Higher Education Quarterly

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Understanding Higher Education Institutions’ Publicness: Do Public Universities Produce More Public Outcomes than Private Universities?


Higher education institutions produce a broad array of public outcomes. However, little is known about the varying levels of their contribution to the public good and what explains the variation among institutions. This study uses the theory of organisational publicness and examines how these institutions’ ownership status and resource publicness explain their outcome publicness, focusing on the expenditure for teaching, research and public service activities. The analysis of four‐year public and private universities in the 2012 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System shows that universities’ reliance on federal funding is positively associated with the percentages of the expenditure on all three activities and their reliance on state funding is positively associated with the percentages of teaching and public service expenses. The findings reveal that the proportion of tuition and fees revenue is negatively associated with the percentage of public service expenditure. The results suggest that declining state funding and increasing reliance on tuition and fees weaken these institutions’ public service function, especially in the area of community engagement.

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