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Points of Comparison
Posing the Questions
From Principles to Action
Reaffirming the Role of Public Policy
Appendix One:
The Importance of Mission Differentiation
Appendix Two:
Achieving the Public Agenda for Higher Education:
    The Role
    of the
    State Board
Appendix Three:
The Role of the Federal Government
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Points of Comparison

Any discussion of the dynamic of higher education in a given state environment entails a consideration of several factors. The policy environment results from a unique combination of forces, including the amount of power the governor and Legislature have in determining higher education policy; whether or not public universities enjoy constitutional status; the values implicit in the political culture (including the degree to which a state's leaders make higher education a priority in the policy agenda); and the demographic and economic circumstances of a state.

Beyond these general determinants, there are particular sets of variables in each state that collectively make up the "rules of the game." These rules fall into two major categories:

  • State System Design includes the number and type of service providers; the missions assigned to each; the characteristics and powers of agencies in the interface between government and providers; the information systems that collect, organize, and report data essential to understanding and influencing performance; available technology and its uses; and the role assigned to the private sector.

  • State Fiscal Policy includes the amount of operating support and the regulations that apply to its distribution; institutional autonomy in determining capital needs and in securing funding; the amount and use of incentive funding; the types and amount of student assistance; and tax policy.
These rules of the game, in conjunction with the general features of a state policy environment, ultimately affect the behaviors of a higher education system within a state: the kinds of leadership that higher education institutions attract and support; the degree of communication and collaboration that occurs among a state's colleges and universities; and the degree to which institutions are held accountable for meeting state policy objectives for higher education.

In addition, each of these elements plays a role in shaping the educational policies that emerge within any state, helping define the kinds of priorities that colleges and universities pursue and the extent to which those priorities align with a state's purposes in supporting its higher education system. Collectively, these dynamics have a significant impact not only on the efficiency of a state's investment in higher education, but also on a state's educational performance.

On the basis of this AIHEPS research, as well as our own experience in many other settings, we assert that (1) the more explicitly a given state defines the purposes it seeks to achieve in supporting its higher education system, (2) the more clearly it conveys those expectations to institutions through the rules of the game, and (3) the more care and discernment it gives to the work of assessing how well its purposes are achieved, the more likely that state is to achieve optimal performance on the measures of preparation, affordability, participation, completion, and benefits, as defined by the Measuring Up report card series.


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