Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Executive Leadership

First Supervisor

Dr. Guillermo Montes

Second Supervisor

Dr. Myra Henry


This study sought to add to the body of research on transparency in crisis communication messaging in a higher education setting through the lens of Coombs’ (1995) situational crisis communication theory. Using a mixed methods explanatory sequential experimental design, the study collected quantitative data via an experiment to determine how specific elements of a message might result in more positive perceptions of message and organizational trust, transparency, and reputation. Next, the study collected qualitative data through four focus groups to provide a deeper understanding of which elements of the message readers found most transparent and how it might have impacted their perceptions of organizational and message credibility. The online experiment (N=171) results found that there were no statistically significant differences in perceptions of trust, transparency, and organizational reputation across the three stimuli. A content analysis of the focus group transcripts suggests that participants preferred action-based information and instruction first, specific details and resources increase perceptions of transparency, and values-based language is most effective when it follows factual information. The study also discusses implications for crisis communication researchers and public relations practitioners in the field, including key takeaways. Perhaps the most impactful contribution to the field of crisis communication research is a model created by the researcher that aligns stakeholder communication needs to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, offering communicators a new guide for crafting crisis communication messages.

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