On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court (the Court) announced its second decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which upheld the University of Texas’s (UT) race-conscious admissions program under federal law. Notably, in affirming prior Court precedent, the decision also provided significant insight regarding policy development considerations and key evidence, which should inform the efforts of public and private institutions that consider race in enrollment practices moving forward. This preliminary Q&A is intended to provide clear, concise guidance on important points and key takeaways to assist institutional and organizational leaders in crafting their immediate responses to the decision and strategies moving forward. After a brief review of the background and procedural history of the case, it answers 11 key questions that practitioners and policymakers may have at this time.

This policy brief and accompanying slide deck lay out a new framework for an accreditation system that is more responsive to student outcomes and better at directing time, resources, and attention to those institutions that need it most. The framework addresses the core federal interest in ensuring that billions of annual student loan and taxpayer dollars are spent on quality higher education programs and also the need to refine the federal role to improve quality and accountability for colleges and universities. The proposed framework builds on effective and long-standing elements of the higher education accreditation process.  It relies on five pillars that can shape meaningful, constructive reform:

  • Place a sharp focus on student outcomes as the basis for assessing quality
  • Use risk assessments as the key lens in accreditation
  • Differentiate accreditor engagement with institutions based on results from the risk assessments
  • Create a federal recognition process that supports and holds accreditors accountable for  the transition to and use of systems that are differentiated and focused on outcomes
  • Reduce regulatory burdens that are not fundamental to the achievement of core public or federal interests

This project would not have been possible without the support of Lumina Foundation.  We are also deeply grateful for the contributions of many policy experts, practitioners, and stakeholders, including those representing institutions, students, and accreditors, whose thoughtful feedback and commentary significantly shaped this framework. 


October 30, 2015
On October 26th, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), the LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas State University hosted an event in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Higher Education Act.


May 23 2016
By Scott Palmer

In the days ahead, the US Department of Education (ED) is expected to publish its first proposed regulations under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This will likely include hundreds of pages of draft regulations and explanation on critical education policy issues under Title I of the Act, including federal requirements regarding state assessments, state accountability systems, and state-local supports for lowest-performing schools. But the proposed regulations will also address another critical topic that has gotten less attention – “consolidated state plans.”

These state plans are critical to the success of ESSA implementation, as they will likely define (at least in part) the contours of state (and local) implementation over the next several years, and will likely jump start ESSA activity. If done right, state plans will set expectations for leadership, coherence, impact, and continuous improvement in ESSA implementation. This is the first time in nearly 15 years that states must take a comprehensive look at their plans under federal law.

Here are five questions that stakeholders should ask as states and districts begin to develop their consolidated plans:

  1. What is the theory of action? ESSA state plans should require states to describe for each key area a clear theory of action that links proposed state strategies to the dual goals of equity and excellence.
  2. What priority areas should be addressed in state plans? ESSA consolidated plans should focus on several priority areas that are central to the Act.
  3. How can the process of developing plans create and support authentic stakeholder engagement? ESSA consolidated plans should require states to describe how they will establish systems for meaningful and continuous stakeholder engagement.
  4. How will states plan for continuous improvement? ESSA consolidated plans should expect states to define their systems of periodic review and improvement for each priority area – utilizing ongoing cycles of information and evidence, aligned with the consolidated annual reports that each state must produce under the Act.
  5. How can USED best sequence state plans to get the best results? ED should permit states to submit portions of their consolidated state plans in a sequenced manner – not all at once.


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