Honors Theses

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Croft Institute for International Studies

First Advisor

Joshua Howard

Relational Format



The enrollment expansion of the Chinese higher education has no historical precedent, and defies belief in its speed and scale. I argue that this rapid enrollment growth is best understood not as a natural phenomenon of the market economy, nor as an intentional policy outcome, but rather as a byproduct of the structure of the Chinese state. I propose that the central government's lack of effective control over lower-level cadres at local governments and individual universities was instrumental in the expansion of enrollments far beyond the intentions of the Ministry of Education. This uncontrolled enrollment expansion was enabled by local officials' soft budget constraints, and incentivized by their short time horizons and focus on superficial hard targets. When the MOE attempted to rein in the expansion rate at all levels starting in 2002, only elite, directly-administered universities slowed their growth. At locally- administered universities, meanwhile, central policy was severely distorted by the effects of decentralization and fragmented authoritarianism. Furthermore, I provide evidence that only by reinforcing its monitoring capability at lower levels was the central government able to reassert its authority.


A thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for completion of the Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies from the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

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