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Exploring the Role of Business-Led Advocacy Coalitions as a Strategy to Elevate Public Higher Education as a State Funding Priority Open Access

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The purpose of this study was to examine the ways in which business-led advocacy coalitions are developed, used, and maintained to advance higher education as a state budgetary priority; policy participants’ perceptions of the effectiveness of these coalitions in the state budget process, and factors that policy participants believe impede or facilitate business-led coalition advocacy on behalf of public higher education. To address these research questions, I employed a thematic analysis of qualitative data derived from interviews with policy participants and an analysis of documents in two states. Themes garnered from the data indicated that the coalitions arose as the result of state economic downturns. The coalitions established and advanced public agendas that linked state needs, higher education reform, and increased funding for higher education. Coalition leaders maintained these efforts by combining long- and short-term goals, keeping stakeholders abreast of their progress, and celebrating successes. Policy participants perceived the coalitions to be effective because of the credibility they derived from their independence, economic understanding, and leadership experience. The effectiveness of coalitions was enhanced through access to policymakers, experienced and respected staff, and a far-reaching vision for higher education. Coalition advocacy was facilitated by higher education leaders’ dedication to improved campus performance, the identification of a cadre of business leaders who understand and believe in the purposes of public higher education, and continuous communication between business leaders and higher education officials. Despite these efforts, many policy participants stated that budgetary constraints still play a major role in determining funding levels. The findings of the study signified that business-led advocacy coalitions can have a strong voice in making public higher education a state priority, but rely on a group of business leaders who believe in higher education, as well as a well-connected, experienced coalition staff that advances the coalition’s agenda. This study is relevant to higher education and political science because it adds to existing knowledge of the process in state higher education appropriations, provides clarity to the state-level political relationship between business and higher education, and offers new information on the role of state-level business coalition advocacy in higher education policy.

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