New SHEEO Report Sheds Light on the Variation of State Authorization Processes in the U.S.

October 20, 2021

Share this

Title: State Authorization Landscape and Process: An Inventory, Classification, and Analysis

Author(s): Erik Ness, Sean Baser, and Matt Dean

Source: State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO)

A new report sponsored by the State Higher Education Officers Association (SHEEO) and Arnold Ventures explores and analyzes the role that state authorization plays in ensuring postsecondary educational quality and public accountability within the United States (U.S.). State authorization is defined as “the approval of an entity to establish itself as a postsecondary institution … it is the first formal act in the legal operation of an institution and often serves as the foundation which other quality assurance functions are built” (Tandberg, Bruecker, & Weeden, 2019). The growth of online education and for-profit institutions created new interest in the regulation of higher education programs, a state-level power. As a state power, the landscape of state authorization varies with structure, authority, governance, funding, capacity, process, and overall policy objectives as these processes seek to protect students and consumers from bad actors.

This report found four approaches to state authorization as indicated by the overall 50-state inventory and analysis. In this study, stringency is conceptualized through reporting requirements, outcomes-based metrics, and other regular obligations to ensure quality.

  • Protective approach: These states have high centralization and high stringency. This included 19 states plus Washington, D.C., and offers a more consistent approach to state authorization given limits on the number of agencies involved in the authorization process.
  • Measured approach: These states have lower centralization and high stringency. This approach often included a state governance body serving as a governing entity of the authorization process.
  • Autonomous approach: These states have low centralization and low stringency. The autonomous approach was the most varied in terms of approach and differences in centralization and stringency within agencies located in the same state.
  • Independent approach: These states have high centralization and low stringency. Generally, these states approach state authorization with an intentionally hands-off approach.

For a state-level process, what does this mean for campus leaders? Included below are comments and reflections for campus leaders in understanding state authorization.

  • Campus administrators should be aware of state authorization practices in their context for several reasons, most notably with transfer pathways.
  • The nuance of authorization (state-level or reciprocity agreements) is important to articulate to the campus community. A more centralized authorization process at the state-level likely eases transfer challenges for students.
  • With the growing interest in distance education from COVID-19 and changing demographics of higher education, state authorization and participation in NC-SARA (National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) may become more relevant as institutions compete for students.

State authorization is an ever-changing process that can influence enrollments, retention, and graduation – all contributing to overall student success and persistence. An understanding of the process, nuance, and regulatory triad of higher education extends well into the campus community and impacts student success on campus.

To read the full report, please click here.

—Ben Cecil

If you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please contact us.