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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    Senate Document No. 36
    PUBLICATION YEAR 1995

    Document Title
    Review of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia

    Author
    Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission

    Enabling Authority
    SJR 135 (Regular Session, 1989)

    Executive Summary
    Virginia is one of 20 states that have established coordinating structures for their higher education systems. The Virginia General Assembly created the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) in 1956 to "...promote the development and operation of an educationally and economically sound, vigorous, progressive, and coordinated system of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia ("Code of Virginia," 23-9.3)." Overall, this approach has worked well and fulfilled legislative intent.

    Legislatively-assigned responsibilities are intended to promote efficiency in higher education while preserving the diversity and autonomy of Virginia's colleges and universities. Additionally, SCHEV is required to carry out some regulatory and administrative functions. A number of these functions were assigned to SCHEV in the 1970s, following close scrutiny of the higher education system by the General Assembly. In recent years, SCHEV has assumed some functions through federal mandates and by identifying additional coordinative needs for the higher education system in Virginia.

    Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 18, passed by the 1988 General Assembly, directed the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to review and evaluate the area of higher education as part of the Commission's responsibility for examining various functional areas of government. The General Assembly subsequently passed SJR 135 which directed JLARC to review SCHEV. This report on SCHEV is one in a series on higher education in Virginia.

    This review focuses primarily on SCHEV's coordinative role in the system of higher education and its specific operations. A separate report on the capital outlay process in higher education will examine SCHEV's responsibilities as they relate to that process. This assessment revealed:

    • SCHEV is appropriately structured to coordinate the higher education system in Virginia as intended by the General Assembly.

    • SCHEV is effective in providing the type and degree of system oversight needed.

    • Generally, SCHEV is doing a good job of fulfilling its mandated responsibilities, but some areas need improvement.

    SCHEV Provides Appropriate Systemwide Oversight

    The General Assembly chose the current coordinating structure in 1974, after trying a weak coordinating structure and considering other degrees of control and coordination. The enabling legislation gave SCHEV a dual reporting relationship to the Governor and the General Assembly. SCHEV's accountability to the Governor is reinforced through gubernatorial appointments to the Council. SCHEV's linkage to the General Assembly is emphasized by legislative action to define and re-define SCHEV's mission and responsibilities over the years. SCHEV also provides a critical link between the institutions and the General Assembly when it provides information and analyses on institutional budgets and conducts requested special studies.

    SCHEV's authority includes comprehensive statewide planning, approval of changes to institutions' mission statements, approval of projected levels of enrollment, capital and operating budget development and recommendations, and academic program approval. The General Assembly deliberately set limits to the powers that can be exercised by SCHEV, however. These limits maintain institutional autonomy and diversity of mission. Statutory language also places specific authority for higher education operations with institutional governing boards whose members are also appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the General Assembly.

    As currently structured, SCHEV provides stability and leadership to the higher education system. State Council members serve staggered terms of four years which allows them to contribute eight years of service and perspective to the Commonwealth. Overlapping appointments to the State Council provide continuity, thereby allowing SCHEV to provide leadership on issues that span executive branch administrative changes. Continuity is also promoted by the authority granted the council in appointing the SCHEV staff director.

    Overall, college and university presidents favor the current system of higher education coordination. Most presidents indicated that SCHEV provides a vision for higher education and rational analyses for assessing the past and future direction for the system. College presidents' most frequently cited criticism of SCHEV was that it is not a sufficiently strong advocate for higher education when dealing with the General Assembly and the Governor.

    SCHEV is Satisfactorily Fulfilling Its Mandated Responsibilities

    Examination of 17 substantive areas for which SCHEV is responsible indicated that SCHEV is satisfactorily fulfilling most of its mandated responsibilities. A report card on SCHEV's provision of services summarizes its performance in each of the areas examined. Chart: SHEV Report Card on Provision of Services. This review found three areas in which SCHEV could implement some needed improvements and one area in which its performance is unsatisfactory based on its current activities and statutory provisions.

    A number of recommendations are made which could assist SCHEV in improving its performance. These recommendations address the following areas: enrollment projections, review of academic program productivity, student transfer policies and articulation agreements, the assessment of student achievement, and the administration of equal educational opportunity (EEO) programs.

    The Process for Estimating Future Enrollments Appears Reasonable

    SCHEV is responsible for reviewing and approving individual institutional enrollment projections. As part of its review, SCHEV uses the institutional projections to estimate systemwide enrollment growth. The review assists SCHEV in determining the future needs of the system and the resources necessary to meet those needs.

    JLARC staff examined: (1) the likelihood that current SCHEV estimates for enrollment growth of 80,000 students in the next ten years will materialize and (2) the process used by SCHEV to estimate future systemwide enrollments. Based on the past accuracy of systemwide estimates and institution-specific projections, and converging indicators of population growth for the traditional college-age population, it appears likely that higher education student enrollments will increase in the next five to 15 years. However, the specific magnitude of the increase and exactly when it will peak is less clear.

    SCHEV's process to determine estimated systemwide enrollment changes appears reasonable. However, some minor changes could be made to improve the process. JLARC staff recommend that SCHEV:

    • review patterns and trends affecting non-traditional student enrollments, and

    • work with the Department of Education to collect and review information on high school students who go on to Virginia public higher education institutions.

    SCHEV Has Not Effectively Eliminated Programs with Low Productivity

    One of SCHEV's mandated functions to promote the effectiveness and efficiency of academic programming in the higher education system is to review and require the discontinuance of nonproductive academic programs. The process SCHEV uses to review program productivity is ineffective and in need of change. The process does not result in the closure of programs which are cited by SCHEV as having low productivity. Further, institutions do not seem to consistently use the productivity information to guide their programming, staffing, or budget decision-making.

    Recommendations are made to have SCHEV improve this process by working with the college presidents to address the 48 programs that were cited as nonproductive in 1994; to devise strategies emphasizing the connection between program productivity, assessment, strategic planning, restructuring, and budgeting; to assess the current quantitative standards used to determine productivity; to revise the productivity review process to include qualitative measures of program performance, if so desired by the General Assembly; and to develop a consistent program review schedule.

    Some Improvements Could Strengthen the Assessment Process

    SCHEV is required by the "Code of Virginia" to develop guidelines for the assessment of student achievement and report institutional assessments in the State's master plan for higher education. Review of this mandated responsibility revealed that SCHEV has successfully developed and implemented student assessment guidelines and a reporting mechanism for the system. Student assessment activities have yielded many positive results, most notably, significant curricular reform in Virginia's higher education institutions.

    Some minor improvements, however, could strengthen this process. Recommendations are included to have SCHEV collect and disseminate a common set of institutional performance standards to monitor conditions in higher education; modify the reporting procedures to lessen the burden on the institutions; and establish a stronger linkage between institutional assessment activities and restructuring efforts.

    Substantial Progress Has Been Made in Resolving Student Transfer Problems

    SCHEV undertakes a number of activities that are related to improving student access to higher education. One of these activities is the coordination of higher education efforts to ease student transfer from public two-year institutions to public and private four-year institutions. Review of these coordinative activities indicated that SCHEV has been instrumental in resolving lingering student transfer problems within the higher education system.

    SCHEV's continued involvement in this area is needed to resolve some outstanding problems. SCHEV needs to continue its oversight of the implementation of the State Policy on Transfer and improve its coordinative efforts to address current transfer data and information system limitations. Recommendations are included in this report to address these two concerns.

    Lingering Problems Affecting Equal Educational Opportunity Require Action by the Secretary of Education and SCHEV

    Over time, SCHEV has been delegated responsibility by Virginia Governors and Secretaries of Education for coordinating institutional efforts to comply with federal requirement for desegregating Virginia's higher education system, and administering certain statewide programs to achieve this goal.

    Three essential elements are needed to better assure that Virginia provides equal educational opportunity to all citizens. First, Virginia needs an updated statewide plan for addressing equal educational opportunity issues. Without a meaningful updated plan, any coordinative efforts undertaken by SCHEV are restricted. Second, clear articulation of SCHEV's responsibilities in coordinating and planning for equal educational opportunity is needed. Lack of this delineation results in confusion about the authority, responsibility, and accountability for the performance of statewide and institutional EEO programs.

    Third, SCHEV needs to develop performance measures to assess the effectiveness of the statewide EEO programs it administers. Lack of these measures makes it difficult to consistently collect, analyze, and monitor data needed to assess the impact of these programs. Recommendations are contained in this report to address these concerns.