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Title page for ETD etd-04032006-143044

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Ness, Erik Christian
URN etd-04032006-143044
Title Deciding Who Earns HOPE, PROMISE, and SUCCESS: Toward a Comprehensive Model of the Merit Aid Eligibility Process
Degree PhD
Department Leadership and Policy Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Professor Michael K. McLendon Committee Chair
Professor Donald E. Heller Committee Member
Professor James C. Hearn Committee Member
Professor James W. Guthrie Committee Member
  • Policy Formulation
  • Politics of Education
  • Financial Aid
  • Education Policy
  • Higher Education
  • Political Dynamics
Date of Defense 2006-03-28
Availability unrestricted
As states continue to implement merit-based financial aid programs, despite the well reported social ills of such programs, the research literature is surprisingly void of any systematic consideration of how states determine eligibility criteria for these scholarships.

The purpose of this dissertation is to deepen the descriptive and conceptual understanding of the process by which states determine merit aid scholarship criteria. Three theories of the public policy process—advocacy coalition framework (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith, 1993), multiple streams (Kingdon, 1995; Zahariadis, 2003), and electoral connection (Fenno, 1978; Mayhew, 1974)—guide this comparative case study of three states’ adoption of broad-based merit aid programs: New Mexico, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Data collected from archival sources and from interviews with fifty-six key policy actors are analyzed by employing deductive pattern matching techniques and by testing theoretical propositions through an inductive analytical framework.

A “revised multiple streams model of scholarship criteria determination” is presented based on the study’s seven key findings: (1) multiple streams offers the highest explanatory power of the three frameworks; (2) state government and higher education system organizational structures affect the policy process through which policy alternatives are considered and adopted; (3) the availability of technical information increases temporally as a result of the diffusion of policy alternatives; (4) non-elected issue experts can have a stabilizing effect on the policy process; (5) the electoral connection of legislators and governors guides their policy preferences; (6) individual policy actors exert overwhelming influence over the policy process; and, (7) “ambiguity” and “serendipity” characterize the eligibility criteria determination process.

The implications for future research and for policy-practitioners include conceptual and theoretical considerations for the political dynamics of the policy process and the rising trend of higher education interests entering the political fray of the policymaking process.

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