Ready to Assemble: Grading State Higher Education Accountability Systems

Reports & Briefs | June 30, 2009
Related Issue(s): Accountability, Higher Education

States need strong higher education systems, now more than ever. In the tumultuous, highly competitive 21st century economy, citizens and workers need knowledge, skills, and credentials in order to prosper. Yet many colleges and universities are falling short. To give all students the best possible postsecondary education, states must create smart, effective higher education accountability systems, modeled from the best practices of their peers, and set bold, concrete goals for achievement. Learn how your state's accountability system measures up by mousing over the map below, or clicking on individual states for full analyses.


In 2008 and 2009, Education Sector conducted a comprehensive analysis of higher education accountability systems in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. We analyzed thousands of documents, Web sites, policies, and laws attempting to answer two questions:

  1. What information do states collect on their higher education institutions?
  2. How do they use that information to affect institutional improvement?

And in December 2008, we published "Ready to Assemble: A Model State Higher Education Accountability System," where we describe the current state of the art in state higher education accountability and offer a set of guidelines for designing a model system.

This new report goes further, grading every state accountability system in 21 categories. Some categories focus on the information states gather; others focus on the ways states use information to hold institutions accountable for quality and results. To be clear, we did not evaluate state results in various higher education outcomes, but rather the breadth, accuracy, and strength of their systems designed to hold institutions accountable for results.

To that end, we provide an overall summary of how states perform in each of the categories, individual category reports that allow state-to-state comparisons, and comprehensive score cards for each state. (Use the map above or click on the state listings at right to learn more about your state's higher education accountability system.)

The time is ripe for policymakers to act on this information. States now collect more data on more measures than ever before; they have better data systems to track individual student progression through the K–12 and higher education pipeline. In recent years, nonprofit organizations have produced a variety of new tools, including the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), and the Voluntary System of Accountability, to help measure institutional effectiveness. These and other measures have been widely adopted by individual institutions, but few states have harnessed their full utility. From higher-order thinking skills to efficiency ratios to post-graduate student success, state accountability systems collect more useful and more innovative data than ever before. If states were to copy the best practices of their peers, they could easily compile the type of balanced, effective accountability systems needed across the country.

Education Sector thanks Lumina Foundation for its support of this project. Lumina Foundation for Education is an Indianapolis-based, private foundation dedicated to expanding access and success in education beyond high school. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Lumina Foundation for Education, its officers, or employees.

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