Electoral Accountability for Rising Tuition in the US: Evidence From a Survey Experiment and Observational Data

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Tuition levels in the US have been rising at an above-the-inflation pace, leading to spiraling student debt levels and negative effects on students’ well-being. While student outcomes of rising tuition are well known, the political reasons behind the decisions of policy makers to contain tuition increases or not remain poorly understood. In this article, we focus on electoral accountability that policy makers face for rising tuition by examining voters’ reactions. Using a survey experiment with a sample of US adults (N = 1040), we show that clarity of responsibility is an important factor affecting reactions to rising tuition levels. When voters are informed about the role of the government in tuition setting, they are more likely to vote out policy makers responsible for cuts in funding. We show a similar relationship in observational data using a nationally representative survey from Cooperative Congressional Election Study. State governors’ approval is lower in states where tuition levels increased recently, and the relationship is moderated by the visibility of government in tuition-setting. By demonstrating that policy makers face repercussions for rising tuition but are able to avoid blame in certain conditions, we contribute to scholarly understanding of preferences of policy makers in higher education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalThe Journal of Higher Education
Early online date14 Nov 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Nov 2023

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