Quality Assurance and Improvement in Higher Education: The Role of the States

Higher education is facing a host of challenges, including external questions regarding its value and purpose. These questions cut to the core of the states’ role in higher education. Traditionally, states have the responsibility to ensure that institutions of higher education are operating in the public interest and that the institutions are good stewards of their public resources. Central to this responsibility is the question of institutional and educational quality. Concerns regarding higher education quality and the states’ role in quality assurance and improvement motivated the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) and the National Association of System Heads (NASH) to partner with Lumina Foundation to investigate current state and system practices and to work toward recommendations for future action.

The partners explored current quality assurance and improvement practices, challenges, and limitations related to quality assurance and improvement at the state and system levels, and ideas for how current policies and practices might be improved, using a variety of data sources, including two in-person convenings of relevant stakeholders, a survey of state higher education agencies and system offices, and qualitative interviews.

Participants and respondents provided important insights into how states and systems might better engage in the question of quality and work to assure and improve quality in higher education. In that regard, we recommend the following:

  • Arrive at widely agreed upon understandings of quality.
  • Develop a greater understanding among all relevant actors of the state’s interest and role in educational quality.
  • Identify best practices in quality assurance.
  • Make program review and state authorization meaningful quality assurance processes.
  • Treat equity as a quality consideration.
  • Actively engage faculty and institutional leaders.
  • Invest in data, tools, and people.
  • Open lines of communication and real partnership between members of the triad.

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Names Interim Chancellor

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — During its regularly scheduled meeting today, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (Commission) named Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, Chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System (CTCS), as interim chancellor of the Commission.  This will be a dual role, and Tucker will continue as the chancellor of the CTCS.  She succeeds Carolyn Long who has served in the role since July 2018. Read more here.

SHEEO Releases Strong Foundations 2018: The State of State Postsecondary Data Systems

Since 2010, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) has periodically administered the Strong Foundations survey, which documents the content, structure, and effective use of state postsecondary student unit record systems (PSURSs). This report highlights the results of the fourth administration of the survey, conducted in 2018.

The most recent report highlights states’ abilities to calculate performance metrics, an examination of which educational sectors are covered by these systems, and an analysis of benchmark privacy and security practices.

Read the full Strong Foundations 2018 report here.

Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Strengthening Accountability to Protect Students and Taxpayers

Testimony Provided to the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

I have been asked to address the issue of accountability in higher education. Among its many obligations, government has one central role in society: The provision of the public good.

Higher education benefits society generally, and college graduates directly, in a multitude of ways. In those regards, the U.S. higher education system is performing exceptionally well.

However, that is not the complete story. Our higher education system also serves to regenerate existing wealth, status, and privilege. I am convinced that without appropriate government support and oversight, higher education will not, on its own, fully accomplish its mission of advancing the public good.

Primary factors driving the low average postsecondary education completion rate are the race- and income-based inequalities built into our system and the stratification and unequal distribution of resources apparent within and between our postsecondary institutions. These income- and race-based inequalities mean entire segments of our society are being kept out of higher education based on factors independent of desire and talent.

SHEF 2018 Case Study: Fiscal Challenges in Illinois

Higher education finance data for Illinois continues to be an outlier in the 2018 SHEF report. This case study provides context behind the significant increases in Illinois’ state support and explains how the SHEF data handle Illinois’ lack of a budget in 2016 and 2017.

New report finds state funding for higher education has only halfway recovered in the decade since the Great Recession

The State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) report examines the trends, context, and consequences of state higher education funding decisions in FY 2018.

Annahita Jimmerson

BOULDER, Colorado — Despite the American economic outlook having improved considerably, state funding for higher education has only halfway recovered in the ten years since the Great Recession, a new report released today by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) finds. The 2018 State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) report — an annual, nonpartisan analysis of educational appropriations, tuition revenue, and enrollment trends in all 50 states — also explores how students and families came to shoulder more responsibility for supporting public higher education as states attempted to rebound from the 2008 financial crisis.

This year’s SHEF report marks the culmination of a ten-year data set since the Great Recession and offers a comprehensive look at how states navigated complex funding environments and undertook efforts, where possible, to restore public investments in higher education as they recovered from a significant economic downturn.

“State leaders had to make tough decisions about how to finance their public systems of higher education as their economies weathered the Great Recession,” said Robert E. Anderson, president of SHEEO. “Many states used higher education as a balance wheel so they could preserve funding in other areas. But tighter purse strings also compelled state leaders to adopt new, innovative ways of thinking about higher education funding. This year’s SHEF report calls for us to consider the decisions states made on the path to recovery with an understanding that there is still significant work to be done to develop equitable higher education finance policies that produce the talent states need to compete in the 21st century economy.”

In addition to providing a decade-long snapshot of states’ levels of investment in public higher education in the wake of the Great Recession, this year’s SHEF report also details year-over-year changes in measures such as state and local support for higher education, educational appropriations, net tuition revenue, total educational revenue and full-time equivalent enrollment (FTE). Report highlights include:

  • Higher education funding is stabilizing: Nationally, state and local per-student support for higher education increased at roughly the rate of inflation from 2017 to 2018. This minimal growth follows a five-year period of annual funding increases greater than 2 percent, indicating that state appropriation recovery from the Great Recession has stabilized, albeit at a much lower level.
  • A new norm for the student share of higher education funding has arrived: For the first time since the Great Recession, net tuition revenue remained flat in 2018, indicating that the growing reliance on net tuition as a revenue source — the student share — might be leveling. While tuition revenue measures more than just rate increases, flat tuition revenue may be a sign of the impacts of increasing pressure and attention on college affordability. However, the student share has increased significantly since before the Great Recession.

“This substantial shift of responsibility represents a significant change for American higher education,” said Anderson. “As the nation’s economy continues to stabilize, it’s clear that a heavy reliance on tuition revenue has become the new norm for how state higher education systems are funded.”

  • There’s good news when it comes to financial aid: Unlike the rest of state higher education funding, states have increased their public financial aid consistently over time. In 2018, state financial aid saw the largest increase since the Great Recession. Financial aid now represents nearly 10 percent of all appropriations, and encouragingly, evidence shows that states largely protect this source of support during economic downturns.
  • The decline in full-time enrollment shows signs of slowing down: Due largely to a recovering economy, fewer students continued to enroll in higher education than did so during the peak Recession years. However, there was little year-over-year change in this measure from 2017 to 2018, which — like trends in state and local appropriations and net tuition revenue — suggests stabilization in national enrollment levels.

“While these findings are crucial to understanding the broad strokes of national finance trends in higher education, it’s important to note that national trends mask considerable variation across the states,” said Sophia Laderman, senior policy analyst at SHEEO and an author of the 2018 SHEF report. “Although state funding for higher education has only halfway recovered nationally on a per-student level, some states have fully restored appropriations to prior levels, while others have increased tuition to fully offset the reduction in state funding, and a number have not recovered at all.”

“Each year, the SHEF report is a valuable resource to the entire higher education community,” said Glen D. Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education and chair of SHEEO’s Executive Committee. “This year’s report is no exception, as it provides important context about the financial landscape of our states and postsecondary institutions over the last 20 years. It is our hope that the SHEF report can assist state policy leaders as they make what we know to be difficult funding decisions.”

The 2018 SHEF report also features a series of case studies that explore higher education finance topics including state cost and budget drivers that influence the funding of higher education, and an ongoing look at state funding challenges in Illinois. Those interested in data for an individual state are encouraged to access the electronic version of the report, which includes numerous supplementary state-by-state data tables and interactive data visualizations, at SHEEO.org/shef.


About the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO)

The State Higher Education Executive Officers is the national association of the chief executives of statewide governing, policy, and coordinating boards of postsecondary education. Founded in 1954, SHEEO serves its members as an advocate for state policy leadership, a liaison between states and the federal government, a vehicle for learning from and collaborating with peers, a manager of multistate teams to initiate new programs, and as a source of information and analysis on educational and public policy issues. SHEEO seeks to advance public policies and educational practices to achieve more widespread access to and completion of higher education, more discoveries through research, and more applications of knowledge that improve the quality of human lives and enhance the public good.

Webinar: SHEEO/Credential Engine: Transparency and Credential Literacy in the Marketplace

Through an increasing array of credentials – degrees, licenses, badges and apprenticeships – job seekers, students, and workers have more options than ever to help them get ahead, but a vast and complex credential marketplace to navigate. Many higher education leaders struggle to access and evaluate the data needed to ensure that institutional credentials are meeting state educational and economic goals. Join us to learn about how Credential Engine uses technology to bring transparency and credential literacy to the marketplace to provide reliable information needed to make better credentialing decisions and reveal credentialing and labor trends.

Through the webinar you will learn:

  • The value of transparent credential data to your state efforts
  • How you can make your credentials more transparent
  • How Credential Engine can improve institutional ability to demonstrate value and ROI to students and employers
  • How the Credential Registry and Finder help you stay abreast of credential trends
  • What Credential Engine can do to help ensure your programs and graduates are prepared for the future of work



Denise Pearson, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Equity Initiatives


Indiana Commission for Higher Education

Ken Sauer, Senior Associate Commissioner and Chief Academic Officer

Jillian Scholten, Director of Academic Affairs and Talent Credentialing

Kansas Board of Regents

Blake Flanders, President & CEO

Cynthia Farrier, Director of Data Research and Planning

Matt Keith, Director of Communications

Credential Engine

Scarlett Jeckel, Administration Coordinator

SHEEO Releases New Strategic Plan, Redesigned Website to Support and Advocate for State Higher Education Policy Leadership

Annahita Jimmerson

BOULDER, Colorado, April 2, 2019 — The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) released a new strategic plan today that will guide the organization’s work through 2023 in support of its membership: the chief executives of statewide governing, policy and coordinating boards of postsecondary education and their staffs across the country. In tandem with the plan’s release, SHEEO also launched a redesigned website to better connect to and share information with its members and the higher education policy community.

“As the complexities of higher education have increased, so too has the importance of strong state policy leadership,” said Dr. Rob Anderson, president of SHEEO. “No other association is as attuned to these complexities and focused solely on the needs of state higher education agencies than SHEEO. As we execute our new strategic plan, we will help our members stay abreast of best practices, align stakeholders such as K-12 and workforce, ensure sufficient resources for higher education, and develop policies that advance student success.” 

The new strategic plan identifies three strategic priorities that will be central to the organization’s fulfillment of its member-driven mission in the coming years. They are:

  1. Serve and support SHEEO membership by developing, connecting, informing, and guiding SHEEO agencies. The goal of this priority is to support SHEEOs and their staffs in the procurement of relevant knowledge by serving as a primary and reliable source of in-depth and comprehensive information on state higher education policy and practice.
  2. Contribute to thought leadership in the field on salient higher education issues. The goal of this priority is to offer thoughtful analysis and insights into issues, such as equity and finance, which build the knowledge base of leaders of higher education policy.
  3. With its membership, advocate the value of higher education and the critical role of state-level higher education leaders. The goal of this priority is to position SHEEO and its members as critical voices to be engaged at the state and federal levels on issues pertaining to and intersecting with higher education.

In addition to the strategic plan released today, SHEEO also unveiled its redesigned website, SHEEO.org, which will serve as a hub for members to access resources, research, data visualizations and more. The website will also house SHEEO’s original and industry-leading reports, including the State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) report and the Strong Foundations analysis of state postsecondary data systems.

“Working in the states requires expert navigation and an aptitude for collaboration across the higher education, policy, and workforce environments. Thankfully, state policy leaders have a partner in SHEEO that provides the professional development, technical assistance and other resources needed to be effective,” said Teresa Lubbers, commissioner of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. “As one of the advisory board members who provided input to SHEEO’s new strategic plan, I’m excited by the organization’s commitment to serve members and remain at the forefront of assisting states in their work to ensure a more educated nation.”

To support the development of the strategic plan and website, SHEEO received a capacity building grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to engage in the strategic evaluation and planning process to assess its direction, ensure effective and efficient service to its members, and develop a strategy for future action. Between November 2017 and January 2018, SHEEO solicited feedback from hundreds of current and former state higher education executive officers, policy organizations, and other stakeholders. SHEEO plans to frequently survey its membership on the organization’s progress and alignment with its strategic plan.

“For over 60 years, SHEEO has brought together state-level leaders of higher education, state agency staff, and others to build a network of support and be a resource on issues in higher education,” said Jim Hearn, professor and interim director at the Institute of Higher Education and member of the Gates Capacity Grant Advisory Board. “The strategic plan announced today is an evolution of that legacy. By being better positioned to respond to the needs of today’s state policy leaders and advocate for the critical role of higher education in our society, SHEEO’s success as an organization will benefit the entire profession.”

For more information on SHEEO’s 2019-2023 strategic plan, visit SHEEO.org


About the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO)

The State Higher Education Executive Officers is the national association of the chief executives of statewide governing, policy, and coordinating boards of postsecondary education. Founded in 1954, SHEEO serves its members as an advocate for state policy leadership, a liaison between states and the federal government, a vehicle for learning from and collaborating with peers, a manager of multistate teams to initiate new programs, and as a source of information and analysis on educational and public policy issues. SHEEO seeks to advance public policies and educational practices to achieve more widespread access to and completion of higher education, more discoveries through research, and more applications of knowledge that improve the quality of human lives and enhance the public good.