Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Political Science


Michael T. Miller

Committee Member

G David Gearhart

Second Committee Member

Valerie H. Hunt


Agenda setting, Higher education policy, Policy implementation, Student Government Associations


Within institutions of higher education, shared governance is an essential component to a healthy functionality. Among the many stakeholders at these institutions, students are the largest in number and hold primacy. Participation in student governance establishes a sense of shared ownership over their communities while also providing a unique avenue for students to gain wisdom and develop critical skill sets. Senior administrators at these institutions have many inherent challenges due to an organization that is largely decentralized and autonomous (Duderstadt, 2007). Regarding agenda setting, the Garbage Can Model (Cohen et al., 1972) was utilized as a theoretical framework. The purpose for conducting this study was to analyze Student Government Associations (SGA) at 8 select land-grant institutions of higher education in order to establish the answers to 4 research questions. (1) How do student leaders at select land-grant intuitions of higher education describe their policy priorities? (2) How do the presidents at the same institutions describe their priorities in select institutional or media documents? (3) To what extent are the agendas of SGAs and institutional presidents aligned? (4) How did student body presidents describe their working relationship with their respective institutional leader and does that impact agenda alignment? The answers to these questions were found utilizing a qualitative methodology. Specifically, official documents from the SGAs were reviewed and coded. Additionally, the student body presidents of 6 of the 8 universities in question were subjects in a semi-structured interview. Finally, official university documents, public remarks, and media coverage were analyzed and coded to establish the policy agendas for each institution’s president. The study found that Student Government Associations conduct policy implementation in the form of organizational management as the most prominent agenda item. In addition to that, it was shown that SGAs prioritize campus infrastructure improvements, campus safety, and the overall wellness of the student body. Presidents at the same institutions discussed issues related to research and innovation most prominently. They also prominently discussed campus infrastructure. The semi-structured interviews and document analysis showed a minimal alignment between the agendas. However, student body presidents indicated that they did not necessarily anticipate alignment given the differences in their constituencies. They also mostly described having positive relationships built upon mutual trust despite the lacking alignment. Institutional presidents were also found to rarely prioritize issues related to campus safety and sexual assault in direct contrast with SGAs. These findings emphasize the importance of shared governance within these institutions. Positive relationships between SGAs and their presidents emphasize constructive communication and reciprocity between the subjects which leads to more buy-in by stakeholders and innovative ideas.