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The Politics of Performance Funding for Higher Education

, 272 pages
April 2015



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The Politics of Performance Funding for Higher Education

Origins, Discontinuations, and Transformations


Performance funding ties state support of colleges and universities directly to institutional performance on specific outcomes, including retention, number of credits accrued, graduation, and job placement. The theory is that introducing market-like forces will prod institutions to become more efficient and effective. In The Politics of Performance Funding for Higher Education, Kevin J. Dougherty and Rebecca S. Natow explore the sometimes puzzling evolution of this mode of funding higher education. Drawing on an eight-state study of performance funding in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, Dougherty and Natow shed light on the social and political factors affecting the origins, evolution, and demise of these programs. Their findings uncover patterns of frequent adoption, discontinuation, and re-adoption.

Of the thirty-six states that have ever adopted performance funding, two-thirds discontinued it, although many of those later re-adopted it. Even when performance funding programs persist over time, they can undergo considerable changes in both the amount of state funding and in the indicators used to allocate funding. Yet performance funding continues to attract interest from federal and state officials, state policy associations, and major foundations as a way of improving educational outcomes.

The authors explore the various forces, actors, and motives behind the adoption, discontinuation, and transformation of performance funding programs. They compare U.S. programs to international models, and they gauge the likely future of performance funding, given the volatility of the political forces driving it. Aimed at educators, sociologists, political scientists, and policy makers, this book will be hailed as the definitive assessment of the origins and evolution of performance funding.

Kevin J. Dougherty is an associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center. He is the author of The Contradictory College: The Conflicting Origins, Impacts, and Futures of the Community College. Rebecca S. Natow is a postdoctoral research associate with the Community College Research Center at Teachers College.

"Performance funding for higher education is an increasingly popular tool for states that are seeking to hold their college and university systems accountable in their use of public resources. And yet there has been little scholarly research, besides descriptive briefs, of why, how, and with what impacts states have chosen to implement performance funding schemes, and why they have so often failed. This important volume fills that void by examining the history of performance funding, how it has been implemented, and what impact it has had. It contains important lessons for policy makers who believe that performance funding is the silver bullet of higher education accountability."

"Performance funding is a commonly touted answer to one of the most important questions facing our nation’s higher education system: How can we effectively raise overall higher education attainment—and close persisting gaps in attainment across groups—in the context of finite fiscal resources? With its in-depth examination of the forces contributing to the origins, evolution, and discontinuation of performance funding in particular states, this book offers useful insights into the past, present, and future role of this potential policy lever."

"Kevin J. Dougherty and Rebecca S. Natow provide us with a comprehensive review of performance funding in action based on intensive case studies of eight states that have enacted it. I know of no other higher education policy study that is as deeply researched, as thoughtfully constructed, or as informative as this one. This impressive work will be regarded as a landmark in higher education policy studies—and it will surely also serve as an important source for those engaged in designing future state higher education reforms."

"The 'definitive assessment' of performance funding in higher education..."

"An in-depth study of an important topic...enlightening and very thorough."

"The Politics of Performance Funding for Higher Education: Origins, Discontinuations, and Transformations is the most comprehensive volume on the current state of performance funding in higher education."

" The Politics of Performance Funding for Higher Education clearly articulates the origins, implications, and life cycles of performance-based funding as a complex function of higher education finance that is here to stay."

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