Social construction and policy design in state financial aid policy
This dissertation uses Schneider and Ingram’s Social Construction and Policy Design Theory (SCT) to help understand movements in funding for higher education at the state-level over the past 25 years. SCT argues that social constructions - the symbols, images, and stereotypes used to label social groups as desirable or undesirable - and power - the voting prowess, wealth, and ability to mobilize for action - converge to predict the distribution of benefits and burdens for policy targets. In my first article, I conduct a descriptive analysis of the changes in spending on state-level grant aid for higher education, using SCT to guide expectations on how funding will be distributed. My second article uses SCT to construct and test hypotheses on state-level decisions regarding need and merit- based financial aid, showing that states with more negative social constructions of low-income and minority students allocate fewer dollars to need-based aid. Finally, my third article uses SCT to explain the adoption of state-level merit-aid financial aid policies over the last two decades. Overall, my dissertation is one of the first studies to use SCT for studying state higher education policy, and provides a confirmatory test of SCT within a new policy domain.