Date of Award

December 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Committee Member

Joseph E. Stewart, Jr

Committee Member

Jeffret A. Fine

Committee Member

Lori A. Dickes

Committee Member

Kenneth L. Robinson


For years, higher education governance and the amount of state funding have been continuous issues in the state-institution relationship. Institutions want more funding and less state control over their activities. From the state’s perspective, legislators want to ensure that state resources are used wisely thereby creating governance structures to oversee higher education. The purpose of the current study is to examine whether the amount of control within the governance structure of a state affects state-level tuition at public 4-year institutions.

This dissertation employs a mixed-method approach, consisting of two parts: a linear regression model with tuition as the dependent variable and a case study using the method of difference framework comparing the higher education governance structures in South Carolina and North Carolina. Contrary to my hypothesis, I find no effect of governance structure on the level of tuition in a state. The fiscal variables in the model (per capita income, higher education enrollment, Medicaid spending per enrollee, corrections spending, highway spending and if a state has a lottery) are significant but in the opposite direction from the hypothesized relationship. Specifically, I find that as spending on higher education and preK-12 increases, tuition increases.

One important finding from my quantitative research concerns the tuition setting authority: if the legislature sets tuition, then average tuition is significantly lower in the state. In addition, the partisan composition of the legislature matters. When Democrats control the state legislature, tuition is significantly lower.

From my case study, I conclude that the organizational structure of the state higher education system matters with tuition levels. Several other factors that weigh heavily in the different tuition rates between the states is language in the North Carolina State Constitution and the appointment process for the different governance systems. The North Carolina State Constitution states that tuition should be “as free as practicable.” While tuition has never been free, this language has played prominently in debates over the tuition levels. The differences in the appointment process to the two governance systems also shape the role played by the different structures. In South Carolina, the governor appoints members, with advice and consent of the state Senate, while in North Carolina the State General Assembly elects the Board of Governors.

Taken together, this research shows that policymakers design systems that suit the needs of their respective states. Many differences exist between the state systems due to our federalist system of government and policymakers will continue to make changes to serve the educational needs of their citizens.



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