Sociology ETDs

Publication Date



Laureate International Universities (LIU) embodies an emerging international phenomenon in which a multinational corporation (MNC) functions as a holding company that acquires and operates brick-and-mortar higher education institutions in a for-profit model; each individual portfolio institution granting degrees under its own name with any potential profits from each institutions operations flowing to the holding company after local expenses are paid. Organizational institutions theory outlines the desire to legitimize and achieve success prompts organizations to seek legitimating scripts beyond mere market dynamics; those factors and operating conditions that allow organizations to carry out their activities without undue scrutiny by members of society. This study employs a comparative sociological methodology to analyze patterns in the way LIU has sought operational legitimacy as a new social object in two nations in Latin America, specifically Mexico and Ecuador. Forty interviews with professional, government, and alumni participants in Mexico and Ecuador were conducted. Print and digital archival material and statistical data from UNESCO, the World Bank, and the governing education divisions of Mexico and Ecuador were also analyzed. Striking similarities were discovered in LIU's legitimation patterns in the cases, despite the countries embracing different development policies over the study period between 2000 — 2011. Three factors are vital to explaining LIU's legitimation in the cases analyzed: (1) acquiring and retaining state regulatory authority through purchasing existing local institutions; (2) advertising techniques that emphasize progressive norms and global connectivity, and (3) the transcendent global convergence of credentialing as a social norm which provides an uniquely conducive environment for this organization's activities across varied geopolitical contexts.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Fiala, Robert

Second Committee Member

Tiano, Susan

Third Committee Member

Thomas, Douglas


Organizations, Legitimation, Strategy, Sociology, Latin America



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