Elizabeth Bell is an assistant professor of public administration in the political science department at Miami University in Ohio. Her research is at the intersection of public management and public policy with a substantive focus on education policy and social equity. Her research has appeared in Public Administration Review, Administration and Society, Education Finance and Policy, and a variety of well respected public forums such as Brookings Chalkboard and The Forum of the American Journal of Education.
Race, Ethnicity and Politics
Higher Education Policy
My research focuses on how the multiple actors across different sectors and levels of government wield power to shape the design, implementation, and effectiveness of policies and programs aimed at advancing equity in education.
Using a nation-wide survey experiment, I investigate variation in public support for affirmative action policies with randomly assigned target populations. The findings indicate that the public formulates policy preferences on the basis of perceived deservingness of target groups similar to political elites. In addition, the findings uncover significant variation across the ideological spectrum and across different racial/ethnic group identities in the conceptualization of deservingness.
This article brings theories of issue attention and prioritization to bureaucracy, focusing on how institutional factors affect bureaucracies’ prioritization of issues. Using quantitative survey data, we assess the impact of institutional factors on the prioritization of competing issues such as equity, accountability, and affordability in higher education. We find that these institutional factors significantly affect the prioritization choices of universities, beyond the influence of individual leadership traits.
The authors utilize the two latest ICMA Profile of Local Government Service Delivery Choices surveys to investigate whether the service provision and delivery arrangement information reported in the surveys accurately represents reality and, if not, what factors contribute to generating incorrect or unreliable survey responses. Interviews with practitioners are used to better understand both the accuracy of the survey responses and improvements that could be made to the survey instrument. Results suggest that the ICMA ASD survey data are highly erratic, with more than 70 percent of the cases (N = 70) investigated containing some inaccuracies. A qualitative analysis shows that the majority of the errors appear to be caused by the lack of a clear definition of service provision or by the service titles being too vague or too broad, both of which likely lead to discretion in interpreting survey questions and thus inconsistent answers by individual respondents over time.
In the wake of declining state support for higher education, many state leaders have adopted lottery earmark policies, which designate lottery revenue to higher education budgets as an alternative funding mechanism. However, despite the ubiquity of lottery earmarks for higher education, it remains unclear whether this new source of revenue serves to supplement or supplant state funding for higher education. In this manuscript, we estimate the impact of designating lottery earmark funding to higher education on state appropriations and state financial aid levels in a difference-in-differences design for the years 1990-2009. Main findings indicate that lottery earmark policies are associated with a 5% increase in higher education appropriations, and a 135% increase in merit-based financial aid. However, lottery earmarks are also associated with a decrease in need-based financial aid of approximately 12%. These findings have serious distributional implications that should be considered when state lawmakers adopt lottery earmark policies for higher education.
Lottery earmarks increase state higher education funding through appropriations and merit-based financial aid. At the same time, our findings demonstrate that lottery earmarks may worsen the situation for disadvantaged students by supplanting need-based financial aid. These dynamics are especially problematic in light of research revealing that merit-based aid exacerbates inequality while need-based aid helps alleviate existing inequality. Therefore, while lottery earmarks may be appealing to state lawmakers interested in addressing declining college affordability, the supplementary impacts of earmarks on appropriations and merit-based aid may be undermined if they come at the expense of funding for need-based aid.
After gathering all of the published, peer-reviewed research on the topic and combining it into one model, my colleagues and I have demonstrated that performance-based funding has, on average, zero impact on the number of students making it to graduation (Bell et al. forthcoming). To be clear, our findings do not indicate that every performance-based funding policy fails, but that the average performance-based funding policy has no impact on the number of students making it to graduation. So why does such an intuitive and well-intentioned policy so clearly fail to help students get to graduation? In answering this question, I address three areas where the underlying causal logic of these policies fail to align with reality. First, universities are not, as policymakers assume, only beholden to state lawmakers for funding. Second, universities are not, as policymakers assume, equal in their capacity to improve graduation rates. Third, financial incentives may not, as policymakers assume, be enough to impact complex outcomes like graduation and may lead to unintended consequences for equity and public service missions. Together, these unrealistic assumptions work to undermine the effectiveness of performance-based funding policies in higher education. I expand on each of these points in the sections below.
Why Performance-Based Funding Fails to Improve College Graduation Rates — And How States Can Do Better