A Hypothetical Case Study Analysis of California's Potential Implied Contractual Obligation to Provide the State's Citizens Affordable Access to Postsecondary Education

Open Access
Blackman, Phillip Charles
Graduate Program:
Higher Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 04, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Robert M Hendrickson, Dissertation Advisor
  • Dorothy H Evensen, Committee Member
  • John Jesse Cheslock, Committee Member
  • Katherine C Pearson, Committee Member
  • Higher Education
  • Law
  • Implied Contracts
  • Affordable Access
  • Public Finance
This dissertation considers two separate but related research questions. The first question asks what factors would create an implied contractual relationship between states and their postsecondary institutions. The second question asks what factors could provide students third-party beneficiary status under that implied contract, if one exists. The recent cuts in public postsecondary funding and trends toward institutional performance accountability were the impetuous for this research. As state fiscal support for public higher education has dropped, student cost and debt has risen. These research questions examine whether students have a legal remedy that could force states to provide enough resources to make postsecondary education affordable and accessible. A case study methodology is used to study these research questions. The state of California serves as the single state case study for this research. California was chosen for a number of reasons. First, the state’s tripartite public postsecondary system provides clear insights into the unique considerations that face different types of postsecondary institutions. Second, the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding California’s higher education sector are vast. This allows for a depth of analysis that other states simply could not provide. Lastly, California’s previous fiscal commitment to postsecondary education has been unmatched by other states. The state’s recent cuts have also been as severe as any other state in the country. These fiscal considerations bring additional insights to the analysis. All told, these traits made California an ideal case study for this research. The research reveals a few interesting considerations. First, a number of factors influence the answer to the research questions. These factors can be analyzed within a historical, legal, administrative, and fiscal framework. Second, given the right circumstances, a particularly generous court may find that students are third-party beneficiaries to an implied contract between California and its postsecondary institutions. However, students may have an easier time proving that California directly promised to provide them affordable access to high-quality postsecondary education. If this is true, students may be a principal party to implied contract with California. All told, proving either claim would be difficult. However, states and their postsecondary institutions would likely benefit from treating their relationship in a contractual manner so that each party understands their rights and accepts their responsibilities before accountability or funding disputes arise.