Measuring state postsecondary governance
Lacy, Thomas Austin
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In the U.S., all 50 states have some form of postsecondary governance structure, yet there exists substantial variation in the powers and authority these entities have over their public postsecondary institutions. In studying and characterizing these structural differences, postsecondary education researchers and policymakers have relied on the typology of “planning agency”, “coordinating board,” and “consolidated governing board,” a typology that has persisted largely unchanged since 1965. In utilizing this typology in empirical studies, researchers have consistently found that governance structures influence various policy outcomes. However, despite the usefulness of these categories, many have suggested that the typology does not capture the true heterogeneity between boards, theorizing that postsecondary governance structures lie on a continuum of centralization. This study addresses the shortcomings of the current typology through the use of a Bayesian latent variable model to place all states on a continuum of centralization. To measure this, the model uses 19 indicators, incorporating the existing typology and qualitative case studies as informed priors. Over the 25 year time period of 1985-2009, 25 qualitative pieces of information are systematically integrated into the measurement model. This new measure of centralization is then used in a predictive model that tests factors that influence states’ movements along this continuum of centralization. Though previous research finds political indicators as the primary influence on changes in state postsecondary governance, a predictive model using the refined measure suggests that, beyond politics, changes in state appropriations to higher education and changing state wealth are additional indicators that correlate importantly with changes in centralization. Taken as a whole, this study may point analysts towards new directions in a longstanding research tradition.