Holding Our Colleges to Higher Standards

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The sharp escalation of college tuition, and subsequent student debt crisis, undermine the promise of higher education. While families are paying more, they are receiving less. Professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in their groundbreaking work, Academically Adrift, found that nearly half of students had little or no cognitive growth in their first two years of college; over a third (38%) had little or no learning gains in four years. And a recent poll by Public Agenda found that the public’s confidence in higher education is rapidly eroding. Nearly 80% of Americans believe students have to take on too much debt for college, and only 44% believe students get their money’s worth. Nearly half said that public higher education should be “fundamentally overhauled.”

While there is no single cause for these problems, one of the critical sources is the failure of higher education governance. Rather than being a defining strength of higher education, lay governance now threatens to be a liability. Trustees must take a more active role in reviewing and benchmarking the work of faculty and administrators and monitoring outcomes.

ACTA was founded as a resource for college trustees who want the right tools to do their jobs well. Our Governance for a New Era® campaign seeks to equip a new generation of trustees with the knowledge and values they need to renew the promise of higher education.

It is great to know that we have a strong education leader like [ACTA] who not only joins the discussion but also works toward finding solutions. We are fortunate to work with you to create a stronger country for future generations.

—Chris Christie, former Governor of New Jersey

What We’re Doing

Promoting a 21st Century Blueprint for Trustees

Twenty-first century governance means strong leadership at the board level. In 2014, ACTA convened a group of 22 distinguished national leaders—including college presidents, trustees, business leaders, and policymakers—to identify how to be a responsible fiduciary and to provide trustees with the tools to meet the unique challenges facing American higher education. The resulting report, Governance for a New Era, outlines a comprehensive blueprint for effective trusteeship, and Implementing Governance for a New Era details how to put the plan in action. Getting the Data: 10 Questions Trustees Should Ask provides trustees with questions designed to ensure informed decision-making.

Confronting Rising Costs

Two out of three college students now graduate with an average of over $28,000 in student debt, and the price of tuition continues to rise at an unsustainable rate, faster even than health care. So how do colleges spend that money? ACTA’s groundbreaking online resource provides quick and easy access to financial information and spending trends for nearly 1,500 public and private colleges and universities. Using both financial metrics and indicators of academic effectiveness, the site enables trustees and administrators to benchmark their institutions’ performance against that of their peers as well as other institutions. 

Providing Expert Resources

ACTA’s role in the fight for high-quality, affordable higher education is to arm stakeholders with the knowledge and context they need to ask the right questions, propose the best solutions, and hold our colleges and universities accountable for student outcomes. Bold Leadership, Real Reform and Bold Leadership, Real Reform 2.0 outline best practices to reduce the cost of a degree while increasing the quality of student learning, offer innovative solutions, and document success stories. The Cost of Chaos in the Curriculum tackles the problem of bloated undergraduate curriculum.

ACTA regularly hosts educational seminars and conferences to address some of higher education’s greatest challenges. In 2019, trustees from a range of institutions attended conferences on how to protect freedom of expression on campus, how to ensure the historical literacy of all students, and how to address substance use on campus. See our Board Services initiative for individual trustee or board consultation.

ACTA provides expert testimony and supplies in-depth policy research to state governors and policymakers across the country to promote intellectual diversity, high academic standards, a strong liberal arts-based core curriculum, an end to grade inflation, improved teacher training, and increased accountability.

Reforming the College Accreditation System

ACTA continues to act as the nation’s watchdog pushing for substantive reform to the higher education accreditation system. Accreditors wield immense power over colleges and universities, often interfering with institutional autonomy and rarely focusing on institutional quality. Our Accreditation initiative advocates solutions to protect students and taxpayers from the current system.


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Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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