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The purpose of this landscape paper is to organize some of the current debates about higher education quality assurance and to present a possible path forward to enable higher education leaders, policy makers, and the twenty-plus million current students to achieve their common goal of improving the success of the sector.
The current system of quality assurance in the United States, including the roles played by the federal government and regional accreditors; the process of self-evaluation, site-visits, and peer reviews; and the focus on institution-specific processes should be maintained. In addition, there is a number of ways in which this system could be improved to balance greater rigor and transparency with greater flexibility and incentives for institutional improvement and learning.
Though international developments of HE quality assurance, they do illustrate efforts to create systems that incentivize institutional improvement, organizational learning, and self-regulation while improving sector-wide accountability and rigor.
In the context of higher education quality assurance, more-frequent monitoring has the potential to improve accountability, offer more opportunities for institutional improvement, and reduce the resource burden and tendency for “box-checking” that is criticized in the current process.
Performance-based regulation reinforces competition among higher education institutions, exacerbating incentives for institutions to keep effective practices to themselves.
Quality assurance sector and accreditation has been around for more than a century in the USA. Today there are more than 7,000 institutions of higher education. Recognizing this diversity, government has historically taken a flexible approach to the regulation of higher education.