Important Considerations for Successful Policies

Project Overview
State Self-Study Tools
State and Regional Policies
Assessment Policy Types and Models
Policy Development
Inventory of Instruments and Measurements
Data Collection and Analysis
Publications and Presentations


This page presents:

Policy Design & Structure
Policy Process
Lessons Learned
Links to Teaching/Learning Improvements

Policy Design & Structure

Have a Clear & Focused Purpose

Having a precisely defined vision for the form assessment will take and the purposes it will serve at all levels of higher education assists the policy development process. Also, policymakers and institutions will benefit from knowing the rationale for establishing a policy and its accompanying requirements, and they will be more apt to work towards a process that has definite goals.

Missouri is the best example of this, as virtually all institutions possess the same understanding of the goals for the state's policy and priorities for higher education.
Florida is an example of a state that has proceeded for nearly 20 years without a clearly defined policy and as a result, has struggled to bring its disparate assessment activities under a coherent vision of state needs and requirements.

Limit Structures & Mechanisms

Trying to accomplish too much will yield a policy that achieves very little. Directed change is a slow process and given the complexity of higher education at the institutional and state levels, the coordination required to produce effective policy will only allow personnel at al levels to focus meaningfully on a narrow set of goals and processes at any given time.

Florida has been working under a set of policies that sometimes combine to leave institutions unclear about where to direct their energies, and leave policymakers frustrated at the slow pace of change.

Policy Must Provide Data Useful to Institutional Decision Makers

A policy that provides data that are meaningful and useful to academic managers and faculty will find greater acceptance than one that demands information without regard as to how it improves internal institutional processes.
Assessment must be incorporated into institutional management.

Emphasize Institutional Improvement

An assessment policy will benefit from having administrators and faculty to take ownership of the process. This allows assessment to become incorporated into institutional management.

Differentiate by Sector/Mission

Not differentiating can lead to disagreements over assessment standards and indicators by institutional type or mission. Institutions in South Carolina, Florida, and Missouri challenged their state's policy for comparing them to other institutions using the same standards and expectations.

Embrace Simpler, Rather than Complex, Indicator/Reporting Mechanisms

Policymakers are better off attempting to “do more with less” in terms of indicators and outcomes.
Having a system with 20, 30, 50, or more indicators may become cumbersome and expensive to monitor, and it ishard for stakeholders to see that they lead to improvement.

South Carolina executives have decided to focus on fewer indicators and implement fewer reporting requirements. Missouri officials decided to scale their system down to 10 indicators because of the difficulty in managing the data, and Washington and Florida have started their systems with a small number of priorities on which to gather data.

States are typically interested in measures of productivity and efficiency, and focusing on a few of these could lead to other efficiencies.
Also, systems with too many indicators accomplish less because institutions spend a great deal of time and energy complying with the requirements.


Policy Process

Sustained Commitment of Leadership Required

Having leadership committed to the idea of developing and implementing a policy that accomplishes state objectives and serves institutions provides stability.
Sustained l eadership keeps the policy actors on task when the process becomes difficult or murky, and also provides some stability over time as legislators, assessment directors, and government personnel change.
The leadership is also critical when it comes time to revisit the policy and determine its effectiveness.

The Missouri Assessment Consortium provides an innovative and critical form of leadership in its state as it facilitates communications between policy actors, while the coordinating board in the state has also been very proactive in promoting assessment. The board in Washington has also been active as a mediator between the institutions and the legislature.

Develop Policy in Consultation with Institutions

Consulting institutions affords them the opportunity to declare what data are most critical to their operations.
Focus policy on outcomes associated with the needs and processes of colleges and universities. The end goal of assessment policies is the betterment of institutions and all of higher education.
Emphasizing outcomes without attending to internal processes only serves to frustrate administrators and irritate academic managers.

Have Statewide Discussions About Assessment

Policy process can be as, if not more important, than its eventual results.
Bringing institutional representatives, policymakers, and business and civic leaders together to debate or determine the priorities for higher education and the purposes for assessment can be quite beneficial even if no policy evolves from the discussions.
Future policy actors emerge with a clearer understanding of the perspectives, realities, and needs of the others and also leave with a better grasp on assessment at the state level.

Manage Stakeholder Inputs

While it is useful for policymakers to receive input from differing stakeholders, their involvement in the formal policy development process should be limited.
Trying to involve too many individuals and groups may lead to an unfocused policy.

As an example, community colleges in Florida have seven different reporting requirements because of seven distinct entities that require them to submit data. These provisions were not all instituted at the same time but have accumulated as new requirements for data emerged. Thus, there is duplication of effort in the policy.
Missouri managed to incorporate input from different sectors across the state as policies options were considered, but became efficient about identifying who would be involved in making final decisions.

Plan to Overcome Resistance

The important consideration here is how to manage any resistance so that all sides come to understand one another more clearly.
Keeping the lines of communication open among all policy actors can help them overcome the uncertainty and difficulty of the situation.

Washington and South Carolina are two states in which trust and credibility eroded as their performance funding system were developed when institutions did not act in good faith when responding to state requests. It has taken time and active participation from the coordinating boards in these states to work through these difficulties so that the policies could be successfully implemented. Addressing institutional concerns was key to the process.

Institutions Must Be Willing to Form Working Relationships with State Officials

Policymakers will benefit if institutions take time to help them understand the complexity of higher education and its differences from, as well as similarities to K-12 education.

Given the diverse missions, student bodies, and structures of higher education institutions, it is unlikely that any one policy tool will accurately reflect the institutional differences that cause outcomes to vary. Applying standardized criteria, performance targets, or evaluation criteria to all institutions will be unfair to some institutions and overly generous to others.

Assessment is here to stay. Institutional administrators should work to make policies more useful and less cumbersome.

New Policies May Not Replace Old Ones

Finally, implementing and maintaining a successful assessment policy eventually becomes an ongoing process.
As new polices are added, old ones need to be evaluated. Revisiting policies periodically ensures that they are relevant to institutions and serving state needs.
Adding new directives without revisiting old ones can lead to a policy of accretion, whereby overlapping and duplicative policies can be enacted, creating a burden on institutions.



Lessons Learned

1. Policy Context for Assessment Shapes Process and Outcomes

2. Process Forces Articulation of Principles on all Sides

3. Culture of Institutions Can be Changed If The Process Contributes to Mgt

4. Stakeholders at All Levels Must Be Engaged with Assessment

5. Political Will is Required for Success

6. Policies Will Result In Improved Data Systems



Teaching/Learning Improvements

Making Assessment Institution-centered

Public Accountability

Having Institutions Share Data on Learning

Revisiting Indicators Regularly

Closing Information Loop

Focused Goals at Different Institutional Levels


On this page

Policy Design & Structure

Policy Process

Lessons Learned

Links to Teaching/Learning Improvements


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Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research