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Good Policy, Good Practice II


This new edition of Good Policy, Good Practice II revises and updates our 2007 publication. Like the earlier edition, it responds to one of the questions that is raised most frequently in our work with public policy and education leaders as they begin to address the national and state imperatives to increase the proportion of Americans who enroll in college programs and complete degrees and certificates, and to improve the cost effectiveness and affordability of higher education. Their question is: Are there proven policies, programs, and practices that we can learn from?

The answer is clearly “yes.” Good Policy, Good Practice II describes some of the programs and practices that hold the most promise for raising educational productivity. This second edition attempts to rectify a shortcoming of the initial report—the need to be explicit about the requirement for convergence of policy and practice. The lack of connection between institutional attempts to improve practice and public policy that supports these innovations explains, in no small part, the limited implementations of many of the innovative educational practices proven to be most effective. We call attention to the need for policy change if current and future innovations are to be systematically developed, supported, replicated, implemented on a large scale, and sustained. Significant progress in the absence of both institutional and policy leadership working in tandem is unlikely.

Part I of the report identifies strategies, programs, and practices that our research finds can raise educational productivity. The examples cited in this report were compiled and organized by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. We particularly emphasize programs and practices that challenge the conventional wisdom that gains in educational productivity or efficiency must necessarily come at the expense of quality or access. The three strategies and the programs described under each of them are designed to enhance higher education opportunity, educational effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness. They represent broad pathways to improved educational productivity that can be achieved by:

  • Improving the preparation of high school students and adults for college-level learning and creating effective transitions between schools and colleges, two- and four-year colleges, and higher education institutions and the workplace.
  • Streamlining the educational process, including curriculum and course redesign; adopting educational policies to reduce course repetition; offering incentives for degree completion; and assessing and certifying academic proficiency.
  • Accommodating enrollment growth through institutions that specialize in highquality, cost-effective undergraduate education; avoiding “mission creep” and increases in research capacity that come at the expense of productivity and undergraduate growth; encouraging collaboration to address unmet educational needs of underserved populations and regions; assuring effective utilization of facilities; and encouraging increased reliance (or creation) on nontraditional types of institutions and systems of educational delivery.
The examples provided have been tested by practice. They are not intended to be a comprehensive or definitive inventory of promising ideas, and they do not address theoretical issues. Undoubtedly, there are beneficial and cost-effective educational programs with which we are not familiar or chose not to include. And we emphasize that no single program or policy is a silver bullet for improving educational productivity or raising the number or proportion of college graduates. Every program for raising productivity, improving quality, and containing costs should be examined closely, and then adapted to the conditions of particular states or institutions. Most practices, including the examples we have cited, can have a major impact on educational productivity only if they are implemented on a large scale across many institutions or entire states.

Part II of Good Policy, Good Practice II describes the strategies that state policymakers can use, directly and indirectly, to influence innovation and improvement. It is unlikely that systematic productivity gains of the magnitude needed—and that are possible with widespread adoption of the types of strategies identified in Part I—can be achieved without deliberately designed and supportive state policy frameworks. Reorientation of public expenditures, of statutes and regulations, of accountability measures, and, in some instances, of governance structures may be required to raise productivity. The policy strategies are necessarily described in Part II with less specificity than the practices identified in Part I. The strategies are, we believe, relevant to most states, but implementation strategies depend heavily upon state context, thus the reluctance to get too specific. Part II emphasizes the necessity of state policy support and, if needed, policy change. Without long-term state policy leadership and commitment, it is unlikely that even the most promising programs described in Part I can have major impact.

Together, Parts I and II of this document present the solid base of experience available to policy leaders as they seek to raise the higher education attainment of state residents, even in the face of serious financial constraints. There is more experience and knowledge about educational outcomes and about public policies that stimulate and support innovation and improvement than is often recognized—and certainly more than is widely utilized. We urge educators and policymakers to draw upon and improve on these experiences when they, as we believe they must, renew state and national commitments to enhancing student opportunity and success while keeping college affordable for students and states. Good Policy, Good Practice II demonstrates that states and institutions have at hand many of the tools needed to assure a viable economic and educational future for their citizens.

Good Policy, Good Practice II was supported by a grant from Lumina Foundation for Education.

Advisory Committee

Julie Davis Bell
Education Program Director,
National Conference of
State Legislatures
Larry Isaak
President, Midwestern Higher
Education Compact
David Longanecker
President, Western Interstate
Commission for Higher
Michael Thomas
President, New England Board
of Higher Education

The authors and the sponsoring organizations welcome the responses of readers to this report.
Patrick M. Callan
President, National Center
for Public Policy and Higher
Dennis P. Jones
President, National Center for
Higher Education Management


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