Higher Education in Transition: The Challenges of the New Millennium

By Joseph Losco; Brian L. Fife | Go to book overview
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4
The Higher Education Policy Arena: The Rise and Fall of a Community

Michael D. Parsons

The question of power and influence in the higher-education policy arena has received considerable scholarly attention over the past twenty years ( Cook, 1998; Finn, 1980; Heam, 1993; Gladieux and Wolanin, 1976; Parsons, 1997). Policy scholars have been troubled by the apparent contradictions in their findings. On the one hand, they find that the Washington-based higher-education associations are not powerful, while on the other hand they find that the associations are highly effective in achieving their policy goals. The source of this paradox resides in the methodological approach to power used by highereducation policy scholars (Parsons, forthcoming). Policy analysts and researchers start with a preconceived notion of power: for example, "A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do" (Dahl, 1957: 202-203). When the higher-education associations fail to conform to the preconceived definition of power, policy scholars conclude that the associations are weak and powerless. This approach has done little to advance our understanding of power and politics in the highereducation policy arena.

The purpose of this chapter is to examine the influence of the Washingtonbased higher-education associations. In the first section, the concept of foundations of power is introduced as a framework for policy analysis. The development of a communication community in the higher-education policy arena is discussed in the section that follows. In the third section, the events that caused the fracture and dissolution of the community are examined. The essay concludes with a discussion of the ability of the higher-education associations to influence federal higher-education policy as the millennium approaches.

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