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The Growth of Community Colleges in the American States: An Application of Count Models to Institutional Growth


by William R. Doyle & Alexander V. Gorbunov — 2011

Background/Context: The establishment of community colleges in the American states stands as one of the most unique features of our system of postsecondary education. Four possible explanations have been suggested for the growth of community colleges. An economic perspective argues that the development of community colleges came about as a result of increased demand. The sociological perspective argues that these institutions were developed as a result of broader social forces. The political science literature focuses on the role of lobbying and constituent demands. The organizational ecology literature suggests that community colleges fill a unique niche.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We seek to understand why certain states created large systems of community colleges, whereas other states developed few or none of these institutions.

Research Design: We test theories from the literature using a multilevel Poisson regression model, using Bayesian methods for estimation and inference.

Data Collection and Analysis: The data for this study come from a unique data set, compiled from a variety of sources of state-level data. The data cover all 50 states for the years 1969–2002. We estimate four models: a complete-pooling model with no unit-specific controls, a no-pooling model with controls for each state, a partial pooling model that allows state effects to vary, and a partial pooling model with a state-specific time trend.

Findings/Results: Our results indicate support for the idea that community colleges grew in response to changes in state populations and that states with a large number of other types of institutions of higher education saw slower growth. Little support is found for theories regarding community colleges as engines of stratification.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study provides support for the idea that the supply of higher education institutions is responsive to demand. Little support is found for the role of social stratification in the development of new institutions. Political forces do appear to play at least a small role in the expansion of institutions. Existing institutions may slow the growth of newer forms of postsecondary education.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 8, 2011, p. 1794-1826
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16174, Date Accessed: 7/29/2014 2:38:59 AM

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About the Author
  • William Doyle
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    WILLIAM R. DOYLE is an assistant professor of higher education in the department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. His research concerns the antecedents and outcomes of higher education policy at the federal and state levels. Prior to joining the faculty at Vanderbilt, he was Senior Policy Analyst at the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. His recent publications include a study of academic intensity on transfer rates to be published in Economics of Education Review, and a study of institutional aid to be published in Research in Higher Education.
  • Alexander Gorbunov
    Vanderbilt University
    ALEXANDER V. GORBUNOV is a doctoral student at the department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at Vanderbilt University and a research assistant at Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Mr. Gorbunov holds a Candidate of Pedagogical Sciences postgraduate degree from Buryat State University, Russia, and M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University. His research interests lie in the area of antecedents and impacts of state higher education policies. His publications include: 1) Hearn, J.C., & Gorbunov, A.V. (2005). Funding the core: Understanding the financial contexts of academic departments in the humanities. Tracking changes in the humanities (pp. 1-45). Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences; 2) Gorbunov, A.V. (2002). A course on decision making in the classical university. Vestnyk Buryatskogo Universiteta, 8(8), 84–93. Ulan-Ude, Russia: Buryat State University; and 3) Gorbunov, A.V. (2000). Written English: Textbook for students of departments of foreign language. Ulan-Ude, Russia: Buryat State University.
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