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

From Section:
Theories & Approaches
Jan. 03, 2013

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 115, No. 1, January 2013, p. 1-50.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines the political forces that have driven the development of performance funding in some states but not others.
The analysis of the political origins of state performance funding systems draws on three perspectives on policy origins: the advocacy coalition framework, the policy entrepreneurship perspective, and policy diffusion models.

Research Methods
To explore the political factors that led to the development of performance funding in some states but not in others, this study examined six states that established performance funding (Florida, Illinois, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington) and two that did not )California and Nevada).
These states differ considerably in their performance funding programs, higher education governance arrangements, and political and socioeconomic characteristics.

The analysis is based on interviews in each state and examination of public agency reports, newspaper articles, and the academic research literature on those states.
These sources include public agency reports, newspaper articles, and academic research studies in the form of books, journal articles, and doctoral dissertations.


The study found that many of the actors and motives cited by the prevailing perspective operated in the six states, 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 key advocacy 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 the effectiveness and efficiency of higher education.

The findings further move beyond the prevailing explanation by identifying features of the politics of performance funding that the prevailing perspective missed.

However, these features are highlighted by the application of the advocacy coalition framework, policy entrepreneurship perspective, and policy diffusion theory.
One feature is how the supporters of performance funding constituted advocacy coalitions that shared common beliefs and acted in concert.
Another is that those coalitions were constructed by policy entrepreneurs who found ideological common ground among different groups, identified policies that those groups could support, and took advantage of political openings to put performance funding onto the decision agenda of state elected officials.


This research indicates that performance funding is most likely to be established when it secures the support not only of state elected officials and, less so, of the business community, but also of higher education officials.
In five of the six states where it was established, higher education officials (particularly state board officials) were important supporters (and in four cases, the main policy entrepreneurs).

In conclusion, this examination of the origins of performance funding policies sheds light on factors that facilitate and frustrate the development of such policies.
For example, the 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.

The research also carries important implications for the policy theories on which it draws. When used together, the advocacy coalition, policy entrepreneurship, and policy diffusion perspectives powerfully illuminate key features of the political origins of performance funding in these eight states.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017
Accountability | Education policies | Higher education | Performance | Performance factors | Policymakers | Politics of education