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.