Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Report and Disclose: State Oversight of Institutional Performance in Higher Education

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Report and Disclose: State Oversight of Institutional Performance in Higher Education

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

In recent years, most proposals to reform quality assurance in higher education have targeted the federal government's role in overseeing postsecondary institutions. In this context, it is easy to forget that state governments play a significant role too, through a process called state authorization.

State authorization is the regulatory process by which postsecondary institutions obtain the approval of a state agency to serve students within the state. In this capacity, states act as gatekeepers for their postsecondary systems. They are responsible for greenlighting colleges to operate within their borders, and over time they have the duty to protect state residents from poor-performing and fraudulent institutions. Federal law specifies little about states' individual authorization processes, and authorization varies greatly by state.

Using a comprehensive survey of more than 5,500 regulatory documents from 69 state authorizing agencies across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, this report explores how state authorizers monitor the performance of postsecondary institutions: when and how must postsecondary institutions report information on their outcomes? What types of outcomes information do agencies require? How, if at all, do agencies disclose that information to students, parents, and the public? Are there repercussions for poor-performing institutions?

This analysis finds that most state authorizers do not require outcomes data from colleges when they initially apply for authorization, although a majority of agencies compile student outcomes data either during reauthorization or through annual reports. Roughly a third of state authorizers, however, do not require institutions to report any outcomes data on an annual basis. In addition, just a handful of authorizing agencies publicize the reported information on student outcomes for all authorized institutions. Numerous agencies require institutions themselves to disclose student outcomes to prospective enrollees.

Furthermore, this analysis found that few state authorizers have explicit minimum performance standards for institutions (such as a minimum completion rate or retention rate). While it is possible authorizers have unstated performance criteria in mind when overseeing institutional outcomes, it is not clear that indicators of performance are a factor in agencies' authorization decisions. The outcomes data agencies collect can also be unreliable, particularly when it is self-reported by postsecondary institutions themselves. Definitions of outcome measurements vary from agency to agency as well.

In light of these findings, this report offers recommendations for states looking to shore up, standardize, and streamline their regulatory frameworks. It suggests that authorizers should:

* Implement explicit minimum performance thresholds for institutions, which would help identify and sanction poorly performing schools;

* Require and disclose program-level outcomes, in addition to institution-level outcomes;

* Work to standardize outcomes reporting across agencies, and potentially use existing state authorization reciprocity agreements as a vehicle for producing common definitions for student outcomes measurements; and

* Rely less on institutions to report certain outcomes indicators and, instead, require only basic and essential reported data from institutions. Authorizers should then link that information to independently verifiable, administrative data sources so as to produce more and better information on outcomes.

For generations, many have considered American higher education the best in the world. Our nation's top universities consistently trounce other countries' schools in international rankings. Many then assume that standard of excellence is true for all American colleges, top to bottom. (1)

In reality, some colleges are great, some are good, and some are downright bad. …

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