on expenditures and the volume and quality of inputs and outputs. Routine generation and collection of such data is a prerequisite for wider efforts to improve productivity and enable external stakeholders to hold institutions accountable.


In the face of the observations laid out above, we take the following premises as the starting point for our assertion that improved information regarding the functioning of higher education is needed: (1) Those who fund higher education have a legitimate interest in meaningfully measuring productivity, both in order to make the best possible allocations and spending decisions within the sector, and to assess the value of higher education against other compelling demands on scarce resources; (2) Institutions, individuals, and communities whose economic well-being is most directly at stake when funding decisions are made have a legitimate interest in ensuring that measurements of productivity are accurate and appropriate. The analysis and recommendations in this study attempt to balance these interests.

This report has been written for a broad audience including national and state policy makers, system and institution administrators, higher education faculty, and the general public.

  • State and federal legislators: Policy makers benefit from discussion that identifies important questions, explains the need for particular data programs, and clarifies the meaning of different performance metrics.
  • College and university administrators: These decision makers are under increasing pressure to address accountability and productivity concerns. This report may provide authoritative backing to resist pressure to impose inadequate assessment systems just so as to be seen to be doing something. These groups may also benefit from guidance about what data to collect to support proposed evaluations of programs.
  • Faculty: College and university professors need to understand the interaction between their own interests and society’s interests in the education enterprise. They need to be informed about innovative approaches to increasing mission efficiency through use of technology and other means. And they need quality information to guide them in the context of shared governance that prevails in most colleges and universities.
  • General public: We hope that this report will promote a greater understanding of societal interests in higher education and of how the interests of stakeholders (students, faculty, administrators, trustees, parents, taxpayers) fit into that broader picture. The arguments herein may also promote a fuller understanding of the complexity of colleges and universities and how they benefit the economy and society.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement