The Policy Structure
An Agenda For The National Center
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Challenges and Opportunities Facing Higher Education
Page 2 of 7


The basic framework for policymaking in postsecondary education has been essentially unaltered since passage of the federal Higher Education Act more than 30 years ago. To be sure, specific policies have been continuously enacted and re-enacted regarding finance, governance, accountability, and other topics, and these have resulted in substantial changes in the postsecondary educational landscapes of many states. However, these changes have been wrought within a more fundamental policy framework characterized by:

  • a focus on educational providers and--more particularly--on public institutions of higher education;

  • an attempt to directly manipulate the actions of these entities through myriad regulations;

  • a narrow definition of the client base for postsecondary education, encompassing primarily those recently graduated from high school;

  • presumptions that education will be delivered predominantly on college and university campuses and primarily through face-to-face interactions between students and faculty;

  • an assumption that educational objectives of both students and institutions can legitimately be expressed in terms of degrees received and granted; and

  • broad acceptance of provider-defined and provider-developed approaches to quality assurance, based primarily on academic standards addressing "minimum" levels of inputs and traditionally defined academic processes.

Many forces are now emerging to challenge these basic premises. In the process, they are fundamentally altering the parameters within which postsecondary policy at the state level must be conceptualized and developed. This paper describes the new environment within which policy must be shaped, and suggests a set of issues--and an associated agenda of action--that must be addressed if the development and implementation of new state-level policy frameworks are to be successful.


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