Conditioning Role of State Higher Education Governance Structures

Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Finance; Postsecondary Governance and Structures
Author(s): Tandberg, David
Organization(s): Florida State University
Publication: Journal of Higher Education
Season: Summer 2013

Several states have reformed postsecondary governance by adjusting the powers and duties of state and system boards. A state's approach to higher education governance impacts the cost of higher education in a state, the amount of money that states appropriate to public higher education, and the adoption of other finance and accountability policies. This article provides an empirical assessment of the effect of consolidated governing boards on appropriations patterns and trends.

To assess whether the presence of a state consolidated governing board alters the impact that various political factors have on state appropriations.


The Effect of Consolidated Governing Board

  • Statewide governing boards serve as a buffer limiting institutions' ability to effectively advocate for themselves.  When institutions funnel their appropriations requests through the consolidated governing board, the sum lobbying effort may be significantly less than if every institution was able to advocate for itself.  Additionally, when an elected official hears from a central governing board rather than an institutional representative, the elected official may be less inclined to support the appropriations request.
  • The effect that characteristics of both the legislative and executive branches have on state budgeting is magnified by the presence of the consolidated governing board.  Governors with increased budgetary powers will utilize those powers to constrain their states' efforts in regard to higher education.  However, in the absence of a statewide governing board, institutions are better able to lobby the governor and turn him or her to their side. 
  • Consolidating governing boards magnify the effect of legislative professionalism.  With a consolidated governing board present, an increase of $1,000 in legislative salary results in over a 4% increase in state appropriations for higher education.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
How Do Statewide Governing Boards Condition Political Behavior?
  • The study's findings support the notion that statewide higher education governance structures buffer political actors from the constant lobbying of higher education institutions and interest groups.  However, these boards also appear to increase significantly the influence that legislatures and governors have on state higher education budgeting.
  • States that have a statewide governing board and professional legislature tend to support higher state appropriations, at least when compared to states that lack these variables.  The author speculates that professional legislators take better advantage of the board's expertise and analytical capacity, and, therefore, have a better understanding of the interaction between higher education finance on one end and tax revenue and personal income on the other.  

The Complex Relationship between Politics and Governance

  • The results support the notion that political factors and governance structures matter, as all political variables but one has a statistically significant impact in at least one of the four statistical models.  States should study the interaction effect between politics and governance to understand the implications of both on state appropriations.  Evaluating one in isolation of the other could skew results.
  • Importantly, this interaction effect could lead to different results in specific policy areas.  For example, the political and governance variables could support the adoption of new accountability mechanisms but that does not mean that willingness to hold institutions accountable is in any way correlated to political support for higher funding levels.
  • A limitation of the data is the difficulty in separating the effects of political and governance variables.  For instance, states with a Republican-controlled legislature and a statewide governing board might operate quite differently from a state with the same board structure but a different political culture. 

The research study can be accessed by following the web link (subscription required): http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/journal_of_higher_education/v084/84.4.tandberg.pdf.

Research Design:
The article analyzes all 50 states from 1976 to 2004 using panel data and fixed efforts for both state and year. The study uses political, demographic, and socioeconomic variables to create four models. The first model measures the impact of political variables. The other models add interaction terms, such as legislative professionalism, governor's party, and percent college enrollment, to evaluate the intervening effect of governing boards on over 25 state-specific variables.

State appropriations and personal income data retrieved from the Illinois State University Grapevine Project and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Data on legislative professionalism and budget powers from Council of State Governments' Book of the States. Remainder of data found in National Center for Education Statistics' Digest of Education Statistics.

Year data is from:
1976 to 2004


Data Collection and Analysis:
This study employs variables that measure aspects of the political, socioeconomic, and higher education environments in the fifty states from 1976 to 2004. The dependent variable is state appropriations per $1,000 of personal income. Other variables include: (1) presence of a consolidated governing board; (2) legislative professionalism, as measured by legislator salary; (3) percent of citizens enrolled in higher education; and (4) party of governor and legislature.


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