Research News

Bruecker co-authors paper designed to help states improve higher education authorization processes

July 18, 2019

UW-Madison’s Ellie Bruecker is the co-author of an important new paper that is designed to help states reconsider, reconceptualize, and ultimately improve their higher education authorization processes. 

Bruecker is a doctoral student with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA). She co-authored the report with David Tandberg and Dustin Weeden of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO).

Ellie Bruecker
The paper, published by SHEEO, is titled “Improving State Authorization: The State Role in Ensuring Quality and Consumer Protection in High Education.”

In explaining why this topic is important, the authors write: “All SHEEO agencies, regardless of whether they serve as authorizers, have an interest in ensuring their authorization processes are functioning appropriately. (All but a few of SHEEO agencies have authorization as one of their responsibilities). First, as already argued, SHEEO agencies have a primary role in advancing that state’s interest delivering quality postsecondary education and in protecting students. As state authorization is meant to provide accountability in both of these areas, SHEEO agency heads ought to be informed and concerned with how authorization in their state is operating. Second, when institutions close, regardless of whether the SHEEO agency has responsibility for the institution, the agency often has the responsibility to coordinate teach-outs, retain student records, and address student complaints and questions. When authorization is functioning well, such closures ought to be less likely. Third, SHEEO agencies must act as the postsecondary experts in the state, advising governors, legislators, other state agencies, and other stakeholders. Their informed advice on state authorization ought to be sought and offered. Finally, in several cases, SHEEO agencies operate the state’s financial aid programs. Ensuring that financial aid dollars are best used to advance the state’s interest and only flow to legitimate postsecondary providers is a critical role of these SHEEO agencies. Well-designed authorization processes are instrumental in fulfilling this role. Therefore, we argue that all SHEEO agencies ought to be concerned with state authorization and work to ensure that it is operating appropriately.”

Adds Bruecker: “Wisconsin used to be a leader in state accountability for higher education, but the dissolution of the Higher Education Approvals Board limited that state’s ability to properly protect students and ensure quality. I hope Wisconsin will join other states in committing to a renewal of state responsibility for higher education.”

In the white paper, the authors dive into the history and purposes of state authorization and common approaches to state authorization. They then provide recommendations and details for how states might improve their approaches.

The authors write: “The central motivating premise of the white paper is that a renewed state interest in assuring institutional quality and appropriate consumer protections is needed, and the place to start is with improved state authorization.”

Read the complete paper here.