Defining and Analyzing the Issues
Diagnostic Questions
Compiling the Basic Data
Data Analyses
Creating a Policy Environment for Change
Formulating a Public Agenda
The Higher Education Policy Environment
The Capacity Audit
The Policy Audit
Policy Formulation
Alignment of Policy Tools: Two Examples
No Single Answer
Appendix: Examples of the Presentation of State Data
About the Authors
About the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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Page 11 of 17

The Policy Audit

Higher education institutions-individually and collectively-operate within a complex environment of policies and procedures that have accumulated over time. Under these policies and procedures, higher education in the state has yielded the results that are now deemed unsatisfactory in specific areas and in need of change. Before adding new policies, programs or procedures onto those already in place, an "audit" of the current array of policies is needed. Such an audit typically has two major components:

  • A systematic review of existing policies-at least those that are most obviously connected to the areas of performance that have been questioned.
  • Interviews with knowledgeable individuals who can share their understanding of what is not working and why.
The objective of conducting a policy audit is to clear the underbrush-to remove barriers that would continue to be impediments even if well-designed new policies were implemented. Since specific policies and procedures vary enormously from state to state, some general suggestions concerning policy audits are offered here.

Review of Existing Policies


The following policies are germane to higher education's role in helping to ensure that high expectations are established for secondary school students and in sharing responsibility for student success with the K-12 schools.

  1. Admissions Policies
    • Do the admissions requirements at the state's colleges and universities require students to take advanced courses in science, math, and writing?
    • Are the admissions requirements expressed in terms of knowledge and skills students should have rather than in terms of courses and credits taken?
    • Are there mechanisms for ongoing dialogues between K-12 teachers and higher education faculties about expectations for students entering college?
    • Are there procedures for providing secondary schools with information about the readiness of their graduates for (and performance in) the first year of college? Are there mechanisms for following up with those schools whose graduates do poorly?
  2. Policies Regarding the Preparation of Teachers
    • Are there policies to ensure that teachers are prepared to teach the high-expectation courses that students will be required to take?
    • Are there policies to ensure that sufficient numbers of well-prepared teachers will be educated and available in the state?
  3. Policies Regarding Advanced Placement and Dual-Enrollment Courses
    • Do admissions policies allow high grades on Advanced Placement exams to be accepted as the equivalent of satisfactory completion of core university requirements? Or do such courses count only as elective credit?
    • Do state policies encourage students to enroll in college courses while they are still in high school? Or do state policies create incentives for school districts to discourage dual enrollments of students (for example, by requiring school districts to pay students' tuition or by decreasing the district's allocation of state resources)?
  4. Policies on K-12 Exit Standards and Student Assessments
    • Are statewide exams given in the 4th, 8th and 11th grades?
    • Do students have to demonstrate competence by meeting a set of standards for promotion and high school graduation?

Questions pertinent to the participation category primarily involve state residents' access to educational opportunity-in terms of geography and time. Affordability (economic access) is treated as a separate category.

  1. Program Approval
    • Are geographic factors (influencing access for different clienteles) and program duplication considered in the program approval process?
    • Have "service areas" been assigned to institutions? If so, do the service areas prevent other institutions from serving the needs of a given region?
  2. Geographic Accessibility
    • Are there educational sites (such as campuses, branches, and learning centers) located within a reasonable commuting distance for most of the state's population?
    • Do state policies and procedures encourage (or allow) delivery of courses from any appropriate originating institution to these sites?
    • Does state policy explicitly and effectively consider private and proprietary institutions as vehicles for extending access and educational opportunity?
  3. Funding Policies
    • Are all instructional activities (regardless of time, place, or method of delivery) considered equally in the funding process?
    • Are off-campus credit courses treated the same as on-campus?
    • Are night classes treated the same as day classes?
    • Are tuition and fees for distance-delivered courses higher than for on-campus courses? Do in-state and out-of-state students pay differential tuition for distance-delivered courses?
    • Does the state support courses that lead to certifications but not degrees?
  4. Faculty Policies
    • Can faculty be assigned to teach in the evening or off-campus as part of their normal load, or are such assignments always considered "overloads"?
    • Must the institutions pay faculty a premium to teach distance-delivered courses?

The major policy issues in the affordability category are those of price (tuition policy) and assistance provided to students to help them pay this price (financial aid policies).

  1. Tuition Policy
    • Does the state have a formal tuition policy?
    • Are tuition levels tied to income levels (or other measures of ability to pay) or do they reflect other factors, such as share of institutional costs?
    • Do tuition policies reflect differences by type of institution?
    • Are tuition policies the same for students regardless of where, when, and how they take their courses?
  2. Student Financial Aid Policies
    • Does the state have a student financial aid program?
    • What are the criteria for participation in the state financial aid program? Is participation based on need? Is it based on merit?
    • Are part-time students eligible to participate in the state financial aid program?
    • Can institutions waive tuition and fees? If so, are the criteria for doing so established in state policy, or are they established by institutions?

A wide variety of state policies can affect the rates at which students complete their education. Among the more important are:

  1. Funding Policies
    • Are there any features of state funding policy that explicitly reward institutions for student degree completion?
    • Are there any features of state financial aid and tuition policies that explicitly reward students for persisting to degree completion?
  2. Articulation and Transfer Policies
    • Are there policies and procedures to ensure that credit for a common core of general education courses can be easily transferred from institution to institution without loss of credit? Are on-campus and distance-delivered courses given the same status?
    • Do state policies require that students with Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degrees be admitted to baccalaureate institutions with junior-level status?
    Information Policy
    • Does state policy require a statewide student tracking system that provides information about the characteristics of students who are (and are not) successfully completing their educational programs?
    • Does state policy encourage students to overcome academic deficiencies before attempting more advanced collegiate work? Or does state policy penalize/discourage institutions from engaging in remedial activities?
    • Is there evidence that the developmental activities and policies in place are effective and accomplishing their purposes?

    Interviewing those who are charged with implementing state policies is a very useful aspect of the policy audit. Representatives from colleges, universities and higher education systems are appropriate prospective interviewees, as are those employed by student financial aid agencies, K-12 schools, and various agencies of state government. The primary questions to be addressed in these interviews are:

    • What state-level policies or procedures serve as the greatest barriers to improving performance in relation to the state's priorities for higher education?
    • What should be done to remove these barriers? Do some policies or procedures need to be eliminated completely, or can they be modified in specific ways?
    The answers to these questions tend to reveal two things: (1) it is often the implementing regulations, not state higher education policy itself, that are posing barriers to improvement; and (2) state policies and regulations that are not directed specifically to higher education are often the culprit. Institutions of higher education must operate within the administrative policies and procedures of the state (for example, in matters of contracting, personnel and travel). These government-wide policies are as likely to be barriers to progress as the policies that are specific to higher education. And the government-wide policies are often more difficult to change. Modifying these policies requires either making a government-wide change, or exempting higher education from the policies. Neither solution is easy.



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