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Accounting For Higher Education Accountability: Political Origins of State Performance Funding for Higher Education


by Kevin J. Dougherty, Rebecca S. Natow, Rachel Hare Bork, Sosanya M. Jones & Blanca E. Vega — 2013

Background/Context: Performance funding finances public higher education institutions based on outcomes such as retention, course and degree completion, and job placement rather than inputs such as enrollments. One of the mysteries of state performance funding for higher education is that despite great interest in it for over 30 years, only half of all states have ever adopted it.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study examines the political forces that have driven the development of performance funding in some states but not others. To do this, the authors draw on theories of policy origins such as the advocacy coalition framework, the policy entrepreneurship perspective, and policy diffusion theory.

Research Design: This study contrasts the experiences of six states that established performance funding for higher education (Florida, Illinois, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington) and two that have not (California and Nevada). These states differ considerably in their performance funding programs, higher education governance arrangements, and political and socioeconomic characteristics.

Data Collection and Analysis: Our study is qualitative, drawing on documentary records and extensive interviews with higher education officials, legislators and staff, governors and advisors, business leaders, and other actors.

Findings and Results: Our study finds that many of the actors and motives cited by the prevailing perspective on the origins of performance funding did operate in the six states that have established performance funding, including state legislators (particularly Republicans), governors, and business people pursuing performance funding in the name of greater effectiveness and efficiency for higher education. However, the prevailing perspective misses the major role of state higher education coordinating boards and individual higher education institutions (particularly community colleges) that pursued performance funding to secure new funds in an era of greater tax resistance and criticism of higher education. Our findings further move beyond the prevailing explanation by examining how policy entrepreneurs mobilized support for performance funding by finding ideological common ground among different groups, identifying policies that those groups could support, and taking advantage of political openings to put performance funding onto the decision agenda of state elected officials.

Conclusions and Recommendations: This examination of the origins of performance funding policies sheds light on factors that facilitate and frustrate the development of such policies. For example, our research highlights the important role of higher education opposition and the presence of certain political structures and political values in frustrating the development of performance funding.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 1, 2013, p. 1-50
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16741, Date Accessed: 7/23/2014 12:01:46 PM

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About the Author
  • Kevin Dougherty
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    KEVIN J. DOUGHERTY is associate professor and senior research associate, Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. His research interests include community colleges, performance accountability in education, the social determinants of inequality of higher education opportunity, immigration and educational opportunity, and the role of higher education in economic development.
  • Rebecca Natow
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    REBECCA S. NATOW is a doctoral candidate in the Higher and Postsecondary Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is also a research associate at the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include the politics surrounding the creation and implementation of higher education policy at the federal and state levels.
  • Rachel Bork
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    RACHEL HARE BORK is a research associate at the Community College Research Center and a Ph.D. candidate in politics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include community colleges, federal youth policy, college readiness, and urban politics and policy.
  • Sosanya Jones
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    SOSANYA M. JONES is a doctoral candidate in the Higher and Postsecondary Education program and a senior research assistant at the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include diversity leadership, transition programs, and minority student retention.
  • Blanca Vega
    Teachers College, Columbia University, and Marymount Manhattan College
    BLANCA E. VEGA is a doctoral candidate in the Higher and Postsecondary Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Marymount Manhattan College. Her research interests include racial conflict in higher education, racial dynamics in state political culture and their effects on higher education policy, and policies that affect the education of undocumented immigrant students.
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