Stories of Politics and Policy: Florida's Higher Education Governance Reorganization

Article excerpt

It might be best to consider the organization of state-level systems of higher education in the United States as a continuing experiment. Scholars who recount the development of public higher education in the states generally agree that structures to increase control of state systems grew along with public higher education after World War II. Yet, even then, the structures took several different forms. Further, specific details of the division of authority and responsibilities and the mechanics of operation differed from one state to the next, and in many states the structure of governance became the occasional center of debate and reform. More recently, the suggestion is that new structures are needed to cope with new environmental conditions that include constricted state resources, globalization, increasing competition from for-profit education providers, the rapid development of information technology, and the quest for market orientation and "customer-centered" operations. However, states seem to stagger in different directions; some opt for more centralized organizations while others attempt to decentralize their systems. Changes in state governance structures seem more likely to reflect the unique contexts of the history and the current pressures of each state and may well be the result of the vagaries of the political processes in each state (Leslie & Novak, 2003).

Thus, detailed studies of specific state's governance changes can make important contributions to our explanations and understandings of how and why changes occur. This study specifically examines recent changes in the structure of state-level governance for universities in Florida. From 2000 to 2002, the state developed and enacted a new arrangement that placed all education, from kindergarten to graduate school, in one system under the Florida Board of Education. The sector experiencing the greatest change in the process was the State University System, in which the single governing board, the Board of Regents, was replaced with boards of trustees at each of the universities. The change and the process by which it occurred were widely reported and received national attention, in large part because observers considered the proposed structure innovative, particularly when attempted at the scale of a state as large as Florida. Further, the political aspects of the change were highlighted, perhaps obscuring other components of and rationales for the changes undertaken. This study investigates why the reorganization took place and examines three distinct narratives that explain the processes of and the reasons for the structural changes. None of the three narratives presents a complete description and rationale for the governance change, but together they suggest a broad set of intentions and influences that surround higher education structural change as it rose to the forefront of the public policy agenda.

Literature

Three specific sets of literature help set the framework for examining the recent governance change in Florida higher education. One is literature on state structures in higher education; another is literature on narrative and stories in policy making; the third is current literature on theories of punctuated policy change and the related matter of policy agenda setting.

State Structures in Higher Education

The evolution of state public higher education systems has been marked by several decades of enormous growth in the mid-twentieth century. The management of that growth led to the need for coordination of the development of institutions as well as to mechanisms to protect higher education from inappropriate political interference (Berdahl, 1971; Glenny, 1959). However, multiple governance patterns persisted over time, with the most common categorization scheme distinguishing (a) statewide governing boards responsible for all operations in public institutions, (b) statewide coordinating boards providing central oversight to multiple institutional governing boards, and (c) state planning boards with little authority for statewide coordination (McGuinness, 1999). …