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Returns to Education: Exploring the Link Between Legislators' Public School Degrees and State Spending on Higher Education*


The United States leads the world in public higher education, with a substantial amount of funding coming from state, rather than federal, government sources. Perhaps not surprisingly, the amount states contribute varies widely, leading researchers to explore the sources of such variation. While numerous factors have been shown to matter, the potential relevance of political representation remains unclear. To address this gap, the relationship between state legislators own educational backgrounds and state spending on higher education is tested. Utilizing a database of publicly available information on the educational backgrounds of 6,517 state senators and representatives, we find that states with a higher percentage of legislators who attended state colleges and/or universities invest more generously in public higher education than other state legislatures. Results support theories of representation, suggesting that legislators may be directly advocating for spending given their own educational profiles.

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