Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Graduate School


Public Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Eugenia Toma


Public higher education is a large enterprise in the United States. Total state expenditures for higher education totaled nearly $152 billion dollars in FY2008, accounting for over ten percent of total state expenditures and representing the single largest category of discretionary spending in most states (NASBO, 2009). The last three decades have witnessed the introduction of hundreds of pieces of legislation across states which make structural changes to state higher education governance systems (Marcus, 1997; McLendon, Deaton, and Hearn, 2007). Despite the ubiquity of state higher education governance change much remains unknown, both in terms of why states choose to enact reforms as well as the implications of state governance arrangements for institutional performance.

This dissertation attempts to fill these critical gaps in knowledge. First, it surveys the historical development of state higher education governance structures and reviews the limited empirical literature regarding the antecedents and impacts of various state approaches to higher education management. Drawing on this literature, the first empirical chapter, utilizing hazard modeling, seeks to uncover the factors associated with state enactment of legislation decentralizing higher education governance. It finds that state fiscal characteristics emerge as strong predictors of decentralization. Specifically, states with greater tax efforts are much less likely to decentralize, while states experiencing real dollar declines in tax revenues are much more likely to decentralize, all else constant.

The second empirical chapter explores the implications of state management of public higher education for institutional degree completion rates. Utilizing a unique, institutional-level dataset comprising 518 public, four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, it finds that, controlling for relevant institutional-level characteristics such as institutional selectivity, mission, and per-FTE student expenditures, inter-institutional competition emerges as a powerful predictor of student degree completion. Institutions operating in more competitive environments—defined as states with less concentrated undergraduate enrollments and states with weaker higher education governance structures—graduate students at higher rates than institutions operating in less competitive environments. The dissertation concludes by discussing the implications for these empirical findings for policy makers seeking to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of public higher education.



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