Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Higher Education

Committee Director

Chris R. Glass

Committee Member

Rachel S. White

Committee Member

Felecia E. Commodore


Over the last three decades, state governments have been challenged by financial recessions. With limited resources, it is not surprising that taxpayers demanded greater accountability over state funds, and neoliberalism, a political ideology that prefaces a strong economy and individual marketplace choices, spread. Scholars have argued that performance based funding (PBF) policies for higher education, which ties financial resources to specific metrics of achievement, is a result of that spread. In contemporary literature, scholars are examining the impacts of PBF and limitations, especially for community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions. Research on the PBF policy making process, however, has been limited, especially from a critical perspective.

From the Critical Theory research paradigm and a Critical Policy Analysis theoretical lens, this qualitative case study critically examined how policymakers approach their decisions on PBF and how they understand PBF. This study utilized Kingdon’s (1984) agenda setting theory and Stones’ (2012) approach to policy decision making to situate the nuances of policymaking. This case study (Merriam, 1998) included interviewing policymakers across five states and reviewing PBF policy-related documents. The final analysis presented four narratives and included a critical examination of issues related to power and equity.

In the findings, policymakers described themselves as influencers, who balance control over higher education in order to solve problems. They practiced decision-making under feelings of urgency and tension, but with clear goals for accountability and the economy. Interestingly, policymakers described PBF as a tool designed to be flexible in order to distribute resources based on specific performances, which can include equity. Neoliberalist-based words were frequently used in goal-setting decisions for education and institutions. In contrast, equity-based words were sparingly used. Policymakers felt PBF supports their state plans for a thriving economy and disclosed an active discussion on equity for underrepresented students. However, a gap existed between dialogue and practice. Though they were aware of policy feedback on equity-based concerns for institutional types, they revealed divergent views on whether or not institutions that serve underrepresented students deserve special protection. In these discussions, no policy alternatives were offered, but a policy window (Kingdon, 1984) may open.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).