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 9 of 17

The Higher Education Policy Environment

As state leaders work to identify and gain consensus around an agenda for change and improvement in higher education, they must be aware that state policy environments are in the midst of upheaval. In relation to higher education, the focus of policies is shifting from postsecondary institutions to clients: learners, employers and government. Rational planning for static institutional models is being replaced with strategic planning for dynamic market models. The advent of burgeoning telecommunications and computer-delivered instruction has made policies based on geographic boundaries and monopolistic markets obsolete. Whereas old policies emphasized centralized control and regulation, the newer, more responsive policies depend on decentralized management using policy tools to stimulate desired responses. Policies crafted in the "new economy" harness marketplace competition for the benefit of the public. Measures of quality have changed from inputs (institutional capacity and faculty characteristics) to outcomes (learning and value-added).

In short, it is necessary to create a policy environment-and, eventually, specific policies-that provide impetus for both students and institutions to change behaviors. Overall, good state policies are consistent in the messages they send to constituents. No "one-size-fits-all" approach will work, but in general, a good state policy:

  • Is integrated with institutional and state accountability frameworks.
  • Rewards good practices rather than punishes bad or non-existent practices.
  • Promotes the monitoring of behaviors and practices to determine if they are in line with the intended ends.
  • Clarifies meaning and intent rather than muddying the waters.
  • Accounts for the perspectives of all sectors of higher education, even those with no mandated state relationship (such as private nonprofit and for-profit institutions) but which operate within the state and thus are part of a state's postsecondary capacity.
  • Creates incentives for individuals and institutions to achieve state priorities.
  • Focuses on goals while allowing flexibility in means.
  • Is aligned with other pertinent state policies, and thereby avoids sending mixed or counterproductive signals.
With the goal of creating a healthy policy environment responsive to the state's priorities for higher education, many state leaders will immediately want to create new policies and devise new approaches to address the identified needs and goals. While this urge to leap to the new is understandable, it should be delayed slightly-until existing capacity within higher education has been reviewed, and until current state policies have been assessed.


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