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  • Policy and Performance in American Higher Education: An Examination of Cases across State Systems
  • Jeffrey W. Alstete
Richard Richardson Jr. and Mario Martinez. Policy and Performance in American Higher Education: An Examination of Cases across State Systems. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. 282 pp. Cloth: $45.00. ISBN: 978-0801891618.

State budget gaps, colleges closing, layoffs, program eliminations, increased costs, and other issues are severely impacting state higher education systems. It is increasingly important to examine the various policy approaches used and the results that are achieved in different states as public funding continues to challenge publicly supported colleges and universities.

Policy and Performance in American Higher Education provides a thorough case study investigation of five public state systems with a deliberate and well-crafted methodology that thoughtfully compares each system. The informative insights help expand a reader's understanding of the tremendous diversity in strategies utilized today. The five states selected are New Mexico, California, South Dakota, New York, and New Jersey.

Richard Richardson Jr. from New York University and Mario Martinez from the University of Nevada chose to use a systematic case study technique that provides an in-depth and compelling examination of these very complicated study subjects (state higher education systems). Because of the variety in state population demographics, public funding commitment, state government policies, historical state university development, and a host of other factors, it could be argued that a purely quantitative investigation of policy and performance among these endeavors would offer a less clear evaluation for readers. Therefore, the conceptual framework that the authors chose for this study effectively compares the state actors who oversee the systems, rules in use at the state level, the higher education institutional and system actors, and the interaction among these actors in the informal and formal arenas that are governed.

Some readers may find this book a bit more descriptive than critically analytical, and perhaps limited in value by the rapidly changing conditions in publicly supported higher education. Nevertheless, this book is truly an important work in the study approach used, states chosen for examination, and comparative results that offer additional perspectives on how public higher education can be established and implemented.

The first chapter sets up the framework for examining how state policies influence performance in higher education systems. They cite appropriate literature from previous research on this topic, followed by a look at theories and models used for studying policy. Readers who are already familiar with state policies on higher education may find it especially interesting to read the authors' carefully constructed framework for comparing state systems. In addition, readers who may be unfamiliar with state systems will be educated about federal and state contexts for rules in use, how they vary among the states, and how the assorted actors play important roles in establishing and executing policies.

Chapter 2 provides an informative exploration of each institution's regulations that the five case studies explore. It also includes several tables on comparative performances in key areas such as participation and completion rates, as well as state appropriations. While the reasons for selecting these five particular state systems may be open to debate, I found them well-chosen due to the variety of system types represented, complexities [End Page 175] of the state policies, population demographics, location, historical development, and general interestingness of the state efforts in overseeing higher education.

For example, the first state examined is New Mexico (Chapter 3). This state system serves a very diverse population that is geographically distributed and has elected policymakers who simultaneously seek more centralized authority while supporting higher education leaders' autonomy. The authors conclude that the rules in use in New Mexico affect the degree to which higher education plans and precedence are created and applied.

The New Mexico chapter presents evidence implying that the decentralized and autonomous composition of the higher education institutions in conjunction with fiscal policies has been very important. While conflicting policies, interests, and goals can negatively impact an institution, overall in this state, institutions have (at least until recently) achieved a tolerable financial condition when compared to other states.

In contrast is Chapter 4, the analysis of California, where performance results...


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