The Context
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Major Themes
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Major Themes and Core Activities

The agenda and work plan of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education will be organized around several broad themes. Some of these themes derive from current external and internal factors influencing higher education; other themes would be important during any time period. Three themes, in particular, will be of continuing attention for the Center: the costs and benefits of higher education; statewide governance of higher education; and the public purposes of higher education.

The Costs and Benefits of Higher Education

The most recent intensive national debate on this issue occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Center will revisit the Carnegie Commissionâs classic formulation of the core finance issues: ãWho pays? Who benefits? Who should pay?ä13 The late 1990s iteration must go well beyond the allocation of financial responsibility, however, to give greater attention to the appropriate costs of higher education and to the mechanisms of support and public accountability that are most consistent with achieving public purposes.

A national roundtable on the public and private financing of higher education was convened by the Pew Higher Education Roundtable and the California Higher Education Policy Center in 1996. Its major purpose was to work out a national policy agenda on higher education finance, and it posed a number of important questions about higher education finance policy for the late 1990s, including:14

  • The Roles of State and Federal Government. In what ways should the relationship of government to higher education change in response to changing public needs? What should be the relationship between federal and state funding of higher education?

  • Access to Opportunity. Is there a more cost effective way to provide access to quality in an era of greater constraints on public funding? To provide continued access to quality, what funding mechanisms would optimize public and private investments in higher education?

  • Tuition and Student Aid Policy. What objectives should guide policies for setting tuition÷in state legislatures as well as institutions? What mixture of tuition and financial aid will assure broad access?

  • Technology and Market Forces. How can public policy or public investment work most effectively in conjunction with market forces to ensure that technological advances produce real enhancements of learning? Under what circumstances are public agencies likely to be more equitable than the market in distributing access to, or funds for, technology?

  • Linking Funding to Performance. To what degree should the funding of higher education be tied to the performance of either institutions or students? Can linking dollars to outcomes help colleges and universities overcome their seeming inability to realize productivity gains?

The roundtable also raised issues of privatization of institutions and functions, and of whether performance outcomes would better assure public authorities of ãfair value for their investments in higher education.ä

State Governance of Higher Education

Recent reorganization of state higher education systems in several states, including New Jersey, Minnesota, Alaska, Montana, Kentucky, and Illinois, indicate that the interest of governors and legislators in higher education governance remains high. There has, however, been no apparent pattern to these reorganizations. Nationally, state governing structures appear to be unstable, and there will be a continuing need for policy frameworks and structural options that can assist state policy leaders in their search for constructive change.

The California Higher Education Policy Center has recently completed, with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a seven-state study of the organization of higher education beyond the campus level.15 The study includes the decision-making roles of governors and legislatures. The project differs from earlier governance studies in that it focuses on the influence of governance structures on the achievement of state priorities, as opposed to the traditional emphasis on institutional autonomy vis-à-vis state authority. A policy commentary based upon this research will raise key policy questions about state governance, and offer a conceptual framework for assessing the influence of organizational structure on the achievement of state priorities. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education will continue to develop and refine a policy framework for addressing state-level governance, testing it beyond the original seven states and examining states where major structural changes have occurred.

The Public Purposes of Higher Education

All major public policies contain implicit or explicit assumptions about public purposes. Many public policy debates over governance and finance are, in part, proxies for disagreements about purpose. More explicit discussion about public purposes is a necessary condition for more focused policy. Issues of public purpose are not just internal to higher education, but encompass the role of higher education in society. A conversation about purpose, therefore, needs to include the views and perceptions of many people: the general public; opinion leaders in the civic, business and government sectors; and higher education leaders, including administrators, faculty and trustees. As part of its work, the Center will rely on several methods of public opinion research to understand systematically the diverse views of these groups. By engaging representatives of these groups in policy deliberation, the Center will seek to gain insight into the development of what Daniel Yankelovich has termed ãpublic judgmentä in the area of higher education policy.16

The themes described above will provide pervasive and recurrent guides for the Centerâs work, though they will not necessarily be the subjects of discrete projects or reports. In implementing a thematic approach, the Center will identify important issues related to one or several of its primary themes. It will organize activities around these issues. Ultimately, it will develop policy products as a result of the various activities. This approach is similar to the model the California Higher Education Policy Center utilized to organize its work. (The California Higher Education Policy Center, which operated from 1992 to 1997, was organized under the Higher Education Policy Institute, the same independent, nonprofit corporation that serves as the ãumbrellaä organization for the new national center.)

The following chart portrays an example of how the California Higher Education Policy Center implemented a thematic approach in exploring the public and private finance of higher education.

Example of Thematic Approach:
The Public and Private Finance of Higher Education

Issues Related to Theme Ë Activities Ë Policy Products
State Appropriations for California Higher Education Ë Tracked 30 Years of State Appropriations Ë Financing the Plan: Californiaâs Master Plan for Higher Education, 1960 to 1996
Student Aid in California Ë Analyzed Student Aid Sources and Revenues Ë Trends in Student Aid: 1990 to 1996 (by The College Board), including policy implications
Changes in State Finance of Higher Education Ë
Changes in State Finance of Higher Education Ë Studied Higher Education Finance in Five States Ë Background Case Study Publications for National Roundtable
Overall Changes in Higher Education Finance Ë Commissioned Research Ë Background Publication for National Roundtable
Changes in Federal and State Finance Ë Commissioned Research Ë Background Publication for National Roundtable
Policy Implications for Federal and State Changes in Higher Education Finance Ë Jointly Convened the National Roundtable on the Public and Private Finance of Higher Education Ë ãShaping the Futureä (published in CrossTalk); ãRumblingä (published in Policy Perspectives); and The Public and Private Financing of Higher Education (published by Oryx Press)

In fostering constructive change, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education will undertake the following core activities:

  • Refine and advance a national agenda for higher education policy, an agenda that identifies and analyzes crucial national policy issues facing American higher education, while framing and articulating those issues from a broad, public interest perspective.

  • Publish readable and incisive policy studies and commentaries that raise policy issues, examine alternatives, and analyze choices.

  • Convene seminars and symposia on key policy issues to involve higher education, government, and business and civic leaders÷as well as scholars and experts.

  • Stimulate public and media discussion and debate of key policy issues.

  • Be an authoritative source of information, commentary and analysis for policy makers and for the media.

  • Develop, through its activities, new professional and lay leadership in higher education policy.

  • Utilize targeted public opinion surveys and focus groups at national, regional and state levels to understand public values and perceptions.

  • Issue a quarterly policy publication modeled after the California Higher Education Policy Centerâs CrossTalk to report important policy developments.



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