Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy





First Advisor

Ann M Gansemer-Topf


The marked decline in state funding for higher education and its harmful consequences for students and institutions have prompted several studies examining the determinants of state support for postsecondary education. Although this research has provided valuable insight into the role of various state-level socioeconomic, political, and higher education system factors, comparatively little is known about how state legislators’ personal attributes beyond political party influence their preferences and ultimate decisions about higher education funding. Furthermore, research on the effect of partisanship has not examined whether and how legislators from either party differ in their preferences and decisions about how funding is distributed based on institutional sector (two- or four-year institutions). Examining state funding for higher education across 48 states from 1999 to 2016 using within-between multilevel models, this study sought to fill these gaps in knowledge by investigating how legislator gender and legislative experience relate to overall levels of funding, as well as how legislator partisanship is associated with differences in funding by institutional sector.

The results ultimately provide evidence that the personal attributes of legislators may indeed influence their preferences and ultimate decisions about expenditures for higher education. Specifically, the results indicate that increases in the percentage of women legislators in majority parties are positively related to state funding for higher education, while increases in the average experience of legislators in lower legislative chambers are negatively related. Conversely, the results do not suggest that legislator partisanship, as operationalized by the percentage of Democrats within state legislatures, is related to the percentage of funding dedicated to four-year institutions relative to two-year institutions.

These findings have important implications for scholarship on the determinants of state fiscal support for higher education. For one, the results demonstrate the importance of future studies on this topic accounting for the personal attributes of legislators when constructing predictive models, as well as investigating how other personal attributes may influence policymakers’ funding preferences and decisions. This study also employed several novel methodological approaches to analyzing higher education funding that have either been rarely used or not used at all in prior research and could thus provide additional insight into the determinants of higher education funding. Furthermore, this study’s findings have important implications for practice, such as allowing colleges and universities to better predict and prepare for future levels of state support and potentially affording strategies that stakeholders can use to defend and promote the interests of higher education within state budgeting processes.


Copyright Owner

James Schiltz



File Format


File Size

191 pages