also identified several barriers to communication including the college’s hierarchy, how communication flowed within the institution, and the college’s leadership. Results also indicated that participants were dissatisfied with internal communication due to the lack of input they were able to provide and perceptions of not being included in college communication. Finally, the participants had several recommendations on how to be a good communicator and avoid bad communication habits, how leadership could be more inclusive, and how employees can take more personal responsibility for internal communication. The results of this study suggest several implications and recommendations for higher education practice. The first implication is that the current system of distributing information is not effective, and employees will continue to ignore important information. Another implication is that institutions must extend communication outside of executive levels of administration or internal communication will no longer exist within the college. The final implication is that all employees must consider improving their own communication and learn how to become responsible for their own communication. Recommendations include examining the college’s organizational chart to determine if there are gaps between departments and divisions where communication might get lost. Another recommendation is for professional development at all levels of the organization in order for employees to have a better understanding of employee communication responsibility. Next, the college needs to assess the use of mass media, specifically internal e-mail use, so that employees do not suffer from information overload. Finally, college leadership should take accountability for low satisfaction with internal communication by taking actions and creating plans for improvement beginning at the executive level. Recommendations for future research include professional staff perceptions at other types of institutions such as public and private institutions. Future research should also explore perceptions from other employee types such as faculty, administration, and hourly staff. Qualitative research could utilize focus groups within departments or divisions to determine strengths and weaknesses in those areas. Additionally, there are multiple quantitative surveys that could be used to assess an overview of communication satisfaction in an organization. A mixed-methods approach could combine quantitative surveys with follow-up interviews or focus groups.



higher education, internal communication, professional staff