This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

First Innovator States: An Ecological Analysis of Innovation and Diffusion of Policies to Address College Student Financial Insecurity in the American States.




Cellon, Jonathan

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Political Science


The issue of college student financial insecurity has risen to the political agenda of post-secondary institutions and states since the Recession of 2007 – 2009. This need is driven by stark increases in the cost of college for students. As awareness to student financial need has increased, new programs and policies to address student need have been created by states. This research explores the actions of three states who were the first in the United States to advance a particular policy model by exploring the actions of networks made up of advocates, institutions, non-profits, and policymakers. Social network analysis is used to determine the actions, roles, strategies, and challenges that these innovative, multisector networks faced in creating new policies. In doing so, this analysis modifies Hale’s (2011) taxonomy of Information Positions of Networked Actors and build a theory of multisector networks in higher education based on the critical and unique roles of champions, supporters, and outside allies in formulating and diffusing policy innovations. The diffusion process is explained by national organizations (who were outside allies in the original policy innovation) who serve as educators and advocates for policy models to secondary adopting states. Supporter and champion organizations help create reverse innovations, or complementary innovations at the local or institutional level that support the existence of an anchoring innovation. This study concludes with an exploratory analysis of the effects of five attributes of innovations (Rogers 2003) on the diffusion process and finds that compatibility has a positive, statistically significant effect on the rate of diffusion, whereas increases in relative advantage have negative, statistically significant effects on the rate of diffusion. Combined this analysis demonstrates how state networks can be sources of innovation and diffusion to local, state, and federal policy action. As such, it develops a theory and rationale for state level polydiffusion.