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February 18, 2003

Institute lays out plan
for grading state higher ed

California is woefully behind most of the country in evaluating its higher education systems, and a “culture gap” between legislators and academics has hampered efforts to do so, argues Nancy Shulock, director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at California State University, Sacramento.

Shulock says California needs a clear, statewide perspective on higher education performance.

There is currently no such “big picture” summary, she says, and that frustrates both education leaders and legislators. They’re forced to rely on a collection of reports from the community colleges and two university systems, along with a book of indicators from the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

Accountability is particularly important, Shulock says, given the state’s financial struggles. Policymakers need the best information they can get in order to make the best use of funds.

“We’ve been too busy looking at each segment of higher education in isolation, but we haven’t been looking at outcomes for all the state’s citizens to see who’s getting left behind and why,” Shulock says. “Legislators and their staff tell me they don’t have the information they need. And to get to that, we need the Legislature and higher education to agree on an accountability approach that both sides see as reasonable and fair.”

Shulock’s recommendations for a new higher education accountability
system are in her institute’s report for the California Senate Office of Research. She presented highlights in late January at a special accountability symposium sponsored by the State Senate and attended by legislative and educational leaders.

Shulock says a workable higher education accountability system should measure broad statewide goals such as making educational affordable and educating enough teachers, while avoiding campus-by-campus comparisons and micromanagement of colleges and universities. She also argues that the state should use existing processes to reward performance rather than adopt performance budgeting formulas that haven’t worked well in other states.

She suggests using “tiered accountability.” The community colleges and university systems would create detailed accountability reports, to be provided to their respective governing boards. These would include campus data on student learning, academic programs and graduation rates. Then broad performance data would be “reported up” to state level policymakers. Campus administrators could focus on details, and the Legislature on the big picture.

More information is available from the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy’s website at, or by contacting Shulock at (916) 278-7249. Additional media assistance is available by contacting CSUS public affairs at (916) 278-6156.


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