Ultimately, a state must do more than simply ask itself the questions we have identified above; it must work to create the environment that allows its educational performance to improve. The recommendations we pose are important steps in the right direction for a state that wishes to improve its performance in achieving public purposes through its system of higher education.
Every state has a fundamental obligation to define clearly, through a process of public debate and affirmation, the purposes it expects higher education to achieve.
State government has a responsibility to identify areas of performance where improvement is a public priority. Failure to identify state priorities constitutes a shirking of that responsibility and implicit acceptance of institutional priorities, which may or may not encompass public concerns.
A state must also establish and support statewide systems that facilitate higher education's fulfillment of the public purposes a state has defined.
States that use well-defined priorities to steer their higher education systems increase their chances of achieving performance levels that satisfy elected leaders and reflect the needs of all citizens. States that have designed a rational system of comprehensive and diverse higher education institutions (including the independent sector) will be more cost-effective than those with systems that have evolved over time primarily in response to institutional aspirations.
A state must conjoin its funding of higher education institutions with the purposes it expects those institutions to help achieve, balancing mandates with incentives to bring into alignment a state's public interests with the interests of institutions.
The "rules of the game," which reflect a state's fiscal policy and the design of its educational system, influence institutional actions and priorities. Changing the rules will change performance over time. Performance can be improved by systemic and fiscal strategies that use an appropriate balance of regulating and steering to promote attention to public priorities.
In high-performing states, fiscal policies reward institutions for improved performance on participation, completion, and other public priorities.
States that seek to encourage participation by a range of students, including those with limited financial means, must establish appropriate tuition guidelines and programs of financial aid.
State financial aid, tuition, and appropriation policies have a major impact on higher education participation and completion within the state. States can achieve affordable systems either through high-tuition or low-tuition strategies, but high-performing states will offer significant student aid. In the absence of adequate need-based aid, low tuition alone will not create optimal participation levels. In the presence of high tuition, the participation of students who are ineligible for assistance will be inhibited.
States must ensure that a statewide interface agency has sufficient independence from state government and sufficient authority over institutions to implement systemwide approaches to improving the performance of higher education.
State capacity to change the rules of the game in ways that build institutional responsiveness to public priorities is enhanced by an interface agency that is dominated neither by state government nor institutions and that is able to craft and coordinate systemwide strategies without controlling or dominating implementation.
States must gather and disseminate information about performance on measures they have identified as important to a state's public purposes.
Effective interface agencies have their own data collection and analysis capabilities and prepare independent reports and policy recommendations. Information and public reporting are important inputs to institutional performance. States improve on outcomes they target through rules of the game when the results are tracked, reported, and publicized.
States must create a climate that encourages partnership and collaboration-between higher education institutions and K-12 schools, and among higher education, business and industry, and state government itself-in order to foster economic development and other statewide goals.
States in which the rules of the game create systemwide initiatives that encourage joint higher education/K-12 collaboration do a better job of preparing students for postsecondary education than states in which institutions independently pursue initiatives with little or no system-level coordination.
States can create a favorable climate for economic development through initiatives that: (a) create partnerships among higher education, the private sector, and state government; (b) invest in strategic and cumulative ways for improving infrastructure; and (c) provide a structure that encourages and rewards collaboration among higher education providers within and across sectors.