Theories of the policy process and higher education reform in Colorado

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Theories of the policy process and higher education reform in Colorado the shaping of the first state postsecondary education voucher system
Protopsaltis, Spiros
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xiv, 639 leaves : ; 28 cm


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Public universities and colleges -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Higher education and state -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Education, Higher -- Finance -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Educational vouchers -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Education, Higher -- Finance ( fast )
Educational vouchers ( fast )
Higher education and state ( fast )
Public universities and colleges ( fast )
Colorado ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 586-639).
General Note:
School of Public Affairs
Statement of Responsibility:
by Spiros Protopsaltis.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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263685071 ( OCLC )
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Full Text
Spiros Protopsaltis
B.A., Northeastern University, 1998
M.S., New School University, 2000
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Public Affairs

2008 by Spiros Protopsaltis
All rights reserved.

This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Spiros Protopsaltis
has been approved by
Peter deLeon
Linda deLeon
Paul Teske

Protopsaltis, Spiros (Ph.D., Public Affairs)
Theories of the Policy Process and Higher Education Reform in Colorado: The
Shaping of the First State Postsecondary Education Voucher System
Thesis directed by Professor Peter deLeon
During recent years, a market-driven orientation has characterized several public
sector, and higher education, reform initiatives nationwide. In May 2004, Colorado
became the first state in the nation to enact a system of college vouchers. Despite
the significant scholarly research spurred by higher education reform, an important
gap exists in the research that examines its political context in terms of the policy
process. This thesis presents a case study of the policy process that led to this
policy change, seeking to examine the extent to which existing policy process
theories help explain higher education reform. Through 26 interviews, as well as
media and archival analysis, this dissertation focuses on the stages of policy
initiation, formulation, estimation and adoption, and employs an interpretive
approach, with a dual emphasis on understanding and explanation.
The college voucher proposal emerged as a solution in search of a problem shortly
after the 1998 elections, when Republicans gained control of both the Governors

office and the State Legislature for the first time since 1974. Following the change
in administration, the policy entrepreneur engaged in doctrinal coupling. A small,
highly integrated network allowed for the rapid gestation of an old idea through a
convergent evolutionary process of policy development. A second exogenous shock
- the economic downturn in 2002 and the dramatic cuts to state funding for higher
education, combined with the effects of Colorados Taxpayers Bill of Rights
(TABOR) opened a second policy window in the problems stream that enabled
consequential coupling and the emergence of the enterprise status solution, favored
by higher education institutions, which had developed incrementally within the
policy subsystem. The amended version offered the possibility of tuition increases
above the TABOR-allowed caps and also included modified voucher eligibility for
private institutions, which enhanced its political benefits and ideological appeal.
The lineup of coalitions shifted, due to organizational welfare concerns and the
proponents successful framing.
This thesis generates amendments for the future consideration of scholars and
demonstrates that policy process theories can shed light on the complexities that
have been overlooked in the existing literature and contribute to our understanding
of educational policymaking.

This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Peter deLeon

I dedicate this thesis to my grandfather, Spiros Protopsaltis, who taught me essential
lessons early in life, and to my family for their unconditional support.

I am deeply and forever grateful to my advisor, Professor Peter deLeon, for being
my mentor. His sincere and uninterrupted guidance, advice, encouragement,
support, patience and contributions have been invaluable throughout my doctoral
studies. He is a true educator and outstanding scholar. I also wish to thank the
members of my committee Professors Linda deLeon, Paul Teske and Nikolaos
Zahariadis, and Dr. Andy Hartman for their helpful and constructive input and
suggestions, assistance, as well as their precious time. Finally, I would like to thank
the numerous, if unnamed, interviewees for sharing their views, insights and
experiences, as well as the Bell Policy Center, and especially Dr. Hartman, for the
opportunity to pursue my interest in higher education policy, which initiated this

1. INTRODUCTION...............................................1
Privatization in Public Higher Education................7
The Debate Over Market-Driven Reform in Higher Education.19
Higher Education Reform in Colorado....................27
Research Goals and Questions.....................31
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE..................................36
Research on Higher Education Reform....................37
Theoretical Perspectives of the Policy Process.........45
Multiple Streams Framework.......................49
Punctuated Equilibrium Theory....................65
Advocacy Coalition Framework.....................75
Differences & Similarities.......................84
3. RESEARCH DESIGN...........................................91
A Multiple Lens Approach...............................91

Research Strategy..........................................101
Data Collection.....................................109
Data Analysis.......................................119
4. CONTEXT........................................................127
Historical Development of American Public Higher Education... 127
State Involvement in Public Higher Education........135
Public Higher Education in Colorado........................139
The Colorado Commission on Higher Education................145
Colorados Shifting Political Context and its Implications for
Higher Education...........................................154
Policy Context.............................................164
Performance-Based Funding & Reporting...............164
The College Voucher Concept in Colorado.............169
Comprehensive Review of Higher Education: The First
Financial Aid and Tuition Pricing Study.............182
Comprehensive Review of Higher Education: The
NORED Report........................................188
National Reports....................................204
2001 Legislative Session...........................205

Higher Education Master Plan........................208
Fiscal Context and the Effects of TABOR..................213
The Governors Blue Ribbon Panel on Higher Education
for the 21st Century.....................................224
College Voucher Legislation..........................227
5. THE COMING OF VOUCHERS IN COLORADO...........................236
A New Age for Colorado Public Higher Education.........236
From Advocate to Watchdog............................237
Agent of Change......................................245
Control through Politicization.......................262
A Tenuous Relationship...............................273
A Paradigm Change........................................280
A Market-Based Orientation...........................280
The Blue Ribbon Panel................................296
An Access Tool.......................................309
... Or a Privatization Tool?.........................318
A Personal Agenda....................................328
A Constituency of Support..........................332
Terminology & Information............................338
The Perfect Storm........................................346
Price Control........................................346

Strange Bedfellows..............................351
Solution to a Problem..............................372
The Final Stage.........................................380
A Unified Front....................................389
Passage and Enactment..............................412
Policy Windows and Coupling..............................417
Policy Incrementalism vs. Punctuation....................429
Policy Entrepreneur......................................438
Policy Subsystem.........................................448
Coalition and Belief and Stability......................456
7. FINAL OBSERVATIONS..........................................478
Theoretic Implications...................................481
Implications for Higher Education Research...............496
Last Thoughts............................................503
8. POSTSCRIPT..................................................504

Colorado Public Higher Education after Senate Bill 189.505
Colorados Political Context Shifting (Again).508
Searching for Funding.........................513
Implications for the Future of Colorado Public Higher
A. INTERVIEW PROTOCOL..............................538
B. INTERVIEW REQUEST...............................542
C. INTERVIEW CONSENT...............................545
D. TIMELINE OF EVENTS..............................548

3.1 Propositions.........................................................101
3.2 Distribution of interviewees by position.............................115
4.1 Chronology of Colorado higher education events.......................235
6.1 Summary of the policy process theories explanatory capacity.........472

In the fall of 2005, as part of a major higher education reform initiative, Colorado
became the first state in the nation to implement a voucher1 program for funding its
system of higher education. The vouchers were the culmination of a reform effort
initiated in the summer of 2001, when Governor Bill Owens created a Blue Ribbon
Panel to examine several issues, among them alternative funding structures and
ways to increase college access. The panel was part of reform efforts in higher
education for increased competition and efficiency and a consumer-focused market-
driven approach to higher education that characterized the Owens administrations
policy initiatives since it took office in 1999.
In addition to vouchers, the enabling legislation, Senate Bill 189 of 2004, also
established performance contracts and fee-for-service contracts, and enabled public
1 According to Jongbloed and Koelman (2000), in a voucher scheme for funding education, Instead
of the government allocating subsidies directly to the providers of education, the government is
channeling the subsidies through the consumers (p. 10). While some authors (e.g., West [1996])
include direct government payments to institutions, in their definition of a voucher system, such as
enrollment-based funding, the term voucher in this thesis refers only to indirect government
payments to educational institutions through students, as a form of demand-side funding. Thus,
individual students are receiving government subsidies either in terms of real money, or in terms
of entitlements to a given amount of education to be spent at the educational institution of their
choice and student choice drives the funding (Jongbloed & Koelman, 2000, p. 10).

higher education institutions to become designated state-owned enterprises.
Overall, this legislation fundamentally redesigned Colorados long-standing higher
education governance and finance systems and redefined the relationship between
the State and its public higher education institutions (Henley, 2004). This infusion
of so-called market values and mechanisms altered the traditional character of the
public higher education system as a state-funded public good, marking a
significant departure from the status quo. The deliberate inclusion of private
institutions of higher education, while limited in scope, demonstrates clearly the
normative underpinnings and orientation of this major policy change.
Although Colorados higher education reform is radical, in recent years several
states have explored, and even enacted, higher education governance and finance
proposals for market-oriented reform, including deregulation, decentralization and
privatization. Similar to the reform trends in public management and other areas of
public policy during the past two decades that have been based on neoclassical
economic ideology and private management ideology [and] have prescribed
privatization, deregulation, market competition, and commercialization (Olsen,
2006, p. 6), these states have been experiencing a renewed interest in market-driven
initiatives in a world of markets where public and private funding is mixed
(Learning Alliance, 2006, p. 42). This is true at the federal level as well, as

evidenced by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings appointment of a
National Commission for the Future of Higher Education.
As the states share of funding for public higher education has been decreasing for
more than a decade, and pressures for performance-based accountability and market
competitiveness have been increasing, America is privatizing her public higher
education institutions (Lyall & Sell, 2006, p. 6) and slowly eroding, or even
breaking, the social compact, which ensured public higher education would provide
affordable, accessible and quality education in return for state support. According
to Mortenson (2004), state tax fund appropriations for higher education per $1,000
of state personal income have been reduced by 36 percent (or $3.8) during 1978-
2004, with Colorado experiencing the largest decrease in the nation (67.5 percent)
during this period and current state funding as a share of personal income has
declined $32.1 billion below that of 1980. In 2005, state and local funding per
student for public colleges and universities in constant dollars reached the lowest
point in 25 years (State Higher Education Executive Officers, 2006). As a result,
there has been a dramatic shift in the mix of revenue sources supporting todays
public universities, and at many public institutions, the contributions of students,
alumni, and donors now exceed public support (p.8).

Reductions in state revenues due to tax cuts, spending caps, and problematic tax
structures have combined to create long-term deficits for public colleges and
universities, which along with the availability of tuition as an alternative source of
revenue for the discretionary budget area of higher education, have led states to shift
responsibility to the individual consumers. Coined the perfect storm, over the last
25 years, public higher education institutions have experienced dramatic reductions
in state funding as a result of structural state budget deficits, largely caused by the
increasing pressures of Medicaid, K-12 education, and corrections on state budgets
already weakened by state tax cuts following the politics of the Reagan revolution
(Ehrenberg, 2006, p. 47). In addition, growing ideological undertones, manifested
through criticism of liberal bias in higher education, have also added fuel to the
privatization and deregulation fires, always in the name of efficiency, performance-
based accountability and competition (Lyall & Sell, 2006).
As Katharine Lyall, University of Wisconsin System President Emerita, and
Kathleen Sell, former budget director of the University of Wisconsin system,
explain (2006), this is not a cyclical, but a long-term trend: It is the result of a
profound shift in political philosophy, one that shrinks the sphere of public
responsibility and shifts risk to individuals, often those least able to cope with
additional financial insecurity (lower-income citizens) (p. 9). As Ehrenberg (2006)
explains, the shift of higher education from being a public good to becoming a

private good has fundamentally weakened political support, especially among
conservatives, for state funding:
Traditionally, public higher education has been viewed as a social
good that yields benefits to the nation as a whole. But as earnings
differences between highly educated and less educated individuals
have widened and the private economic return higher education
provides its students has grown policymakers have concluded that
those students and their families should pay a greater share of the
costs of public higher education (p. 48).
Furthermore, public institutions expenditures per student have failed to keep pace
with those of private institutions, expanding the spending gap, threatening quality,
and weakening the position of the public sector to compete with the private
nonprofit sector in the higher education market (Ehrenberg, 2006). In addition, a
decrease of grant aid at the federal level and a trend of boosting state merit-based,
instead of need-based, financial aid programs, have increased the responsibility of
public higher education institutions for ensuring low-income students accessibility.
Finally, market-driven reform also stems from the view that forcing the publics to
behave more like the privates and compete for resources will lead to increased
efficiencies and the elimination of waste, in addition to the pressures from budget
constraints and the ideological perception of higher education as a private good
(Ehrenberg, 2006, p. 49).

In the meantime, as state support dwindles and competition with private institutions
expands, public institutions want to be freed from governmental constraints that
lead to inefficiencies in their operations and to have the freedom to make economic
decisions that will improve their ability to compete with the privates, such as the
freedom to raise tuition to market levels (Ehrenberg, 2006, p. 49).
However, many argue that the social implications of privatization, where, in most
varieties, state funding is exchanged for greater autonomy, could be severe and
socially undesirable. Such perilous effects would include the economic
stratification of higher education, with upper- and upper-middle-income students
studying at relatively well-funded flagship campuses and lower- and lower-middle
income students studying at less well-funded public comprehensive institutions and
two-year colleges (Ehrenberg, 2006, p. 51), and also the loss of the social returns
of higher education, such as those provided through the extension services of public
institutions and especially land-grant institutions to state citizens other than
Overall, the debate over market-driven higher education reform is just getting
started, with proposals and initiatives rapidly emerging, as states explore new
relationship and arrangements with their public higher education institutions. In
light of the social and economic implications of such reform efforts and the

increasing importance of higher education for the economic competitiveness of the
nation in an increasingly globalizing economy, higher education governance and
finance reform are crucial public policy issues that require an examination of both
their policy and political parameters.
Privatization in Public Higher Education
Ironically, privatization is increasingly being used in discussions of higher
education governance and finance as an all-encompassing term that refers to the
growing regulatory and financial independence of public institutions from
legislative control. Thus, privatization has come to refer to a variety of proposals
aiming to loosen the ties between statehouses and postsecondary institutions
(Engdahl, 2004). Privatization in higher education refers to the transition of public
institutions, from more to less, along a spectrum of public finance and control. This
move is caused primarily from financial and political trends. On the finance side,
state funding for higher education has been decreasing as a share of state
expenditures and personal income, which has also led to an increasing share for
private support through tuition and fees, auxiliary services, alumni donations,
research grants, and commercial ventures. On the political side, decreased state
funding largely reflects less willingness from state officials to prioritize funding for
higher education in the face of competing expenditures that enjoy more public

support (such as K-12 education, health care, transportation, and corrections),
which, unlike higher education, do not typically offer opportunities for private
The move toward privatization in higher education is also accompanied by
deregulation and decentralization, with public colleges and universities advocating,
with increasing success, for more freedom from state regulations and autonomy.
State fiscal crises, during the early parts of the 21s1 century, as well as long-term
structural trends such as tax and expenditure limitations and soaring Medicaid
expenditures, have increased efforts to reform, as state support for higher education
has declined and public institutions are increasingly dependent on tuition income
and other non-public sources of revenue (Jenny & Arbak, 2004; Wood &
Valenzuela, 1996), returning to center stage the critical questions raised during the
1970s by Clark Kerr (the Chairman of the Carnegie Commission on Higher
Education and the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education and
former President of the University of California System): Who Pays? Who
Benefits? Who Should Pay? (Selingo, 2003a). The escalating costs of the
entitlements or less-discretionary aspects of state budgets (i.e., Medicaid,
corrections, highways, elementary and secondary education), an aging population,
the decreasing state revenues that have resulted from tax cuts, tax revenue and

spending restrictions, problematic state tax systems that exempt most services,2 as
well as a political climate of fiscal conservatism, have led to budget choices that
have inevitably redirected funds away from the largest discretionary and flexible
item on state budgets higher education (Conklin, 2002; Fish, 2003a; Kane &
Orzag, 2003).3
Recent years have witnessed the most constrained budgets for public higher
education in almost three decades, and have affected the relationship between public
institutions and legislatures (Porter, 2003). As a result, nationwide, institutions have
increased their tuition and fees at accelerated rates, with tuition and fees now
covering almost 20 percent of all revenues (Jenny & Arbak, 2004), which raises the
issue of affordability and accessibility for low- and moderate-income students
(Breneman, 2002; Yudof, 2002). Despite this draconian decline of state funding for
higher education, state and local appropriations still account for a significant share
of public higher education funding (McPherson & Schapiro, 2001). It has been
argued that the recent recession is distinguished from previous economic downturns
in that it posed serious questions about the values of society and the strength of the
' In 1960, families spent 41 cents of every dollar on services. Today, they spend 59 cents (Selingo,
2003b, p. A22).
3 Since 1980, state tax fund appropriations as a share of public higher education revenues has
dropped from 44 percent to 32 percent, with state and local funds representing less than 40 percent of
all revenues (Burd, 2003; Jenny & Arbak, 2004).

states and nations commitment to educational opportunity for all qualified students
(Breneman, 2002; Selingo, 2003b).
While state support for higher education has been declining, student enrollment
nationally has been surging, which is typically countercyclical to the economy, with
over three-quarters of students enrolled in public institutions of higher education
(including community, junior and state colleges, and public universities), 20 percent
enrolled in private nonprofit institutions and the rest attending for-profit proprietary
institutions (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Furthermore, it is projected that
enrollment in public institutions will continue to grow in the next decade as a result
of the baby-boom echo, especially in Southern and Western states, which have
experienced the most rapid population growth (Jenny & Arbak, 2004; Western
Interstate Commission on Higher Education, 2003). In addition, the greatest
challenge facing public higher education systems is the demographic change that is
occurring nationwide, with the Hispanic population growing faster than any other
racial or ethnic group (Gose, 2002). Hispanic students, who will account for the
largest increase of high school graduates, have traditionally experienced lower high
school graduation, postsecondary participation and completion rates. State officials
fear that unless those rates improve, per-capita income will shrink for this large and
poorly educated population. States are grappling with the challenge of
accommodating and educating the burgeoning numbers of young people, many of

them first-generation students from low-income families, in an increasingly stressed
public higher education system (Amone, 2003; Callan, 2005; Selingo, 2000).
American higher education institutions are concomitantly competing fiercely for
prestige, seeking to attract high-achieving students, accomplished faculty, and
research grants, in order to improve their institutional reputation and build their
financial endowments. The outcomes of this competition are often reflected through
differential pricing and well-publicized rankings (Hebei, 2005b; Greenberg, 2006;
Lovett, 2005; Miller, 2006). This obsession with status among American colleges
and universities (Selingo, 2005, p. A15) is pushing public research universities,
known as flagship institutions, to intensify their efforts to compete for higher
prestige and rankings with their private peers within the competitive marketplace of
higher education. Declining state funding for public higher education is making
states smaller shareholders while the influence of other stakeholders parents,
donors, alumni, and corporations, is growing (Lyall & Sell, 2006, p. 9). To meet
the demands of the market, public institutions are seeking to transform themselves
into market competitors and respond more effectively and efficiently to consumer
preferences, which, in turn, require greater management flexibility and autonomy
from state operating systems, regulations and policies. The diversification of their
revenue streams, through less reliance on state funding and increased revenues from

students, parents, alumni, corporations, foundations, and contracts, is viewed by
public research universities as an essential component of their competitive strategy.
The convergence of (1) the dramatic shrinking of state support for higher education
caused by the economic downturn and long-term budget trends, (2) the demographic
challenges of greatly expanding high school populations and especially Hispanic
students, and (3) the pressure for institutional flexibility and autonomy caused by
growing competition and escalating costs in the higher education market, has led to
a significant policy shift characterized by the continuing re-examination of the
structure of state higher education governance and finance. In conjunction with the
growing need for a skilled workforce demanded by a global economy, public higher
education finance has reached a tipping point, and bold, innovative actions are
desperately needed (Conklin, 2002). As Selingo (2003b) notes, the combination of
weak revenues and rising Medicaid costs has brought the next wave of
privatization, 30 years after public institutions started charging tuition, due to tax
cuts, and began setting up private foundations and creating separate law and
business schools to avoid what is thought to be costly regulations.
For their part, state lawmakers, facing mounting budget deficits and in search of
cost savings, seem more willing than ever to loosen regulation and offer increased
autonomy in return for less state support. Institutions, in turn, are beginning to

pursue such options enthusiastically because they offer revenue-generating
opportunities to offset state budget cuts, as well as flexibility needed to compete
with their public and private peers. Under the pressure of increased competition and
costs, and facing the worst fiscal crisis since World War II, numerous institutions
are seeking to emulate the examples set by the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor),
which has flourished since its quasi-privatization in the 1970s, St. Marys College of
Maryland which was the first charter college in the nation (Poppen, 2000a),
Virginia, which designated five institutions as charter campuses in 2000 and New
Jerseys state colleges, which have enjoyed greater autonomy.
In several states, institutions of higher education are calling for trading off state
support for greater autonomy to pursue their mission unfettered by stringent and
costly regulations (Gose, 2002; Schmidt, 2002, 2003a, 2003b). Washburn (2006, p.
11) has observed that many college presidents no longer see their state schools as
public; they are state assisted. For some, it seems that the trend toward
privatization is inevitable and the only policy dilemma is how fast the transition will
occur. For instance, the Miami University of Ohio is experimenting with full-cost
pricing, with tuition revenue covering the full costs of operation while setting aside
a portion of revenues for financial aid to meet specified public goals, such as access
for low-income students and cross-subsidizing certain programs (Lyall & Sell,
2006). According to its President, Jim Garland (2005),

The historical business model for public higher education is broken
and cannot be fixed ... Furthermore, the compact between public
universities and state governments has degenerated into a shouting
match. Legislators see colleges as bastions of inefficiency, while
frustrated college presidents see elected officials as buck-passers who
use their colleges as whipping-toys ... With declining state support
driving up tuition charges, the trend is absolutely clear: Public higher
education is moving down the track toward privatization, and the
train is not coming back (p. 27).
Graham Spanier, the 16th President of Pennsylvania State University, described
recently skyrocketing tuition as a result of public higher educations slow slide
toward privatization, while several other presidents are calling the decline of state
funding de facto privatization of the institutions that played a crucial role in the
creation of the American middle class (Dillon, 2005, p. 12).
Reporting on a Standard & Poors assessment of the effects of privatization on
public universities credit ratings, Lipka summarized the privatization trend: Public
universities have felt driven to adopt the ways of private colleges as a result of sharp
drops in state support in the past several years, and the consequent need for new
sources of revenue. They have sought greater autonomy from state control to set
their own budgets, salaries, and tuition rates, and they have worked aggressively to
land big gifts from private donors, to win government and corporate research grants,
and to mount large-scale capital campaigns to increase their endowments (Lipka,
2005, p. 25). Indicative of the trend, there is now a Center for the Study of
Outsourcing and Privatization in Higher Education (Kirp, 2002), supported by the

National Association of College Auxiliary Services, whose purpose is to help meet
the demand for support concerning the outsourcing of higher education services and
programs (University of Wisconsin System, 2002, p. 2).
Enormous reductions in state funding between 2002 and 2004, which led to the
elimination of 500 staff and faculty positions in 2003, forced the University of
Colorado (CU) system to pursue enterprise status to provide more administrative
and academic flexibility, including the ability to enact larger tuition increases,
similar to the governance structures already employed in the State of Virginia
(Curtin, 2004a; Hebei, 2002b, 2003b; Potter, 2003). In 2004, then-CU President
Elizabeth Hoffman even warned that the institution could privatize unless such
flexibility was achieved (Thompson, 2004). This warning was reiterated in 2005,
when Larry Edward Penley, the President of Colorado State University (CSU), and
Jason Hopfer, then-Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE)
spokesman, commented on the possibility of continued state funding cuts (Brown,
J., 2005; Kane & Brown, 2005). According to Larry Penley, Colorado is at a
crossroads. We can privatize our public universities, or we can begin to fund them at
a level that continues their present missions (Fletscher, 2005, p. 1).
Following Colorados enacted reform in 2004, Virginia lawmakers and higher
education officials pursued privatization-oriented reform, restructuring the states

public higher education system by providing unprecedented administrative
autonomy and flexibility to institutions through performance-based management
agreements (Blake, 2006, p. 31), including tuition-setting authority under certain
constraints (Ehrenberg, 2006). A three-tier autonomy system of charter status tied
to financial incentives and performance criteria has been established, depending on
each institutions financial and management capacity. In November 2005, Virginia
entered into management agreements with the three institutions that had already
achieved charter status under a previous initiative College of William and Mary,
Virginia Institute of Technology, and the University of Virginia pursuing the
highest level of autonomy. At the core of the legislation is the authority of each
institutions board of visitors to set policy and oversee institutional operations for
certain financial and administrative functions (Blake, 2006, p. 32).
South Carolina has considered the widest-reaching proposal a privatization plan
that would allow state colleges to become private as long as they give up direct state
financial support and agree to charge state residents lower tuition than other students
(Kelderman, 2004; Schmidt, 2003a). In 2004, the University of Nebraska also
explored privatization measures (Hord, 2004). In recent years, Massachusetts has
considered a privatization and consolidation proposal, supported by its two most
recent former governors, recommending the creation of charter colleges (Berdahl &
MacTaggart, 1999; Selingo, 2003c). University of Wisconsin officials

recommended that the state turn over its 26 campuses to an independent authority,
following the example set by the university hospital six years earlier (Selingo,
2003b). Facing a $10 billion budget shortfall and slashing higher education funding
by $260 million, the Texas Legislature approved tuition deregulation in 2003 and
provided institutions with complete tuition-setting authority and added flexibility,
thus ending decades of legislative control over tuition, and sparking hefty tuition
increases, including 33 percent over two semesters at the University of Texas-El
Paso (Fikac, 2005; Hebei, 2003b; Kilday Hart, 2005; Porter, 2003). In North
Dakota, the legislature passed a bill in 2003 giving institutions that meet certain
performance requirements greater tuition control and block-grant appropriations
(Couturier, 2003). Washington considered performance contracts with public
institutions that will offer more flexibility (Kelderman, 2004).
The University of Florida and Florida State University administrators have proposed
to gain a large degree of financial autonomy by changing their status from state-
operated to state related, signifying the first step to quasi-privatization, while the
legislature had eliminated the statewide governing board for higher education,
which was later re-established by a citizen initiative (Schmidt, 2003b). Frustrated
with the level of public funding, the Dean of the University of California at
Berkeleys law school requested that the school partly privatize and gain more
control of its budget (Mangan, 2004, p. A25). In 2005, Louisiana legislators

considered a bill to give public institutions some tuition- and fee-setting authority
without the legislatures approval (Hebei, 2005a). The same year, the North
Carolina State Senate considered a proposal to give North Carolina State University
and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tuition-setting authority and
eliminate the need for approval from the university systems Board of Governors
(Schmidt, 2005). Pennsylvania conducted a comprehensive review of its higher
education system, focusing on a shift to markets funding higher education
institutions; the new importance of a college education as a consumer necessity; the
use of market mechanisms to distribute public funds for higher education; and the
blurring of those distinctions that once neatly arrayed individual institutions into
well-defined categories (Learning Alliance for Higher Education, 2006, p. 42).
The dire fiscal situation of most public higher education institutions as well as the
lack of a clear public higher education agenda was reflected in the comments of
economist and President Emerita of the University of Wisconsin System Katharine
Lyall: They want high access, low tuition, top quality, and no tax increases to pay
for it (Selingo, 2003b, p. A22). Terms such as entrepreneurship, market
responsiveness and competition dominate the language of reform. Overall,
across the country, money problems are squeezing the public out of public
universities (Hord, 2004, p. 3) and more public institutions than ever before are

pursuing new relationships with their state governments in various forms -
enterprises, charters, contracts, or public-private hybrids (Couturier, 2003).4
The Debate Over Market-Driven Reform in Higher Education
The principles of decentralization and deregulation and the concept of privatization
that have fueled intense discussions within the public policy and management
communities and spurred efforts for the reform and reinvention of the public
sector have conflicted with the traditional notion of public accountability that
characterizes democratic governance (deLeon & Denhardt, 2000). This tension has
also emerged within the public higher education arena.
Governance issues have always stirred tension within the public higher education
arena, as state legislatures, institutions, state boards, and governors usually have
different priorities. As Glenny (1959) pointed out, almost a half a century ago, there
has always been an ongoing issue regarding how the states goals for economy,
efficiency, and the minimization of dysfunctional competition in higher education,
along with its other policy concerns, can be achieved without destroying the
initiative, flexibility, and diversity of the [states] public institutions (p. 263).
4 In recent years, such discussions have taken place in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, and
Washington, as well as internationally, with institutions in Austria, Denmark, Indonesia, the Slovak
Republic and Sweden having achieved more autonomy (Couturier, 2003).

Similarly, Sabloff (1997) argued that the relationship between public universities
and state legislatures in the United States has always been a contest between the
formers centrifugal desire for autonomy and the latters centripetal concern for
accountability and regulation of teaching, research and administration (p. 141).
Issues regarding the appropriate levels of centralization and decentralization and the
tension between institutions desire for more flexibility and states desire for
accountability have been and remain central themes in higher education policy
(McGuiness, 1994). Traditionally, higher education institutions have argued for
autonomy and self-regulation (Lovett, 2005), while, usually, state legislators and
governors have worked to maintain their accountability responsibilities.
According to proponents of market-driven reform, increased autonomy and
regulatory freedom in the public higher education sector must be coupled with
strong and measurable accountability standards, carefully crafted in performance
agreements between the state and the institutions of higher learning (Couturier,
2003; Hebei, 2003b). On the basis of competitive theory, they call for the states to
negotiate with institutions (in the form of performance contracts or agreements),
engage in procedural deregulation, and offer tuition-setting authority to institutional
governing boards, while maintaining control over their roles and missions (Fish,
2003a; Newman & Couturier, 2002).

However, the focus of governance reform efforts on deregulation, decentralization,
and the privatization of higher education finance caused concern among scholars
and practitioners concerning its long-term implications for public higher education.
Coutourier argues that state universities are sacrificing their public purpose and
urges the states electorates to deliberate about what we want from higher
education (Diament, 2004, p. 23). Yudof (2002) asks if the long-term trend
towards less public funding of higher education is steadily dismantling the tacit
compact between states and their public higher education institutions. He wonders
is the public university dead? while others believe that unless there is a forceful
response from the academy higher education, as we presently know it, will cease to
exist (Wood &Valenzuela, 1996, p. 59). The trend towards privatization,
especially among flagship institutions, has led to a growing chorus of critics who
warn about its dangers and radical implications (e.g., reduced access for low-
income and minority students, steadily increasing tuition rates, decrease of
community service) that will change the character of state-supported colleges and
universities and hinder the ability of institutions to pursue their public missions
(Ehrenberg, 2006; Gose, 2002; Lyall & Sell, 2006; Selingo, 2003b). As John
Wiley, Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, cautions Were now in
the process of dismantling ... the worlds greatest system of public higher
education built during the years after World War II (Dillon, 2005, p. 12).

The increasing competition for prestige has led many public flagship universities to
emulate the culture and values of top-ranking institutions, including practices that
reinforce social and economic advantage, such as enrollment caps and highly
selective admissions processes traditionally employed by Ivy League institutions,
which are often seen as elitist and discriminatory (Gladwell, 2005). The race to the
top of the rankings pyramid is seen as conflicting with the public mission of state-
funded institutions. As Clara Lovett (2005), President of the American Association
for Higher Education, observes:
The result is a paradox. We are opening up access to higher
education at the base of the prestige pyramid at the very time that
more institutions, hoping to strengthen their claim to be pathways to
leadership in American society, are competing to rise to the top of
the pyramid. With the passing of time, the institutions locked in this
competition, especially public ones, may lose their ability to serve as
agents of social and economic mobility. Their degrees are
increasingly becoming stamps that ratify social advantage. Indeed,
one unintended consequence of the rankings craze is that it generates
behavior totally at odds with our rhetoric about providing educational
opportunity for all students, regardless of their backgrounds (p. B20).
Some argue that, contrary to the privatization proponents arguments that market
forces will increase public institutions efficiency and force improved management,
public institutions are actually more efficient than private institutions. Under the
pressures of reduced state support and limited tuition increases, public institutions
have actually continued to provide a high-quality education at a much lower cost
than their private counterparts. As Teske and Kaplan (2006) argue:

Advocates of privatization support their argument by suggesting that
there is considerable fat and unnecessary bureaucracy in public
universities, and that cuts and market-like incentives will force them
to get tough and market efficient. But actually looking at the
evidence suggests that this analysis is seriously flawed. In fact, most
research on higher education confirms that by most economic
measures, public institutions are consistently more efficient in that
they produce public knowledge and graduates at a much lower cost -
than private institutions (p. El).
Others caution about the loss of public spiritedness (Schmidt, 2003b) that may
accompany the proliferation of the condition of privately financed public
institutions (Breneman, 2002). This condition may be occurring already. A recent
survey indicates that state and campus policymakers privately show less than
strong support for public priorities, such as affordability (Burke, 2003 p. 23).
Yudof (2002) argues that the emerging hybrid public research university will face
the philosophical tug of war between competitive market forces and public
interests (p. B24). Zemsky (2003) describes how public higher education has
transformed from being a critical venue of every social, economic or political
movement to becoming viewed solely as providing tickets to financial security and
economic status (p. B7). He warns that with the tolerance of lawmakers, public
institutions increasingly resemble private institutions by focusing on their own
agenda, seeking to satisfy their upper middle class customers and becoming
detached from broader public goals. Commenting on the effects of heightened
competition on Californias public institutions, Washburn (2006) says that

Public colleges used to provide an important ladder of opportunity to
every student in the state who was academically qualified, regardless
of family income. Today, this democratic vision is rapidly being
shunted aside in favor of recruiting high-performing students,
prestigious research professors and highly paid administrators who
can raise an institutions ranking, and, ultimately its overall wealth
... If the state wants to meet the challenges of a post-industrial
economy, it will need to reaffirm its commitment to public not
market-driven higher education (p. 11).
As higher education is increasingly viewed as a private good (as opposed to a
public good) that should be privately financed, the dominance of market interests
could diminish the institutions role as public agencies and define knowledge purely
as instrumental means to financial gains. These concerns are echoed by William M.
Bulger, former President of the University of Massachusetts system in his remarks
on Massachusetts former Governor Mitt Romneys privatization plan for the states
flagship university: As I look at the proposed plan, I see higher and the public
being removed from public higher education and I see education being defined
frequently as nothing more than job training (Selingo, 2003c, p. A28). CU Regent
Jim Martin expressed similar concerns after his system instituted higher tuition rates
due to being accorded enterprise status: Its not public education anymore. Its
financed by private families. The legislature has created a remedy thats not helping
the situation but making it worse (Ensslin, 2004e p. 24). University of Wisconsin
President Emerita Lyall says: At those levels [of state funding], we have to ask
what it means to be a public institution. America is rapidly privatizing its public
colleges and universities, whose mission used to be to serve the public good ...

Public control is slipping away (Dillon, 2005, p. 12). The sentiment among several
higher education analysts and scholars on the effects of complete autonomy are
summed up by Aims McGuiness of the National Center for Higher Education
Management Systems: The sum of institutions self-interest doesnt add up to the
public interest (Hebei, 2003b, p. A19). Critics view the next wave in
privatization as marking a systematic withdrawal of public concern and support for
advanced education, the state effectively becoming a minority partner, at a time that
it is most essential. As McLendon and Ness (2003) argue, markets, rather than
governments, became viewed as offering the surest mechanism for achieving
important state policy goals and for improving institutional quality, effectiveness,
and efficiency ... decentralization and deregulation emerged as prominent themes
(P- 69).
With market accountability replacing the traditional modes of public control and
oversight, critics worry particularly about the effect of privatization regarding
access for low-income students, arguing that the trend towards privatization may
decrease enrollment of low-income students as institutions increase tuition and shift
their focus from serving the needs of the states citizens to pursuing institutional
laurels. If institutions are given increased autonomy and tuition-setting flexibility,
they may decrease affordability, focus recruitment efforts on affluent students, and
engage in a race with private institutions to attract high-achieving students

(Couturier, 2003; Lovett, 2002). If lawmakers do not resolve the tension between
postsecondary access for qualified students and institutional excellence (Gose,
2002), a two-tier educational system could be potentially established, with low-
income students attending institutions that cannot easily privatize primarily
community or state colleges (Kelderman, 2004), possibly leading to economic
While having a first-class institution is important for the states economic
development, ensuring postsecondary access for their residents also serves an
important state objective, namely, having a highly-skilled and educated workforce.
Privatization threatens access for deserving, yet low-income, students who will be
unable to afford the increased tuition rates, unless government financial support is
radically reformed (Breneman, 2002; Yudof, 2002). For example, the introduction
of a market forces orientation into higher education in New Zealand led to
decreased college enrollment of students from low-income areas, and racial and
socioeconomic stratification of the elementary and secondary system, as well as the
closure of several higher education institutions (Couturier, 2003), although,
admittedly, New Zealand represents a distant political and social reality.
The breaking of the social compact that existed between state governments and
research universities since the 1950s, which provided state financial support to

ensure low tuition and high accessibility and that communities and states interests
were served, due to declining state financial and political support (Callan, 2002;
Wood & Valenzuela, 1996) and increasing tuition rates is widely acknowledged, but
disagreements focus on the appropriate remedy. The competing views on the
market-driven reforms in public higher education are leading to a growing division
between those who view privatization as the only remedy at the disposal of
institutions to address increasing competition and costs, and those who argue that
market-oriented remedies would dilute the commitment of public institutions to
public values and needs.
Higher Education Reform in Colorado
The impetus for the large-scale redesign of Colorados higher education is
multifaceted and stems in part from the unique socioeconomic, demographic and
political context of the state of Colorado. The trend of mounting budget deficits,
which are not permissible under the State Constitution, and bleak fiscal conditions
of the state budget, which resulted from the combined effects of a severe economic
downturn of the early 2000s and rigid fiscal restrictions due to the States tax and
expenditure limitations, fueled the sense of urgency that has characterized higher
education policymaking in the State, including the process that led to the passage of
this legislation. In 2003, Colorado experienced the largest percentage decrease in

state funding for higher education in the nation (Getches, 2004). Between fiscal
years 2000-2004, higher education suffered a 20 percent reduction in state funding
(Fischer, 2005) and by fiscal year 2005, Colorado ranked 48 in the nation in state
tax funds for higher education per $1,000 of personal income, with a $3.77
investment, compared to $6.91 national average (Mortenson, 2005).
The significant demographic changes that Colorado has experienced during the past
two decades have also contributed to the rise of postsecondary access as a major
policy problem in the legislative and executive agenda (Callan, 2005; Jacobs, 2006;
White, 1998a). The large continuing migration wave during the period of rapid
economic growth, especially of college-educated professionals, but most
importantly the enormous upsurge of the States Hispanic population, led to the
growing realization that while the State was among the most highly educated in the
nation,5 its indigenous population faced significant challenges in postsecondary
education access. As White (1998a) observed, Coloradans of Hispanic descent
have higher high school dropout rates, lower college acceptance rates and a tougher
time succeeding in college than white or black students.
5 According to the 2003 American Community Survey of the United States Census Bureau (2003),
Colorado ranked as the second most educated state in terms of the percentage of population 25 years
of age and above who have completed a bachelors degree, with 34.7 percent, behind Massachusetts
(35.8 percent).

Furthermore, the increasing power of conservative lawmakers and officials in the
State, characterized by the Republican Partys gaining control of both the executive
and legislative branches of the States government in 1999, influenced the policy
agenda and shaped the direction of policy deliberations during the identification of
the policy problem, the consideration of policy alternatives, and ultimately, the
adoption of this legislative remedy. Finally, Colorados public higher education
landscape is unique and has a particularly complex governance structure, regulatory
framework, institutional climate, relations with the legislative and the executive
branches, and overall, a historical background that is essential in examining the
process and content of this policy change.
In addition to these contextual factors, the proponents of college vouchers skillfully
framed the issue as a remedy for both the low rates of access and reduced funding.
According to CCHE, a series of focus groups market-tested the voucher concept
to students and parents who were asked essentially whether they would consider
attending college if the state provided them with a savings account for college upon
high school graduation. The underlying rationale was that by making the state
subsidy to in-state students visible and making students aware of existing state
funding, the subsidy would become a tangible product causing a behavioral
response of increased access. As expected, the encouraging results from the focus

groups served as evidence to the Blur Ribbon panel that students likelihood of
going to college would grow under a voucher funding system.
Finally, the proposed vouchers were framed as a tool to protect higher education
from future budget cuts. Under the pressures of Medicaid, spending on corrections
facilities, and Colorados constitutionally mandated annual increases for funding K-
12 education, higher education is the largest discretionary item in the state budget
and, as in many states, becomes the primary target for budget cuts when revenues
decline. According to voucher proponents, the significant political costs of slashing
the voucher amount of Colorado undergraduate students would discourage budget
cuts to higher education and prevent legislators from making further decreases of
state support in the future.
Numerous states (i.e., Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Texas) have
considered, pursued or implemented policies of deregulation and quasi-privatization
that are partly similar to Colorados reform, which reflect higher education
governance and finance trends that have swept across the states in recent years in
response to similar fiscal, political and demographic environments and challenges.
While all states strive to make public college accessible and affordable for
residents, the definition of access is changing. Higher education receives a shrinking
share of state funds, but must meet the growing needs of advanced job retraining for

older workers, growing Hispanic populations, growing enrollment and new
technical possibilities for teaching (White, 1998a). Although the policy shift
occurring in Colorado constitutes in its entirety a system overhaul that has not
occurred elsewhere, an overview of the historical development of public higher
education governance and finance is necessary to understand how long-standing
tensions underlie current debates over reform.
Research Goals and Questions
The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the public policy process in the
context of higher education reform in the State of Colorado. Specifically, the first
major goal of the research is to explain the emergence of a higher education reform
policy agenda (policy initiation), the policy formulation of a redesign of the state
higher education governance and finance system, and the adoption of this policy
shift in terms of policy innovation. In addition to the substantive issues confronting
public higher education, the second major goal of this dissertation is to assess the
explanatory potential and limitations of different theories of the policy process and
discuss their theoretic implications. Ultimately, this thesis seeks to generate insights
into the higher education policy process and examine the extent to which existing
policy theories help explain higher education reform, and by extension, policy writ
large. Agendas shape outcomes, and thus, an understanding of how certain issues

capture the attention of decision-makers and how certain public policy remedies
are ultimately adopted to address such problems while others are never considered -
may provide insight into the policy and political dynamics of this process. The
overarching concern of this thesis is to provide a better understanding of the issue
definition, agenda setting and decision-making aspects of the higher education
reform policy process in Colorado, and to contribute to the development of policy
process theory, by applying three prominent theoretical frameworks and examining
their respective explanatory strengths and weaknesses. The investigation employs
theories of the policy process to examine how higher education reform emerged as a
prominent issue and why the state adopted this particular higher education
governance and finance reform proposal. The research addresses the following
1. To what extent do theories of the policy process adequately address
higher education policy change?
2. How and why did higher education reform become the subject of
legislative action? What influenced its rise to the top of the decision
3. What policy proposals were considered and why was this policy shift
4. Who were the main policy actors of this policy change and what
were their implicit and explicit motivations, principles and
5. What were the political dynamics (interests and ideologies) involved
in this policy shift?
6. How does this study of the policy and political dynamics of higher
education reform contribute to public policy as a field of study?
7. What are the relevant lessons learned?

The thesis is organized in eight chapters. Chapter 2 provides a review of research
studies on higher education reform and identifies a gap in the literature, namely, a
lack of research examining the policy process. Specifically, few studies have
explored how state political institutions and processes affect higher education policy
change through the application of policy process theories and the systematic
consideration of political dynamics of reform. This is followed by an overview of
three policy process frameworks Multiple Streams, Advocacy Coalition
Framework and Punctuated Equilibrium Theory and their similarities and
differences, strengths and weaknesses.
Drawing from the discussion on the theoretical perspectives of the policy process,
Chapter 3 presents the propositions examined in the thesis and describes the case
study research methodology used to answer the research questions, which seeks to
contribute to both understanding and explanation of policy change, focusing on
relations of values, power and outcomes in the policymaking process within
Colorados social and historically conditioned context. The chapter then describes
the data collection process, which involved multiple archival sources and 26 in-
person semi-structured interviews, as well as the data analysis process, which was
completed with the use of qualitative data software for coding and analysis.

Chapter 4 explains the special historical, policy, political and fiscal context of
higher education. An overview of the historical development of American public
higher education is followed by a focused examination of public higher education in
Colorado and the evolution of the role and mission of the Colorado Commission on
Higher Education. The States shifting political context and its effect on higher
education policy is then discussed, including the antecedents of reform leading up to
the establishment of the Blue Ribbon Panel. A description of the complex
constitutional and statutory fiscal constraints on Colorados state budget and their
implications for higher education funding helps explain the fiscal context within
which the college voucher debate emerged.
The analytics narrative of these issues is presented in Chapter 5. This chapter
focuses on: the transformation of CCHE from an advocate of public higher
education to a watchdog emphasizing performance-based accountability and
efficiency; the politicization of public higher education governance that facilitated
control of public higher education institutions; the critical role of the policy
entrepreneur in conceptualizing and successfully advocating market-driven reform
through framing, strategic manipulation and selective use of information; the
tenuous relationship of the Owens administration with CU, and the impact of the
economic downturn on the policy process. The chapter concludes with a close

examination of the dynamics of the legislative processes in 2003 and 2004 that led
to the enactment of higher education reform.
The findings are presented in Chapter 6. Each proposition is examined to determine
whether it helps the understanding and explanation of Colorados policy process of
higher education reform and to illuminate the strengths, weaknesses and the
conditions of applicability of the different frameworks utilized. Chapter 7 discusses
the implications for the development of theoretical frameworks of the public
policymaking process as well as policy research on higher education reform at the
state level. Finally, Chapter 8 provides an overview of higher education policy
developments in Colorado since the enactment of Senate Bill 189, explores its
implications for the future of Colorados public higher education system and offers
recommendations for addressing the challenges it faces.

The controversial wave of market-driven public higher education and governance
reform sweeping the states has become the subject of significant scholarly research.
However, and despite the proliferation of the higher education reform literature, a
significant research gap exists, as researchers have failed to draw from and apply
theories of the public policy process to examine the policy and political dynamics
involved in this current policy shift. Recognizing that
the paucity of research on the politics of governance reform reflects a
larger deficiency in the formal study of higher education: a long-
standing neglect of questions involving political institutions, political
behavior, and the politics of policy adoption (McLendon & Ness,
2003, p. 82),
higher education scholars have urged further systematic scholarship on the policy
and political dynamics and processes of major higher education policy change,
drawing on contemporary theories6 of the policy process. The first part of this
section reviews the existing literature on higher education reform and identifies the
6 The terms theories, frameworks and perspectives are used interchangeably throughout this
chapter, although many scholars (e.g, Ostrom [1999] and Schlager [1999, 2007]) might disagree with
this usage.

areas meriting further scholarly examination. The second part provides an overview
of three policy process frameworks and discusses their similarities and differences.
Research on Higher Education Reform
Although higher education scholarship as a fairly recent area of study has been built
on the contribution of previously established disciplines, it still suffers from a lack
of wider contextual analysis and a failure truly to synthesize necessary
methodological and epistemological contributions (Eisenmann, 2004). This
observation is particularly applicable to the study of higher education policy change.
A growing realization that higher education research and scholarship have failed to
become relevant to the policymaking process has led to calls for higher education
scholars to address the widening gulf between higher education research and policy
research (Layzell, 1990, p. Bl) by engaging in a scholarship of application, e.g.,
studying policy questions and becoming more involved in policy-relevant research
(Keller, 1985; Layzell, 1990; Terenzini, 1996).
While the research literature on market-driven reforms has produced many
descriptions of such initiatives (Berdahl, 1998; Berdahl & MacTaggart, 1999; Greer,
1998; Hyatt & Santiago, 1984; MacTaggart, 1998; Marcus, 1997; Marcus, Pratt &
Stevens, 1997; McGuinness, 1995b; Mingle, 1983; Novak, 1996), the politics of

higher education literature has been largely underdeveloped, with only a small
number of studies examining higher educations interrelationship with political
institutions and processes (McLendon, 2003b; McLendon & Ness, 2003; Noland, et
al., 2003). A few studies have explored the politics of higher education on the
federal level (Bailey, 1975; Cook, 1998; Gladieux & Wolanin, 1976; Griswold,
1999; Hannah, 1996; Kerr, 1984; King, 1975; Parsons, 1997), but overall, research
on the politics of higher education remains scant, fragmented, limited in substantive
scope, and loosely tethered to disciplinary insights of political science and cognate
fields (McLendon, 2003a, p. 166).
Most strikingly, while states, as policy laboratories, hold the primary responsibility
for public higher education, scarce research exists on the effect of state political
institutions and processes on higher education, especially compared to the rich
literature on the politics of K-12 education. The role of interest groups, executive
branch agencies, legislatures, and governors in higher education policymaking, as
well as the political implications of different governance structures, remain largely
unexplored (McLendon, 2003a). A few studies have applied the concept of
political culture to higher education policy (Garland & Martorana, 1988; Gelber,
2001; Gittell & Kleiman, 2000; Richardson, Bracco, Callan, & Finney, 1999) and a
small number of empirical studies have examined the effects of higher education
governance structures on policy outcomes (Hearn & Griswold, 1994; Knott &

Payne, 2002; Lowry, 2001; McLendon, Heller, & Young, 2001; Nicholson-Crotty &
Meier, 2003; Sabloff, 1997; Volkwein, 1987; Zumeta, 1996). These research efforts
indicate that political characteristics influence patterns of higher education policy
adoption (Nicholson-Crotty & Meier, 2003). In addition, a wide range of state
issues meriting scholarly political analysis has been largely ignored. The policy
shifts occurring in student financial aid, university governance, affirmative action
and governance reform, although well-publicized, have not yet become the subject
of systematic scholarly examination (McLendon, 2003a). Furthermore, higher
education policy formation in specific institutional settings has not been analyzed
rigorously (e.g., congressional committees, special commissions or agencies).
Moreover, little is known about how or why states initiate, estimate and adopt
systematic governance reform. Specifically, higher education research has not
examined where higher education policy ideas come from, how they circulate on
the policy agenda of political actors, what sets of dynamics lead to their adoption,
and how political factors shape policy implementation (McLendon, 2003a, p.172).
McLendon and Ness (2003) note that If anecdotal accounts of the politics of higher
education governance reform abound, systematic conceptualization and analysis are
scarce (p. 73). Studies that pay particular attention to the context of reform at the
state level are especially needed, since each state has a unique context and no two
states share precisely the same governance design (p. 67). State history, culture,

socioeconomic and demographic conditions, political institutions and dynamics
have led to significant variations in the design of higher education governance
across the 50 states. McLendon (2003a) argues that research exploring the political
context of higher education policymaking should employ an enhanced theoretical
perspective and analytical sophistication, grounded in the disciplinary insights of
political science literature on public policy:
Large-scale redesign of a states higher education governance system
occurs in a distinctively and decidedly political context namely, at
the intersection of legislative institutions, state higher education
agencies, electoral cycles, and campus politics ... reform initiatives
intersect with a states broader political institutions and processes
and where the direct intervention of a macropolitical elite
overwhelms the usual constraints of routine policy making.
(McLendon & Ness, 2003, p. 69).
Higher education research should focus on the interaction of higher education with
macropolitical state government institutions and processes involving conflict,
influence and the allocation of values (McLendon, 2003a). Drawing upon the
neoinstitutional revival in political science (p. 173), McLendon has proposed the
application of principal-agent theory, policy process theories, and policy innovation
and diffusion theories to the study of higher education policy change. By
concentrating on the political dynamics, circumstances and contexts that attend
policy formation, adoption and implementation, research could illuminate the
politics of policy and provide a rich, multifaceted approach to the study of major
higher education policy shifts:

Understanding the influence of state political dynamics on reform
activity remains a critical step in continued efforts to comprehend,
predict, and explain the reform phenomenon and provide insights
into the complex relationship between political institutions and
processes and higher education policy adoption in the American
states (McLendon & Ness, 2003, p. 85).
In addition, while the decentralization and privatization phenomenon raises
important questions about the policymaking process through which the relationship
between the state and public institutions is redesigned, scholars have paid
surprisingly little attention to such issues and no systematic research has
examined the earliest stage of policymaking, a stage known as agenda setting
(McLendon, 2003b, p. 480).
While there are numerous single-state case studies of governance reform (Berdahl,
1998; Crosson, 1996; Greer, 1998; MacTaggart, 1996; Marcus et al., 1997;
Martinez, 2002; McGuinness 1995b; Noland et al., 2003), they have addressed the
political dynamics only superficially, without a systematic consideration of either
the political antecedents, correlates, or dynamics of governance reform (McLendon
& Ness, 2003, p. 75), with some notable exceptions. Larson (2003) conducted a
comparative case study of decentralization in three states (New Jersey, Illinois, and
Arkansas) and found that a destabilized state higher education system, an
ideological policy entrepreneur, and opportunity, produce a policy shift, in which
the main effect was to restore greater equilibrium between public institutions and

the state. She also found that governance was a power issue and not a philosophical
issue, and governance change was brought about by interests outside of higher
education. Larson identified fourteen environmental, substantive and procedural
analytical areas that influenced policy change toward decentralization.
Environmental influences included historical, individual, societal, natural,
technological, economic, political and institutional. Substantive influences were
characterized as either systemic or academic. Finally, personnel, institutional,
technological, facilities, financial, external relations, and societal areas of
procedural influences were identified. Leslie and Novak (2003) conducted a five-
state comparative study of governance reform and found that political factors and
leaders were central in the reform process, while the instrumental goals of the higher
education institutions were of secondary importance. They suggested that
interactions among the instrumental goals of efficiency and effectiveness and the
political objectives of power and control help understand governance reform.
Few studies have explored the policy process of higher education governance
change (deGive & Olswang, 1998; Olivas, 1984). By utilizing three theoretical
models (Rational-Comprehensive, Incremental, and Revised-Garbage Can),
McLendon (2003b) compared their explanatory power through a three-state case
study of the agenda-setting process that led to decentralization in higher education.
While Olivas (1984) identified incrementalism at work, McLendon (2003b)

observed a dynamic process mirroring the organized anarchy conceptualization of
the public policy process. Both studies concluded that a group of entrepreneurial
policy actors played a central role in determining and shaping the content and
process of reform.
In their survey of 24 governance reform proposals considered by states from 1995 to
2000, of which 15 were enacted, McLendon and Ness (2003) found that strong
political leadership was identified as the most important condition associated with
governance reform, while broader social, demographic, fiscal, and higher
education-specific (e.g. enrollment pressures) conditions were considered rather
insignificant for the adoption of governance change (p. 79). In addition, they found
that reform was mostly an insiders political game, with a small number of
entrepreneurial elected officials exercising a near-exclusive influence over the
adoption of new higher education governance structures, followed by a second tier
of relatively insignificant policy outsiders such as media, faculty and the general
public (p. 80). They argued that the qualities of effective policy entrepreneurs
included appreciation of timing and contingency ... an ability to mobilize
coalitions of like-minded interest ... and skill ... at formulating specific reform
proposals, confirming the emphasis on crafting solutions, aligning political
interests and opening policy windows found in the policy entrepreneur literature
(pp. 81-82).

Finally, McLendon, Deaton, and Hearn (2005) examined from a neo-
institutionalism perspective legislatively-enacted higher education governance
reforms in the states from 1985-2000. Using event history analysis, they found that
reforms are primarily driven by changes in the macropolitical arena (political
volatility) rather than by higher education, demographic or economic conditions,
which they termed the political-instability hypothesis. For example, they argued
that the less time a Governor has spent in the office or a legislative majority has
been in power, the higher the chances for higher education reform. They called for
further research on exploring the relationship between state political institutions and
policy adoption patterns in the states, focusing on political institutional contexts as
an explanatory factor and the primary venue of reform. They concluded: State
political institutions matter because institutions and policy agendas are inextricably
linked (p. 30).
Overall, the review of the modest research literature on the politics of reform
(McLendon & Ness, 2003, p. 66) in higher education indicates that an examination
of the policy process that led to Colorados large-scale policy change in higher
education governance and finance would address the research gap that McLendon
has identified. Specifically, a scholarly inquiry that scrutinizes the role of political
developments and dynamics, as well as institutional interaction, through an
application of theoretical perspectives on the policy process could yield insights into

higher education policy shifts and contribute to the advancement of knowledge of
the policy process at the state level. Furthermore, such research would explore the
(largely unexplored) role of the political context in the shaping of agendas.
Among McLendons (2003b) list of state higher education issues that have not been
analyzed in a political context, the case of higher education policy change in
Colorado illustrates at least three: 1) political influences on state higher education
finance, 2) politics of accountability and higher education performance regimes,
and 3) political antecedents of state higher education governance reform. These
topics are universally relevant across states, as numerous states are contemplating or
enacting significant, and somewhat similar, reform legislation (Hebei, 2004a).
Colorados multi-layered landscape of higher education governance has long
appeared cumbersome (McLendon & Ness, p. 72), but has never been the subject
of scholarly examination, nor has the major policy change that created the first state
college voucher system in the nation.
Theoretical Perspectives of the Policy Process
As noted above, scholarly higher education research has largely ignored the
politics of policy the political context of policy reform and in particular has not
explored the policy process of major policy change. This thesis seeks to address

this oversight by carefully examining the policy process of large-scale higher
education reform in Colorado. This section discusses the conceptualization of the
policy process and provides an overview of three major theoretical approaches from
the public policy literature.
The policy process can be defined as the manner in which problems get
conceptualized and brought to government for solution; governmental institutions
formulate alternatives and select policy solutions; and those solutions get
implemented, evaluated and revised (Sabatier, 1999, p. 3). The process of public
policymaking includes an extremely complex set of interactive elements, i.e.,
numerous actors, lengthy time spans, multiple policy subsystems involving multiple
levels of government, technical disputes, large sums of money, authoritative
coercion, and deeply held values and interests (Sabatier, 1999) in short, the very
gist of political science. So, political scientists have developed various conceptual
lenses consisting of interrelated sets of propositions and crucial variables that
simplify the complexity of the policy process to understand and explain it.
Seeking to improve the quality of information offered to government, Lasswell
(1951) was among the first to conceptualize the policy sciences and define its
characteristics (deLeon, 1988). Lasswell focused particularly on the substantive
(knowledge of) and procedural (knowledge in) aspects of the policy process. The

latter, known as the decision process, included seven stages or phases that a
public policy or program would go through: intelligence, promotion, prescription,
invocation, application, termination, and appraisal (Lasswell, 1971, p. 28). These
stages were further developed and refined by Brewer (1974) and Brewer and
deLeon (1983), and resulted in a revised list of stages: initiation, estimation,
selection, implementation, evaluation and termination. Other proponents of the
policy process stages include Thomas Dye (2004) and Charles Lindblom (1959,
1977). This delineated, sequential policy framework conceptualized and
operationalized the distinctive characteristics and set of activities associated with
each of the stages of the policy process and shaped much of the subsequent policy
research agenda (deLeon, 1999, p. 21).
It is important to note that each of the stages does not develop independently from
each other, but rather each is influenced by the other stages. The examination of a
particular stage cannot be done in isolation from the other stages, but instead it
allows focusing on one or more particular aspects of the policy process (Brewer &
deLeon, 1983). With a truly Lasswellian orientation, the policy stages approach to
the policy process emphasized instead of avoiding complexity, and rationalized a
new problem-oriented, multidisciplinary, explicitly normative approach that allowed
the inclusion of ideological and value components, which are so central to policy

analysis and to the political process (deLeon, 1988).7 The policy process/stages
orientation is a device that allows the researcher to disaggregate the complex policy
transactions and to view and categorize the actors involved in each stage of the
process, and thus to understand clearly policy development and to gain operational
insights, especially in retrospect (deLeon, 1999).
Since the Colorado college voucher legislation was passed recently, four stages of
the policy process could be examined to yield particular insight into the emergence
and adoption of this particular policy: initiation, formulation, estimation and
adoption. These stages can also be conceptualized as problem definition and
agenda-setting (initiation), alternative specification (formulation), estimation and
adoption. A number of theoretical frameworks of the policy process have been
developed that seek to explain how policy change occurs, how the dynamic
interaction of ideas, actors, changing circumstances and institutions lead to the
emergence and ultimate adoption of a particular policy (Sabatier, 1999). Among
them, the multiple streams, punctuated equilibrium and advocacy coalition
frameworks emphasize the analysis of policy change from initiation through
7 Unlike empirical theories, whose main purpose is prediction, the policy sciences represent a central
theory, consisting of concepts, as well as normative and empirical propositions, whose primary
purpose is to gain insight (Brunner, 1991).

Multiple Streams Framework
The multiple streams (MS) framework explains choice in policymaking under
conditions of ambiguity by assuming a temporal order the adoption of policy
alternatives depends on when policies are made and proposing a theory of political
manipulation (Zahariadis, 2007). The MS is an approach that explains how
policies are made, especially the agenda-setting and decision-making aspects of
policy formation (p. 65). It therefore examines the process of making policies
under conditions of ambiguity, which create vagueness, confusion and stress, and
explains how issues rise on the agenda and how alternatives are specified.8 9 Agenda
setting is usually the earliest stage of the policy process, when some subjects
become prominent on the policy agenda and others do not, followed by the shaping
of alternative policy options to address the agenda items (Kingdon, 1995, p. 3).
Based on the concepts of bounded rationality and organizational theory, multiple
streams are attentive to complexity, assume a considerable amount of randomness,
and view systems as constantly evolving. Attention to a particular issue is a
function of opportunity, bias, formal position ... and the number of issues
8 Although initially proposed by John Kingdon (1984, 1995), this MS section discussion is based
largely on the work of Nikolaos Zahariadis (1992, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2007).
9 Ambiguity can be thought of as ambivalence and different from uncertainty, which connotes
ignorance or the inability to predict accurately (Zahariadis, 2007).

competing for attention (March & Romelaer, 1976, quoted by Zahariadis, 1999, p.
The MS framework was originally developed by Kingdon (1984, 1995), drawing
upon the garbage can model of organizational behavior and choice (Cohen, March
and Olsen, 1972). Kingdon expanded the work of Cohen et al., who argued that
many public organizations (e.g., higher education) resembled an organized
anarchy, characterized by problematic preferences, unclear technology and fluid
participation, and contained four independent but related stream: problems,
solutions, participants and choice opportunities. Organized anarchies, such as
governments or universities, have high levels of turnover and actors participation in
decision making varies considerably by issue and over time. Furthermore, such
organized anarchies resemble a collection of ideas where objectives may often be
unclear or when time constraints preclude the development of clearly specified
objectives to be used for a particular decision. Technology is also unclear, as
exemplified by mission confusion and frequent inter-agency and inter-departmental 10
10 The multiple-streams framework addresses both the issues of ideas and interests, with argument,
persuasion and reasoning as central elements of the policy formation stage. In seeking to explain
policy precisely when rationality assumptions of clarity and self-interest are inappropriate
descriptors, this framework places emphasis on ideas and context, rejects the notion of control, and
accepts the independence of the three streams of problems, policies, and politics. It is a particularly
appropriate approach for explaining policy patterns in dynamic and shifting environments where
decision outcomes appear to be beyond anyones control. MS examines policymaking only under
conditions of ambiguity, which refers to a state of having many ways of thinking about the same
circumstances or phenomena (Feldman, 1989, p. 5, as cited by Zahariadis, 2007). These disputes
create vagueness, confusion, and stress, and may not be reconcilable.

turf wars resulting from overlapping jurisdictional boundaries, and is frequently
replaced by peer experience, with trial and error procedures serving as essential
learning tools. Rational choice is impossible under such conditions, and thus
collective choice is highly dynamic and interactive the combined result of
structural forces and cognitive and affective processes that are highly context
dependent and formulated by the push and pull of several factors, including
information (Zahariadis, 2007, p. 66). The major presumption is that problems are
ambiguous, with constantly shifting and vague definitions, and distinguishing
between useful and useless information is impossible, leading to contradictions and
paradoxes (Zahariadis, 2007).
In contrast to rational behavior models, the MS accords significance to time a
unique, scarce and invaluable resource of decision makers; time management, rather
than task management, is the primary concern of policymakers. Instead of choosing
issues for solution, individuals are viewed as being more concerned about
addressing the multitude of problems that are thrust upon them, by factors beyond
their control (Kingdon, 1995, p. 75). The MS approach identifies three
conceptually separate and usually parallel streams (problems, policies and politics)
flowing through the system as having their own dynamics and rules (Zahariadis,
2007). At critical points in time, which Kingdon termed policy windows, the
streams are merged, sometimes by coincidence but typically through the efforts of

the policy entrepreneurs, and combined into a package that enhances dramatically
an issues chances to receive serious attention, as well as a particular policys odds
of being adopted. To borrow Kingdons metaphor, ideas float in a policy
primeval soup, looking for a solution. It is not necessary that the stages of the
policy process progress sequentially. For example, solutions may precede the
problems to which they eventually become attached by policy entrepreneurs,
resembling the organized anarchy described by Cohen, March and Olsen (1972) as
a collection of ideas [rather than] as a coherent structure (p. 1). Neither does the
approach view agenda-setting as marginal an issue may suddenly hit or take
off, rising very quickly to become the hot-button topic of the day (McLendon,
2003b, p. 487). Opportunity, bias, formal position within an organization and the
number of issues competing for the attention of policymakers determine whether a
particular issue rises on the agenda (Zahariadis, 1999).11 12 The MS has three explicit
1) Individual attention or processing is serial, while systemic attention or
processing is parallel. Due to cognitive and biological limitations, individuals
11 Specifically, agenda setting is concerned with how issues move from the governmental agenda,
the list of subjects or problems to which governmental officials, and people outside of government
closely associated with those officials, are paying some serious attention at any given time,
(Kingdon, 1995, p. 3) to the narrower decision agenda, the list of subjects within the governmental
agenda that are up for an active decision (p. 4).
12 The discussion of the three MS assumptions is based on Zahariadis (2007), pp. 68-69.

generally focus on one issue at a time, which means that policymakers can actively
consider only a constrained number of issues (serial processing). However,
organizations and policy subsystems are able to handle numerous issues
simultaneously due to the division of labor (parallel processing). Couched on the
concept of bounded rationality, the MS pays attention to the order that alternatives
are considered, since this affects decision outcomes, and views both serial and
parallel processing as potentially abrupt and disorderly.
2) The problems, politics and policies streams flowing through the system are
independent of each other. The ability of organizations and policy subsystems for
parallel processing of issues and alternatives implies that each stream operates
independently from the others: the problems stream encompasses individuals
concerns inside or outside a policy arena; policies are developed in policy
subsystems or communities; and the broader political discourse within which
policies are debated and decided evolves through political conditions and
occurrences, such as election outcomes, officials positions and interests, public
opinion movements, and party ideology.
3) Policymakers operate under significant time constraints. There is
characteristically a sense of urgency in policymakers decision making, due to the
numerous issues requiring attention and the need to address certain issues in a

timely manner. As result of time constraints, the range of issues and alternatives
considered is necessarily limited.
Ambiguity leads to opportunities for political manipulation:13 If ambiguity is
pervasive and central to politics, manipulation is the effort to control ambiguity ...
to create winners and losers, to provide meaning and identity, and to pursue self-
interest (Zahariadis, 2007, p. 69). Information, which is not value-neutral, is
strategically manipulated by policy entrepreneurs not only to self-interestedly
promote their pet proposals on the individual level, but also to supply meaning,
clarification and identity in their coupling efforts, from the systemic point of view.
Policymakers and others have problematic preferences and are seeking a good
enough solution, or what Herbert Simon referred to as satisficing (Simon, 1957).
Goal-intending entrepreneurs strategically employ labels and symbols with specific
cognitive referents and emotional impact to highlight one problem dimension over
others, alter the dynamics of choice, and manipulate policymakers. It is the strategic
presentation and processing of information, in combination with institutions and
policy windows that changes the context, meaning, and policies over time
(Zahariadis, 2007, p. 70).
13 Manipulation refers to the business of politics and is not used in a pejorative sense.

The MS centers on five structural elements: problems, policies, politics, policy
windows and policy entrepreneurs (Zahariadis, 2007). Problems consist of various
conditions that need to be addressed, and which may receive attention from decision
makers for three reasons. First, indicators may be used systematically or may be
employed in special studies to assess the existence and magnitude of a condition and
its scope of change, such as budgetary trends (e.g., declining public expenditures on
higher education) or government statistics (e.g., the lack of access to higher
education for certain student populations). Such indicators can be used to gain the
interest and attention of the public and policymakers on certain issues, and if done
so effectively through the attachment of values and beliefs, they can be perceived
and interpreted as problems requiring action. Second, media and policy
entrepreneurs call attention to dramatic events or crises (focusing events), such as
accidents and disasters, or on reports that describe low performance, i.e., the low
rates of postsecondary access. Third, feedback from existing programs, input from
citizens, or bureaucratic experience can bring conditions to the fore, such as higher
education officials emphasizing the inadequacy of financial aid. Feedback may be
negative or positive, pointing to both failures and successes, and the latter may be
transplanted into other policy arenas, such as in the case of privatization being
replicated as a remedy for problematic conditions in different policy areas
(Zahariadis, 2007).

However, not all conditions become problems. As Kingdon asserted, problems
contain a perceptual, interpretive element as participants perceptions of
problems, and the images associated with them, affect problem definition (Kingdon,
1995, p. 110). Problems are interpretations of conditions that have been
subjectively defined as problematic, and as such, deserve some ameliorative action
(Ingram, Schneider & deLeon, 2007, p. 94). The limited ability of policymakers to
address several issues simultaneously affects which issues get on the agenda.
Multiple issues vying for attention have a negative effect on the efficient utilization
of information and a strong positive effect on the ability to predict the issues place
on the agenda (Zahariadis, 2007, p. 72). In the MS lexicon, conditions are more
likely to become problems when coupled with another stream. Power is exercised
with the greatest effect by controlling or influencing what gets on the decision
agenda. Linking identified problems to viable solutions is central to agenda setting,
as the chances for a problem to rise on the decision agenda increase considerably if
a solution is attached (Kingdon, 1995).
The policies stream includes a wide variety of competing ideas and proposals
generated by a policy community of specialists consisting of bureaucrats,
congressional staff, academics, interest group advocates and researchers who share a
common concern in a single policy arena (Kingdon, 1995, p. 87), or an issue-
network (Heclo, 1978). Their proposals float around government, waiting for the

right moment to be attached to a problem on the decision agenda. As these ideas are
pitched by their proponents and tried out in various ways, only a few receive
serious consideration, based on technical feasibility, affordability, value
acceptability, and the presence of policy entrepreneurs, who invest their resources to
advocate their proposals. Some proposals survive, some are altered or combined
with others, and some disappear, with only a few surviving and receiving serious
consideration. For example, policy community ideas on means-tested college
vouchers or large increases in need-based financial aid that are, or appear to be,
difficult to implement, or espouse values outside the community have fewer chances
of getting on the agenda. Another factor affecting a proposals chances of
consideration is the level of policy community integration, with more integrated
networks those smaller in size, with more restricted access, more consensus and
closer to policymakers producing ideas that gain prominence easier and faster.
The politics stream consists of elements such as the sociopolitical (national or state)
mood, political culture, public opinion, election results ... interest group pressure
campaigns, and administrative or legislative turnover as a result of election
outcomes (Kingdon, 1995, p. 87). The national or state mood refers to the
average voters mood swings, as captured by public opinion polls, which officials
monitor in an effort to promote policies that cater to voters preferences. Similarly,
policymakers estimate the balance of power among competing interest groups on

particular issues and seek to bring to the table and address those concerns with the
highest levels of support. Furthermore, legislative and administrative turnover has
dramatic effects on policy development, as majorities design and advocate proposals
that match their ideological positions to address issues that are most important to
their philosophy and political agenda. Changes in the political stream, and
especially the combination of the mood and turnover in government, exert the most
powerful effect on agendas (Zahariadis, 2007). Some ideas gain currency and
others lose ground as a result of political developments. Thus, government officials
will put on the agenda more easily the problems associated with postsecondary
access if pressure groups mount campaigns, but most importantly if the
administration or legislature consider these issues as being crucial.
The MS approach offers a dynamic set of processes in which the three independent
streams combine with choice opportunities at critical moments in time to elevate
issues to prominence (McLendon, 2003b; Zahariadis, 2007).14 When the streams
join together, due to compelling problems or by events in the political stream, such
as a new administration with different ideology assuming office, or crises that act as
a widely known symbol of a policy problem and raise its prominence on the
governmental agenda (Kingdon, 1995), they create policy windows fleeting, short-
14 The key to understanding agenda and policy change is their coupling ... at critical times. A
problem is recognized, a solution is available, the political climate makes the time right for change,
and the constraints do not prohibit action (Kingdon, 1995, p. 88).

term opportunities for advocates of proposals to advance their issues and preferred
solutions up on the agenda.
When these policy windows open, policy entrepreneurs, who are individuals or
corporate actors willing to promote a position, must immediately seize the
opportunity and initiate action. They are much more than mere advocates of
particular positions; they are power brokers and manipulators of problematic
preferences and unclear technology (Zahariadis, 2007, p. 74). These entrepreneurs
must be skilled in identifying policy windows and in coupling be able to attach
problems to their solutions or find solutions to their problems and gain political
support. Successful coupling depends on how resourceful, well-connected (i.e., as
reflected by access to policymakers) and persistent an entrepreneur is, and the
chances of their pet policy increase dramatically when all three streams are coupled
through strategic manipulation.
However, Kingdon (1995) argues that the possibilities and limits of coupling create
unique outcomes because everything cannot interact with everything else (p. 207).
External factors, such as budget constraints or the skills of policy entrepreneurs,
influence the chances for a window of opportunity to open at an appropriate time for
coupling. Certain combinations of ideas, problems and solutions have significantly
greater potential to evolve than others (John, 2003). Collective choices are not

simply derived from individual entrepreneurs, but rather result from the
combination of structural forces and internal processes that are highly dependent
upon the context of a particular policy issue and the ideology of governing parties
(Zahariadis, 1999).
How do certain issues attract the attention of policymakers with limited attention
spans among competing issues? According to the MS, this is a function of
institutional structure, the type of policy window that opens, and the symbols used
to attract attention (Zahariadis, 2007, p. 75). To deal with the multiplicity of issues
vying for attention, institutional design provides policy communities or subsystems
that filter problems and solutions and reduces them to a manageable number, before
policy entrepreneurs manage to elevate them on the policymakers agenda and
manipulate them to their advantage.
The origin of opportunity affects choice. If the policy window opens in the
problems stream, then solutions are developed in response, in a consequential
manner. But when windows open in the politics stream, attention is first rationed to
solutions before problems can be clearly defined, often in an ideological process. In
the latter case, what matters more is the solution to be adopted rather than the
problem to be solved (Zahariadis, 2007, pp. 75-76). Symbols used to attract
attention play a crucial role as well, since they have both emotive and cognitive

appeal through a simple message. Ambiguity fosters political manipulation through
the use of political symbols in other words, ambiguity fosters symbolic politics.
Coupling is more likely to be successful when policy entrepreneurs attach symbols
that appeal to the majority and achieve greater durability of attention to their pet
proposals, as they communicate a proposal to the greatest number of people with
strong emotional impact and lesser need for explanation. In light of problematic
preferences, the externally imposed construction of identity, as represented by
symbols, becomes an important guide for action (Zahariadis, 2007).
In addition to affecting the chances of an issue receiving attention, the structure of
policy communities, subsystems or networks also influences the search for available
solutions. The development, refinement and recombination of ideas in the policy
stream can be quantum (rapid propulsion of new ideas), emergent (gradual
gestation of new ideas), convergent (rapid gestation of old ideas), and gradualist
(slow gestation of marginal extension of existing policies) (Zahariadis, 2007, p.
77). More integrated networks are more likely to have an emergent to convergent
pattern of idea gestation.
Selection among alternative proposals is a function of the manipulation strategies
and skills of entrepreneurs, including framing, affect priming, salami tactics, and
the use of symbols (Zahariadis, 2007, p. 77). In problem representation (framing)

through language, politicians are more likely to take risks and adopt drastic policies
when they perceive such as action as reversing perceived losses in prestige or
credibility. Emotion is also a core element of social processes and a negative public
opinion mood leads to more radical policy. Symbols are used to convey highly
simplified messages, to focus on attention on particular aspects of a problem and
strengthen emotive attachment to a particular policy option. Most important,
symbols affect the success of coupling. When symbols present a proposal as a
significant departure from the status quo and the problem as a loss, or when they
present a proposal as a preservation of the status quo and the problem as a gain, then
the coupling is most likely to be successful (Zahariadis, 2007). Entrepreneurs that
present their pet proposal as recouping perceived losses are more likely to convince
policymakers. Salami tactics involves the strategic manipulation of sequential
decision making by entrepreneurs at high levels of government who dissect their
riskier proposals into distinct stages that are presented sequentially to policymakers,
promoting step-by-step agreement.
Other scholars of the policy process have emphasized how language, symbols and
stories are used to draw support and shape the policy process (e.g., Edelman 1988,
2001; Stone 2002), as well as how the framing of issues affects policy design and
the political dynamics of the process (Ingram et al., 2007). Policymakers respond
to and manipulate social constructions and images in the political process

(Ingram et al., 2007, p. 94). Issues are defined through symbolic politics (Stone,
2002) and the use of images, stereotypes, and assignment of values to objects,
people, and events (Ingram et al., p. 95):
Indeed, much of the dynamism of policymaking is in persuading
others that a particular construction of target groups, and a particular
way of framing the broader issue, is the right one and, therefore,
particular policy design elements are the logical choice (Ingram et
al., p. 119).
According to Rein and Schon (1994), the problem-framing process is central to
policymaking. Stone (2002) argues that linking an issue to simple causal stories
attached to feasible solutions increases its probability of advancing on the agenda.
In sum, the MS offers the following explanation of why some policies are adopted
and others are not:
During open policy windows persistent policy entrepreneurs, who
constantly search for solutions to important problems, attempt to
couple the three streams. Success is more likely when all three
streams are coupled, conditional on the type of window that opens
and the skills, resources, and strategies of entrepreneurs to focus
attention and bias choice (Zahariadis, 2007, pp. 78-79).
Critics have argued that the MS approach has several weaknesses. According to
Zahariadis (1999, 2007), whether the streams are really independent, the
implications of policy windows that are not temporary, the effects of entrepreneurial
strategy on coupling, and whether solutions always follow an incremental evolution

in the policy stream are among the major concerns raised by scholars. Many critics
argue that the streams are interdependent, with changes in one stream affecting
changes in another, which means that the process of coupling is more purposive and
strategic than implied by the approach. While proponents agree that the streams are
not completely independent, they argue that conceptualizing independent streams
enables researchers to uncover rather than assume rationality (Zahariadis, 2007, p.
81). Thus, the task of the researcher becomes to specify when there is little or no
linkage between two streams.
The second concern raises the issue of the role of policy windows in coupling when
windows are not temporary phenomena. Certain issue characteristics, such as high
visibility, dramatic impact, and the involvement of many active organized interests,
have the potential of making an issue current on the agenda for extended timeframes
(i.e., drug policy), but the implications of this for coupling over time remain largely
unexplored. A third concern with Kingdons approach involves the effects of
entrepreneurial strategy on coupling. Entrepreneurs can manipulate ambiguity
through framing or issue definition; especially when they have significant influence
over political leaders and media, they have the ability to ultimately affect choice
(Polsby, 1984). However, the limits of entrepreneurial ability to manipulate
ambiguity, for example due to precedent and feedback, are unclear.

Finally, the multiple streams approach has been criticized as being ahistorical.
Kingdon (1995) claims that the generation of solutions within the policy stream
remains incremental, with ideas constantly being recombined. However, numerous
scholars (i.e., Baumgartner & Jones, 1993) have argued that policy change is
characterized by major shifts that disrupt long periods of incrementalism.
Zahariadis (1999) claims that if this is so, then Kingdons formulation may be
somewhat inaccurate and more empirical research is needed to examine the
effects of path dependence and incrementalism in the policy stream (p. 86).
Furthermore, Zahariadis also calls for the application of the approach to areas other
than educational organizations and national governments.
Punctuated Equilibrium Theory
The punctuated-equilibrium theory (PET) of the policy process helps explain the
contexts in which issues rise or fall and focuses on the development and
consequences of both incremental policy changes as well as major policy reforms
(Baumgartner &Jones, 1993, 2002; Busenberg, 1999, 2003; True, Jones, and
Baumgartner, 1999, 2007).15 The PET seeks to explain a simple observation:
political processes are generally characterized by stability and incrementalism, but
occasionally they produce large-scale departures from the past (True et al., 2007, p.
15 This PET section discussion is largely based on the work of Busenberg (1999, 2003), Baumgartner
and Jones (1993, 2002), and True et al., (1999, 2007).

155). While most frameworks focus on either stasis and incrementalism, or crisis
and major policy change, the PET focuses on both. Furthermore, the PET pays
particular attention to the dynamics of specialized politics in policy subsystems, and
the sporadic punctuations in the policy process that are caused by new information.
The PET originates from research that sought to specify causal mechanisms that
generated patterns of punctuated equilibria in American public policy (Busenberg,
2003). A critique of policy incrementalism, this explanatory approach argues that
policymaking is characterized by equilibrium periods marked by incremental policy
change that are punctuated by brief, but critical, periods marked by major policy
change an observation made by related political science approaches (Kingdon,
1984, 1995; Baumgartner & Jones, 1991, 1993). The political system the
institutional system of government organizations and rules displays considerable
stability with regard to the manner in which it processes issues, but the stability is
punctuated with periods of volatile change (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993, p. 4).
Issues suddenly gain currency, often due to changes in an issues image or
definition. These punctuations establish new ideas and institutions that
subsequently endure during periods of equilibrium and shape future policy
development. The conservative nature of the political system favors stability and
the status quo, and makes major change difficult, but at the same time occasionally
reinforces and enables efforts for major policy change. Baumgartner and Jones

(1991, 1993) argue that federalism, separation of powers, overlapping jurisdictions
and institutional turf, and the open access to mobilizations of the American political
system offer multiple venues and allow for the infusion of new actors in a particular
policy arena during mobilization.
While the PET covers incremental policy change, its major contribution centers on
its dual foci on explaining both policy stasis and policy punctuations (True et al.,
1999, 2007). It emphasizes the issue definition and agenda-setting stages of the
policy process and illuminates the limitations of individuals and, by extension, of
governments cognitive and decision-making capacity, as well as attention spans,
and the creation and dissolution of monopolies in policy subsystems (Jones, 2004;
True et al., 2007). For the PET, the clearest explanation for both marginal and
large-scale policy changes comes from the interaction of multilevel political
institutions and behavioral decisionmaking, as well as interest mobilizations a
combination that creates patterns of stability and mobilization or punctuated
equilibria (True et al., 2007, p. 156). This dynamic interplay among interests,
institutions and attentiveness has caused the American government to become a
complex, interactive and evolving system that is both inherently conservative and
liable to occasional radical change (p. 165).

Based on the dual foundation of conservative and overlapping political institutions
on the one hand, and boundedly rational decisionmaking on the other, the PET
explains how the constrained decision-making capabilities of government officials
have forced delegation of authority and the creation of numerous issue-oriented
policy subsystems, similar to Kingdons policy specialist communities (1984). Due
to the inability of political systems to consider all issues all the time, policy
subsystems allow the system to engage in parallel processing and consider
multiple issues simultaneously within the respective communities of experts (True
et al., 2007, p. 158), insulated from the glare of publicity associated with high-
agenda politics (p. 159). A policy monopoly has a recognizable institutional
policymaking structure that is supported by core political values and dominates an
issue area by restricting access to policy decision-making in that area (True et al.,
1999, 2007).16
Policy subsystems can be dominated by a single interest, can undergo competition
among several interests, can be disaggregated over time, or may be building up their
independence from others and operate out of the political spotlight (True et al.,
2005, p. 158). In turn, subsystem politics generate policy equilibria. A limited
16 In sum, the American political system is a mosaic of continually reshaping systems of limited
participation (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993, p. 6).

number of intensely interested actors and specialists that share a policy image17
dominate each policy domain and create policy monopolies, which restrict the
infusion of new actors and new ideas into the subsystem, and thus, lead to equilibria
characterized by incrementalism (Busenberg, 2003). Just as policy monopolies are
constructed, they can also collapse. Although policy monopolies resist change, and
do so easily when excluded citizens remain apolitical, sufficient pressure may lead
to intervention by previously uninvolved political actors and institutions when
policy images change substantially (True et al., 2007).
Reinforcement of existing policies only leads to a negative feedback process and
slow to modest change, but questioning of policies creates opportunities for
dramatic policy change and major reversal in policy outcomes (True et al., 1999,
2007). Positive feedback entails minor changes, causing future changes to be
amplified, in contrast to negative feedback, which leads to incrementalism and
stability in the subsystem. When an issue area is on the macropolitical agenda,
small changes in the objective circumstances can cause large changes in policy, and
we say that the system is undergoing a positive feedback process (True et al., 2007,
p. 160). Policy punctuations are caused either by changes in the macropolitical
arena and focusing events, such as crises, or as a result of positive feedback from a
17 Policy images are a mixture of empirical information and emotive appeals (True et al., 2007, p.
161) and are generally connected to core political values and can be communicated simply and
directly to the public (True et al., 2007, p. 159).

series of minor changes over longer periods of time. The interaction of policy
images, attentiveness and policy venues determines the causes of major policy
change (True et al., 2007).
The PET approach stresses the critical importance of policy images on agenda
setting how policymakers and the public view an issue, including the values and
biases that they attach to it which in turn impacts policy formulation.18 19 Image
control feeds the support of the policy monopoly. Thus, media coverage,
organized political activity, and access to information and research, which help
shape perceptions, are key elements in agenda setting. Actors who are able to
influence or shape the public image of an issue have the ability to control the
agenda. A successful policy monopoly leads to a single policy image that is widely
accepted and supportive of the policy, while contested subsystems lead to different
sets of policy images advocated by proponents and opponents. Policy images can
dampen or exacerbate mobilizations against policy monopolies. The multiple
venues of the American political system offer several opportunities for policy
entrepreneurs to advocate their positions when a new image attracts their attention
and to disrupt policy monopolies during times of positive feedback, and also allow
for inter-venue mobilization spillover.
18 Policy images are a mixture of empirical information and cognitive appeals (True et al., 2007, p.
19 Agenda setting has important policy consequences (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993, p. 4).

Viewed through the PET lens, agenda-setting can be influenced by exogenous
factors such as shifts in public opinion, changing conditions, crises, or other
focusing events that suddenly disrupt the macropolitical system and cause the
system to respond, triggering significant policy shifts with long-term impacts
(Baumgartner & Jones, 1993). A turbulent disruption punctuates the equilibrium
and allows policies not supported by the existing monopoly an opportunity to rise
on the political agenda (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993).
Similarly, political changes, such as a partisan change reflecting a shift in electoral
preferences, also lead to the introduction of new actors and ideas and the design of
new policies. When macropolitical forces cause certain issues to attract attention
outside the subsystem, critical periods of major reform occur with the attention of
political leaders shifting and an expanded set of actors becoming increasingly
interested in a particular policy domain. This policy shift is generally done in an
environment of changing issue definitions and heightened attentiveness by the
media and broader publics (Jones, 1994, p. 185, as quoted by True et al., 2007, p.
159). Macropolitical intervention and increased public attention on a particular
issue causes it to move from parallel processing in a policy subsystem to serial

processing within macropolitical institutions, and it is then that major changes
As pressure for change grows, previously uninvolved governmental institutions and
political actors may intervene, and long periods of subsystem stability are
punctuated by sharp spasms of change. Such periods of broader system change
allow for the entrance of new ideas and actors into the subsystem, the establishment
of new policy images, a redefinition of policy issues, and the restructuring or
creation of new institutional arrangements. The old policy making institutions find
themselves replaced or in competition with new bodies that favor different policy
proposals. So agenda setting has important policy consequences (Baumgartner &
Jones, 1993, p. 4). This process of punctuation redesigns the subsystem for
subsequent periods of equilibrium characterized by incrementalism.20 21
Policy punctuations are the result of changes in preferences or attentiveness called
serial shifts (True, et al., 2007, p. 164). Attention is given serially to one issue or
one aspect of a complex problem, and collectively a shift in the object of attention
20 It is the intersection of the parallel processing capabilities of the policy subsystems and the serial
processing needs of the macropolitical system that creates the nonincremental dynamics of lurching
that we often observe in many policy areas (True et al., 2007, p. 159).
21 However, an important prerequisite for such change is the presence of multiple institutional and
policy venues such as overlapping legislative jurisdictions, separated institutions, and open access
to mobilizations that can be exploited by policy entrepreneurs who are opponents of policy
monopolies to fashion new policy images.

may lead to a change in preferred alternatives, even when such alternatives are well-
defined (Jones, 1994, 1996). Baumgartner and Jones (1993) argue that policy
punctuations result from the interactions of images and institutions, when the former
become contested and advance on the macropolitical agenda through mobilization
or conflict expansion. In other words, subsystem politics is the politics of policy
monopoly equilibrium, negative feedback and incrementalism while
macropolitics is the politics of punctuation political mobilization and
manipulation, competing policy images, positive feedback, and policy change. The
interaction of subsystem politics and behavioral decision-making creates patterns of
stability and mobilization of policy punctuations, resulting in major policy changes,
new programs, and disrupted policy subsystems.
The PET is concerned with situations where political conflict extends beyond
expert-dominated policy subsystems into macropolitical policymaking arenas, and
relies on the mechanisms of policy image the manner in which a policy is
characterized or understood and a system of partially independent institutional
venues within which policy can be made (True et al., 2007, p. 176). It examines
how governments allocate attention to problems and adjust and respond to the flow
of new information, and suggests that information processing is disproportionate,
alternating between periods of under-reaction and over-reaction to information
flowing into the policymaking system from the environment (True et al., 2007).

However, like MS, PET also suffers from some drawbacks. While the proponents
of the theory argue that external events shift attention to an issue, and thus influence
agenda setting, it is unclear how these events affect the decision-making process.
Do the ideas of new participants become part of the alternatives considered for
adoption or do the proposals of the policy monopoly dominate? In other words, the
relationship between change and policy outputs and outcomes is unexplored. In
addition, PET explains that policy shifts will occur with a flurry of legislative
activity as a response to the crisis or to partisan change, but does not explain what
kind of policies emerge.
Also, the role of media does not receive sufficient attention from this approach, as
opposed to a Kingdonian depiction. While focusing events cause a policy to shift
from the policy subsystem into the macropolitical arena in an environment of
increased media attention, the approach does not address the role of the media in
altering an issues image or definition. Another weakness of the approach is the
difficulty of identifying a changing policy image, the entrance of new policy actors,
and the redefinition of a policy issue during their occurrence, that is, prior to the
establishment of a new equilibrium in the issue arena. In other words, it does not
allow the early recognition of a PET event, so that one can take advantage,
theoretically speaking. Thus, the models predictive capability is limited.

Finally, PET stresses the centrality of the interaction between institutions and
images, but ignores the role of central policy actors of the policy monopoly in
shaping an issues definition and image, as well as the agenda setting, alternative
specification and decision-making processes. It is relatively unclear who are the
dominant major policy and political actors and who are the new actors seeking to
challenge the existing, and ultimately recreate a new, policy monopoly.
Advocacy Coalition Framework
The advocacy coalition framework (ACF) focuses on the interaction of advocacy
coalitions within a policy subsystem and seeks to explain policy change over long
periods of time (Sabatier & Weible, 2005, p. 15).22 Developed by Sabatier and
Jenkins-Smith (1988, 1993, 1999), this framework views policy change as a
function of competition within a subsystem as well as exogenous events, maps the
belief systems of policy elites, and analyzes the conditions leading to policy
learning across coalitions. It is particularly applicable to the analysis of the policy
formulation and implementation stages of the policy process.
The ACF is based on three cornerstones: the policy subsystem and exogenous
factors; a model of individuals and their belief systems; and advocacy coalitions.
22 This ACF section discussion is based largely on the work of Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1993,
1999) and Sabatier and Weible (2005, 2007).

First, the policy-making process is largely the domain of specialists seeking to
influence policy within policy subsystem that can be characterized by a functional
and territorial dimension. For example, a subsystems boundaries can be
determined by one or more policy arena, such as education, and/or by a particular
jurisdiction, such as the States of Nevada or Colorado (Sabatier & Weible, 2005).
Each coalition consists of actors from various institutions who share a set of policy
beliefs. The group of policy specialists includes legislators, executive branch
officials and interest groups, as well as researchers and journalists covering this
particular policy arena, all of whom have strong beliefs that they wish to translate
into policy. Given that technical information has a major impact on policy
specialists beliefs, the ACF assumes researchers and those who provide new
technical information play a major role in the policy process. Policy specialists
behavior is a function of both stable and unstable exogenous factors. The former
consist of the basic attributes of the problem, basic distribution of natural
resources, and basic constitutional structure that evolve slowly and are resistant to
change, thus rarely providing the impetus for behavioral or policy change within a
policy subsystem (Sabatier & Weible, 2007, p. 193). Exogenous factors, in
contrast, are dynamic, such as socioeconomic conditions, changes in the
governing coalition, and policy decisions from other subsystems, which often
change, altering the distribution of resources and resulting in policy subsystem
change (Sabatier & Weible, 2005, p. 4).

The second cornerstone of the ACF is its model of the individual and her or his
belief systems, which is drawn heavily from social psychology (Sabatier &
Weible, 2007, p. 192) and differs from the rational choice frameworks model of the
individual as a self-interested actor rationally pursuing relatively simple material
interests (p. 194). Individuals have preexisting normative beliefs that are difficult
to change. According to ACF, when policy actors in high conflict situations
experience the devil shift, they exaggerate the power and maliciousness of their
political opponents, which amplifies the severity of losses to a rival coalition and
boosts the benefits of coordinating with coalition allies (Sabatier & Weible, 2007,
p. 197). This, in turn, strengthens intra-coalition ties, and tend[s] to screen out
dissonant information and reaffirm conforming information, thus making belief
change quite difficult (p. 194). Policy specialists belief systems are
conceptualized along a three-tier hierarchy:
1) Deep core beliefs involve normative and ontological assumptions
that are largely a product of childhood socialization and are highly
resistant to re-examination and alteration.23
2) Policy core beliefs are the application of deep core beliefs in a policy
subsystem and deal with fundamental policy choices, such as policy
priority values, and are also quite difficult to change.
3) Secondary beliefs are narrower in scope than the subsystem-wide
policy core beliefs and address more limited issues, and are thus
more amenable to change as they require less evidence and fewer
23 Deep core beliefs involve very general normative and ontological assumptions about human
nature, the relative priority of the welfare of different groups, the proper role of government vs.
markets in general, and about who should participate in governmental decision-making (Sabatier &
Weible, 2007, p. 194).

agreements among subsystem actors (Sabatier & Weible, 2007, p.
196). In sum, core beliefs are not amenable to change, policy beliefs
are less rigid, while the secondary beliefs may change through policy
learning (deLeon, 1994a).
The third cornerstone of the ACF is the advocacy coalition. In their efforts to
translate beliefs into policy and in fear that their opponents may succeed first,
specialists within a subsystem seek allies with similar beliefs to coordinate through
advocacy coalitions, share resources and develop complementary strategies
(Sabatier & Weible, 2007, p. 196).24 ACF argues that in any given policy
subsystem, there will generally be two to five advocacy coalitions (p. 7) and most
subsystems are dominated by one advocacy coalition with one or more minority
advocacy coalitions (p. 13). Coalitions are glued together by high levels of trust
among specialists who share beliefs and policy objectives and need to defend their
views against their opponents. The coalition shares strong consensus on long-
lasting primary core and policy beliefs, and lesser consensus on secondary core
belief systems (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1999).
The central idea behind the ACF is that a collection of numerous actors from
various levels of government within a policy subsystem share a set of core ideas,
beliefs and value priorities, and form a coalition, linked together by certain interests
24 While much attention has been placed on the beliefs of coalitions, their resources have been largely
ignored in the ACF literature. Sabatier and Weible offer a typology of policy-relevant resources
that coalitions and their participants can use to influence the policy process: formal legal authority to
influence decisions, public opinion, information, mobilizable troops, financial resources and skillful
leadership (Sabatier & Weible, 2007, p. 201).

(Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1999). Coalition members share a set of normative and
causal beliefs, and engage in a nontrivial degree of coordination to achieve
similar policy objectives over time (Sabatier & Weible, 2007, p. 198). The
coalitions are characterized by more flexibility and are less rigid than integrated
networks. Discourse plays a central role in the formation and alteration of
coalitions, as do ideas and external shocks to the political system, whose
interactions result in the shifting of coalitions and policy change. The ACF focuses
on how coalitions form, expand, develop policy beliefs, and attempt to influence the
policymaking process (Jones, 2003). The attributes of the policy problem, the
availability and adequacy of resources, exogenous factors, previous decisions, and
the mediation among competing coalitions by individual policy brokers affect
collective choice and the strategy of each coalition. The combination of lessons
learned from past policies and favorable environmental factors increase the
probability of policy change through the interaction of coalitions and collective
choice. ACF views institutions, which are resource endowment arrangements, as
fluid, which change over time, depending on coalition strategies and socioeconomic
conditions. As long as a coalition remains in power, the basic elements of its
policies and programs remain unchanged (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1993).
ACF assumes consistency and clarity in the belief systems of actors, but instability
and fluidity in the policy environment (Zahariadis, 1998). Policies are

conceptualized as sets of value priorities and causal assumptions about how to
realize them (Sabatier, 1993, p. 16). Change occurs via four avenues: policy-
oriented learning and external shocks to the subsystem (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith,
1999), as well as internal shocks to the subsystem and negotiated agreements
(Sabatier & Weible, 2007). The ACF distinguishes between major policy change,
as a result of changes in policy core beliefs, and minor policy change, as a result of
changes in secondary beliefs (Sabatier & Weible, 2007).
Policy learning results from changes in thought and behavior that are brought about
from experience and new information about the attainment or revision of policy
objectives, such as increased knowledge of problem parameters, internal feedback
about policy effectiveness within a coalition, and changing perceptions of
alternative policies (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1999). As a result, certain secondary
aspects of each coalitions ideas adapt to operational and technical questions. On
the other hand, it is rather difficult for policy-oriented learning to bring about
changes in core of policy beliefs, which are more normative and thus more resistant
to change in light of new technical information or experience. Policy-oriented
learning is much more likely to affect secondary beliefs, which require less evidence
and belief change among coalition participants, and can lead to major policy change
over a longer-term period (Sabatier & Weible, 2007).

In contrast, external shocks to the subsystem can lead to rapid changes in
subsystem structure and individual policy core beliefs, and are a necessary cause
for major policy change, even in the short term (Sabatier & Weible, 2007, p. 198).
The ACF argues that major policy change requires significant perturbations
external to the subsystem, which must also be skillfully exploited by proponents
of change (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1999, pp. 148-149). Such exogenous factors
include major socioeconomic changes, disasters, changes in the systemic governing
coalition, public opinion shifts, policy decisions and impacts from other policy areas
and subsystems, regime change, and other political events (Jones, 2003; Sabatier &
Jenkins-Smith, 1999; Sabatier & Weible, 2007). These external factors, as well as
policy learning, lead to changes in the balance of power, membership, and structure
of the coalitions (Jones, 2003). According to the ACF, these external shocks can
shift agendas, focus public attention and the attention of key decision-making
sovereigns, and can also result in the redistribution of resources or opening and
closing venues within a policy subsystem, which can lead to the replacement of the
previously-dominant coalition by a minority coalition (Sabatier & Weible, 2007, p.
Although the focusing events literature (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993; Kingdon,
1984), which is the basis of the ACF arguments about external shocks, highlights
the effects of disasters, crises and major socioeconomic or political change on the

attention of the public and policymakers on particular issues, the ACF distinguishes
between internal and external shocks and stresses the importance of internal
subsystem shocks for major policy change in addition to the external shocks
effects. This distinction follows the ACFs premise that policy subsystems are the
most useful unit of analysis for understanding and explaining policy change
(Sabatier & Weible, 2007, p. 204). There are two ramifications of internal shocks
for policy change. The first, which is also an effect of external shocks, is that they
redistribute political resources. By focusing attention on a particular issue in a
policy subsystem, internal shocks can create new or redistribute existing resources
such as public opinion and financial support, which, in turn, may rearrange power
structures within a subsystem and can even lead to the replacement of a dominant
coalition by a minority coalition. The second effect of an internal shock that brings
attention to the failure of a dominant coalition is the simultaneous reduction in the
uncertainty in the policy core beliefs of minority coalitions and the increase of
uncertainty within a dominant coalition. In essence, internal shocks strengthen the
minority coalition and weaken the dominant coalition within a subsystem.
The final avenue for policy change is negotiated agreements among competing
coalitions that alter policy core beliefs and change the status quo, overcoming a
hurting stalemate (Sabatier & Weible, 2007). This recent revision to the ACF
draws from the Alternative Dispute Resolution literature, which shares with ACF

the focus on coalitions, distrust among competing coalitions, and individual core
beliefs resistant to change that lead to escalating conflict. Professional fora offer
the venue for policy learning among coalitions and the crafting of prescriptions
concerning the design of institutions for negotiating and implementing
agreements (p. 206).25
However, the ACF suffers from a number of weaknesses as well. As pointed out by
deLeon (1994a), the distinction between core and secondary beliefs is quite vague,
making it difficult to define them prior to observing the change, which naturally
occurs much more easily among the secondary policy preference systems. The
change in the belief systems of interest groups during the process of policy learning
is also quite difficult to determine. In addition, deLeon argues that the long duration
of policy change and learning (more than a decade) disables ACF from examining
immediate crises or shorter external changes to the subsystem.
Zahariadis (1998) also illuminates some important shortcomings of the ACF.
According to him, ACF is an appropriate policy process approach only when actor
preferences are clear and consistent and when the policy environment is unstable
and fluid (unlike MS, which requires conditions of ambiguity for both the
25 Sabatier and Weible (2007) offer nine prescriptions: incentive to negotiate seriously, composition,
leadership, consensus decision rule, funding, duration and commitment, the important of empirical
issues, the importance of building trust, and alternative venues (pp. 206-207).

environment and the actors preferences). Consequently, when environments
become more fluid, ACF cannot explain how this affects individual or coalition
action. Finally, the large number of variables reduces its predictive capability. As
Zahariadis explains, according to ACF policy choice is dependent on coalition
beliefs, resources, strategy and an additional seven exogenous factors and
parameters, which means that at least eleven observations are needed for its
successful application.
Differences & Similarities
As clearly indicated in the above discussion, the policy process frameworks
examined have several similarities and differences. They all strive for description
and explanation of the policy process, and as Schlager points out, in explaining
policymaking, the emphasis is much more on the unfolding than on the authoritative
decision (Schlager, 2007, p. 293). They focus on the policy formation (issue
definition, agenda setting and decision making) stages of the policy process, while
the ACF focuses on policy implementation as well. They all emphasize major
policy change, as opposed to incrementalism, and stress the importance of ideas
guiding preferences within the power play of institutions and choices (John, 1998;
Schlager, 1999, 2007), although MS views the policy process as much more fluid
and less predictable than the other two.

Policy subsystems, communities of policy specialists, or policy networks are a core
element of all the three frameworks, which view them as consisting of individuals
within various organizations and institutions who are active idea generators and
advocates in a particular policy arena. In addition, these frameworks pay particular
attention on how certain policy issues emerge on the macropolitical agenda; how
policy proposals develop and evolve; and why certain proposals are actively
considered and adopted, while others are not. Furthermore, these three frameworks
assume that the individual is boundedly rational. The MS and the PET assume
serial processing at the individual level and parallel processing at the systemic level
of decision making. Bounded rationality affects all policy change, as individuals,
and consequently organizations and governments, are characterized by limited
attentiveness and information-processing abilities. While the PET focuses on serial
shifts and the MS focuses on policy windows, the ACF identifies policy dynamics to
shifts in the belief systems among and within advocacy coalitions.
However, there are some important differences, such as in the model of the
individual that each framework assumes. For the ACF, the individual is a belief-
er (Schlager, 2007, p. 302), whose belief system (basic values, causal assumptions,
and problem perceptions) guides individual choices and actions. For the MS, the
individual is a satisficer and for the PET, the individual is a selective attender
with fixed and rigid preferences (p. 302). For both the MS and the PET, the

characteristics of the decision setting are critical as they allow for problem framing
and manipulation. In terms of collective action, the MS plays the least attention
among the three frameworks to individuals working together to achieve a shared
objective, instead focusing on the crucial role of individual policy entrepreneurs and
the contextual conditions that facilitate major policy change (Schlager, 1999; 2007).
Similarly, the PET also emphasizes the actions and strategies of policy
entrepreneurs and policymakers, but also pays attention to collective action,
including mobilizations and the role of interest groups, and the effect on changing
policy images and venues. The ACF, on the other hand, pays particular attention to
collective-action issues and especially the belief systems and coordinated efforts of
According to Schlager (2007), the MS pays very limited attention to institutional
arrangements, focusing on individual behavior and choice, with limited attention
paid to the institutional context of decisionmaking (p. 306). The ideology of
governing parties fails to capture institutional arrangements and the institutional
characteristics of policy communities remain undefined. In contrast, the ACF and
the PET demonstrate how different institutional arrangements affect the
decisionmaking process and clarify the institutional structures of different venues.
For the PET, governing structures set the context of political decisionmaking; the
multiple venues of the U.S. political system offer the potential to control the agenda