Improving Higher Education Regulation

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In a six-part series, Provost Wendell Pritchett explains why reforming higher education requires careful analysis of the fundamentals of regulation.

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“Higher education today is under attack from people across the political spectrum,” writes Wendell Pritchett, the Presidential Professor of Law and Education at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “American colleges and universities are, according to critics, too expensive, not focused on student success, not helping students progress quickly to graduation, and not preparing students for success in the workplace.”

Although most critics would agree that colleges and universities could be more accessible, affordable, and effective, how exactly should the federal government reform its rules to achieve needed improvements? In this six-part series of essays, Professor Pritchett thoughtfully explains why reforming higher education requires careful analysis of the fundamentals of regulation.

This series begins by chronicling the recent debate over the Obama Administration’s proposal to establish a universal college rating system. Pritchett argues that the failure of this proposal to move forward reveals the limits of a grand performance-based regulatory solution to higher education’s woes. Improving higher education regulation, he shows, requires understanding better how regulation itself works and how to select the right combination of tools for the job.

In his second essay in this series, Pritchett lays out the general tools available to government when it seeks to regulate any industry, explaining the different strengths and weaknesses of these tools. He then applies this framework to the current structure of higher education regulation, showing how criticisms of that structure parallel some of the general weaknesses of certain regulatory tools.

He returns to the failure of the Obama Administration’s college ratings proposal, placing it in the context of the larger regulatory frame and showing the inherent challenges with performance-based regulation of higher education. In the final two essays in this series, Pritchett proposes a package of potential changes to higher education regulation that could serve as a template for agreement among the different interest groups that will continue to debate the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The Regulatory Review is extremely proud to feature this work by Professor Pritchett, a recognized leader in the field of higher education and currently the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to being an award-winning scholar, from 2009 to 2014 Pritchett served as the Chancellor of Rutgers-Camden, and from 2014 to 2015 he served as Interim Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He has also served as a member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

Learning from the “College Rating System” Debate

April 4, 2016

Three years ago, President Obama announced to much fanfare a proposal to create a “college rating system.” The ensuing debate over this proposal reveals more than just that the right approach to higher education reform cannot lie with general performance-based ratings. It may be that the right approach is to take several approaches. Success will call for wisely selecting and tailoring an appropriate mix of different regulatory tools.

Types of Regulation

April 5, 2016

In recent decades, policy-makers have debated what type of regulation is most appropriate in a given sector of the economy. In many complex areas, the regulatory scheme involves a mixture of approaches. Command and control regulation still predominates, but efforts to adopt performance-based regulation continue to grow. At the same time, more regulatory agencies are considering management-based regulation to deal with the complexities of modern systems.

Management-Based Regulation of Higher Education

April 6, 2016

Government has historically taken a management-based approach to the regulation of higher education. In general, higher education institutions have been given the flexibility to set their own goals and determine the methods by which they will achieve them. But this “hands-off” approach has brought increasing complaints, and higher education is under attack from people across the political spectrum.

President Obama’s College Rating Proposal

April 7, 2016

The recent fight over the Obama Administration’s proposed college rating system has made evident the challenges with moving to a performance-based approach. The rating system presented serious practical problems that the administration was simply unable to resolve. When the Administration announced last year it was abandoning its proposal, it essentially conceded that the higher education sector cannot overall be regulated using performance standards.

Toward a New Approach to Regulating Higher Education

April 11, 2016

Most policymakers agree that meaningful reform requires changes to the type of management-based regulation of higher education institutions. A management-based regulatory scheme “with teeth” could create a climate of greater productivity and transparency. At the same time, eliminating some regulations that are not directed at institutional financial security and educational outcomes would free up resources that could be refocused on helping students achieve.

Next Steps in Improving Higher Education Regulation

April 12, 2016

The need for better regulation of higher education is clear. Critics decry the wastefulness of prescriptive rules that are too often unrelated to education. But the alternative of a creating an overarching performance-based regulatory rating system has also proven to be infeasible. The best way of proceeding would be to strengthen the management-based accreditation system and to make smarter decisions about when, where, and how to use the right regulatory tools.