New Policy Framework: Shift Quality Assurance from Compliance to Continuous Improvement

WASHINGTON, D.C (DECEMBER 18, 2018) — Today, Higher Learning Advocates and the Center for American Progress released a new framework for rethinking higher education accountability and quality assurance. It outlines principles for accountability to better protect students and taxpayers through a gatekeeping function, while also encouraging more opportunities for continuous improvement. The framework was developed through conversations and input from experts and policy leaders convened to outline elements in a federal system of quality assurance and accountability.

With critical conversations around the future of the Higher Education Act and other key federal policies, the new framework addresses the distinct needs of students, taxpayers and institutions in terms of their quality guarantees and protections as participants in federal financial aid.

“Accountability is essential for creating a system that drives stronger outcomes for students, more reliable protections for taxpayers, and higher performance by institutions. However, there is still work to be done to agree on critical elements and terms for a system of quality assurance to really work.  and will jumpstart a conversation,” said Julie Peller, executive director of Higher Learning Advocates. “This framework was intentionally built in concert with top thinkers and offers a starting point and useful guide as policymakers and advocates do the challenging and necessary policy work of upgrading our nation’s approach to higher education quality to meet the needs of today’s students.”

“Improving the federal government’s role in accountability and quality assurance for higher education requires starting with a clear set of goals and principles,” said Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. “As the potential reauthorization of the Higher Education Act approaches, this framework provides a way to assess new ideas and ensure that they ultimately result in a federal role for higher education that helps produce a more educated citizenry.”

The framework specifically outlines two federal roles in quality and accountability: one that focuses on gatekeeping, or setting a minimum protection or floor for acceptable outcomes, with a simultaneous process for continuous improvement. This function would create incentives for institutions to improve the quality of educational, financial and career outcomes. The principles maintain that these measures cannot be “one-size fits all,” and must respond to each institution or program selectivity, size, goals, student population and degree duration.

The framework was developed through extensive conversations and input from a diverse set of national stakeholder groups and advocacy organizations convened by Higher Learning Advocates and the Center for American Progress on federal quality and accountability policies that met over the course of six months. Members of the task force included those who contributed recommendations and input to the principles include:

  • Shai Akabas, Director of Economic Policy at Bipartisan Policy Center
  • Nathan Arnold, Senior Policy Advisor at Education Counsel
  • Emily Bouck, Policy and Advocacy Director at Higher Learning Advocates
  • Colleen Campbell, Associate Director for Postsecondary Education at Center for American Progress
  • Jill Desjean, Policy Analyst at National Association of Student Financial Aid Administration
  • Lanae Erickson, Vice President for Social Policy and Politics at Third Way
  • Antoinette Flores, Associate Director for Postsecondary Education at Center for American Progress
  • India Heckstall, Program Associate at Higher Learning Advocates
  • Tamara Hiler, Deputy Director of Education at Third Way
  • Tiffany Jones, Director of Higher Education Policy at Education Trust
  • Kermit Kaleba, Federal Policy Director at National Skills Coalition
  • James Kvaal, President at The Institute for College Access and Success
  • Bethany Little, Principal at Education Counsel
  • Kenneth Megan, Senior Policy Analyst at Bipartisan Policy Center
  • Ben Miller, Senior Director, Postsecondary Education at Center for American Progress
  • Jesse O’Connell, Director of Federal Policy at Lumina Foundation
  • Rory O’Sullivan, Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Julie Peller, Executive Director of Higher Learning Advocates
  • Terri Taylor, Deputy Director for Postsecondary Finance at Lumina Foundation
  • Bryan Wilson, Director of the Workforce Data Quality Campaign


About Higher Learning Advocates: Higher Learning Advocates is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. We support a system of higher learning that is student-centered, equitable, outcomes-based, and focused on educational quality by advocating for policies that are based on student outcomes, make postsecondary education and student aid work for today’s students, and ensure access and affordability. We are bipartisan, strategically minded, and focused on improving postsecondary access and success for all students.

About the Center for American Progress:  The Center for American Progress is an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.

Read the framework here.