This Policy Snapshot reviews 2019 enacted legislation pertaining to postsecondary education and workforce development. It breaks legislative activity into four main categories—career pathways and skills, partnerships and working groups, financial incentives, and workforce data—with state examples for each.
Better Data, Better Outcomes: Promoting Evidence, Equity, and Student Success through the Framework for State Postsecondary Data Solutions
Accurately evaluating what works – and what doesn’t – to improve student progression through higher education requires the robust use of reliable data. States play a pivotal role in compiling and using data to empower student choice, spur continuous institutional and system improvement, and develop evidence-based solutions that promote college access and success for all students in their state. However, certain challenges have prevented states from fully leveraging education and workforce data, including difficulty matching and sharing data across agencies and states, and legal and regulatory compliance barriers.
Priced Out: Rural Students On Illinois’ Disinvestment In Higher Education & What Can Be Done About It
Over the last two decades, Illinois has gone through a period of disinvestment in higher education, seeing continued losses in higher education appropriations and underinvestment in student financial aid. From 2002 to 2018, funding for Illinois public universities was cut over 50 percent and community colleges saw similar disinvestment. This environment created an increased financial strain for the state’s colleges and universities, leaving them little choice but to raise tuition in order to make up for the loss in funding, effectively shifting the burden to pay onto students. (Partnership for College Completion)
State investment in college students grew more last year than in the past decade, according to an annual study of grant and aid programs released Tuesday. Undergraduate aid grew by 8.62 percent during the 2017-18 academic year compared to an annual growth rate of 1 to 6 percent, adjusted for inflation, since 2007-08, a new report by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs outlines. State financial aid programs in the U.S. reached $13.6 billion, compared to $12.8 billion dedicated to postsecondary students in 2016-17, says the report by NASSGAP, which represents agencies that administer state student financial aid.
Led by the American Council on Education (ACE), the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and Educause, 15 national higher education organizations have signed a joint statement in support of credential data transparency. The signatories are “encouraging their members to describe their credential offerings with a common language and house the data in an open, cloud-based registry in order to empower students, workers, employers and policymakers to make more informed decisions about credentials and their value,” according to a news announcement. The idea of credential transparency is to “provide clear, comparable, persistent information about credentials, including their cost, competencies, relationship to other credentials, quality assurance processes, and value in transfer and in the labor market based on shared standards or frameworks,” the joint statement explained. “A healthy ecosystem of transparent credentials facilitates the documentation, recognition, transferability, and portability of learning across education, work, and community settings for all types of credentials and providers.”
Fifty-four years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, creating the framework for the system of higher education that students, programs, colleges, and universities operate within today. In his remarks that day, President Johnson called HEA the key that unlocks the “most important door that will ever open — the door to education.” He also said of the massive bill, “I doubt that any future Congress will ever erect a prouder monument for future generations.” Right now, this Congress has the opportunity to prove President Johnson wrong. Though HEA has been updated several times since 1965, the current law governing higher education is six years overdue for Congressional reauthorization. Since 2013, policymakers have deferred large-scale, much-needed reforms to our current system, leaving students and their families struggling to afford the skyrocketing cost of college, falling prey to predatory actors, and caught in the widening equity gaps that defer their dreams. Though House Republicans and Democrats have introduced their own proposals over the past two years, lawmakers have not worked in a truly bipartisan way to improve the current system.
College-in-high-school programs—such as dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment, and early college high school—are popular and impactful. Across the country, states are turning to these models as tools to improve college access and success. Earlier this year, 18 governors discussed earning college credit prior to high school graduation in their state budget highlights, according to the National Governors Association, and new laws passed in more than 16 states addressed some aspect of these programs. Over the past decade, there has been growth in the number of high school students taking college courses. Unfortunately, access to and engagement in these programs is not equitable: According to 2019 National Center for Education Statistics data, students who are white, Asian or whose parents have a college education are much more likely to participate in dual enrollment than their peers. A new tool from the Community College Research Center (CCRC), drawn from the Civil Rights Data Collection, further indicates that equity gaps persist down to the school district level.
Virginia is changing the way it calculates need-based aid and distributes it to public four-year institutions. The change comes as the demographics of students across the nation are shifting, and more students today are over age 25, working while in college or parenting. With these changes and rising tuition costs, more students are demonstrating financial need. Anecdotally, in Virginia, more students are qualifying for a zero-dollar expected family contribution from the federal government, according to Lee Andes, associate director for financial aid at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, or SCHEV. SCHEV has been working with a model designed in 2005, Andes said, so the council decided to revisit it. The 2005 model, combined with a decision in the 1990s to add estimated amounts of what students could earn while working in the summer to the estimated family contribution formula, resulted in increased expected contributions for low- and middle-income students. (Inside Higher Ed)
Officials say programs at Murray State University and Bluegrass Community and Technical College offer a certification ensuring graduates have essential employability skills that employers say are often lacking. A statement from the Council on Postsecondary Education says the Essential Employability Qualities Certification tells employers that academic programs integrate skills into the curriculum including communication, collaboration, problem solving and ethics. The statement says two programs at Murray State are certified as is one program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Officials say four other campuses are pursuing certification in at least three programs: Kentucky State University, University of Kentucky, Gateway Community and Technical College, and Jefferson Community and Technical College.
Almost 65 percent of jobs today require education after high school — and that proportion is only expected to grow, leaving behind millions of Americans in states across the country. Currently, 44 million Americans are jobless or lack the skills, credentials and networks they need to earn a living wage. State leaders face an immediate need to connect postsecondary education to family-sustaining work, especially for those early in their earning years. States, of course, are committed to addressing that need — and in the past few years, many have enacted new legislation and rolled out initiatives designed to improve the connection between education and work. To support that work, Education Commission of the States and Strada Education Network have partnered to better understand the consumers’ perspective on education and work. This work centers on the belief that we must listen to consumers about their goals and motivations in order to design statewide and local education and workforce policies that work.
Narrowed Gaps and Persistent Challenges: Examining Rural-Nonrural Disparities in Postsecondary Outcomes over Time
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, there has been a significant national conversation about the relationship among rurality, college education, social class, and politics (e.g., Brown and Fisher 2017; Means 2018; Pappano 2017). Such discussions have often noted that the educational pathways of rural students differ from those of their nonrural peers (e.g., Barcus and Brunn 2010; Pierson and Hanson 2015; Roscigno et al. 2006). On occasion, discussions of rurality have even taken care to note that variations in educational trajectories stem in part from differences in college-going opportunities in rural areas, which are often related to suppressed postsecondary attendance and completion (e.g., Byun et al. 2012; Koricich et al. 2018; Turley 2009). However, when educators, journalists, scholars, and others use educational research to inform conversations about the multiple and complicated influences of rurality on college-going and degree attainment, they find a literature base that is limited in its ability to explain the college-going behaviors of rural students. In large measure, this stems from the scarcity of high-quality research on rural college-going, particularly studies that attempt to ascertain the ongoing accuracy of prior study findings over time as social, economic, and political factors continually shift.
America’s top public universities, known as flagships, are generally the most well-resourced public universities in their respective states — think the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor or the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. They’re rigorous schools, and many were built on federal land grants meant to serve the “industrial classes.” Today, only four public flagship universities are affordable for students from low-income families, according to a report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Access to public universities can be critical for low-income students because those institutions can serve as engines for upward mobility. And these schools aren’t living up to their responsibility to remain affordable, says Mamie Voight, one of the study’s authors from IHEP.
New America released a report on postsecondary education in prisons as more policymakers express interest in providing Pell Grants to incarcerated students. The D.C.-based think tank’s recommendations include increasing the availability of education and job training in prisons; ensuring the programs lead to pathways for formal degrees; making education and job training programs part of the re-entry process; and reinstating Pell Grants to incarcerated populations. A larger proportion of incarcerated adults have lower education levels than the general public, which could make re-entry and finding a stable job more difficult, the report says. Because 94 percent of those incarcerated in federal and state prisons will one day be released, the report says education is an important part of the rehabilitative process.
The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released a new report using data from the expanded College Scorecard to rank 4,500 colleges and universities by return on investment. A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges finds that bachelor’s degrees from private colleges, on average, have higher returns on investment than degrees from public colleges 40 years after enrollment. Community colleges and many certificate programs have the highest returns in the short term, 10 years after enrollment, though returns from bachelor’s degrees eventually overtake those of most two-year credentials. Public colleges, where tuition is lower and students accumulate less debt, lead to better returns than private colleges at the 10-year horizon. In the long term, however, degrees from private nonprofit colleges provide the best returns, even though students take out twice as much in loans on average. A graduate of a public college has an average net economic gain of $765,000, compared to $838,000 for a graduate of a private college.
An advocacy group is calling on Illinois to make higher education more equitable for students. It says that means changing the way it funds post-secondary schooling. Before they dug into the numbers, Kyle Westbrook said his group wanted to try to reframe the conversation around the cost of college in Illinois. He’s the executive director of the Partnership for College Completion. The organization just released three “Priced Out” reports analyzing state disinvestment in higher education. He said universities and lawmakers have often looked at higher-ed funding from the point of view of the schools. And while it’s important to talk about program cuts, layoffs and maintenance, they wanted the reports to be from the students’ perspective.