On January 16th, 2020, The Education Commission of the States updated their 50-State Comparison on Instructional Time Policies. The newest version includes developments from the 2019 legislative sessions, adds Puerto Rico and includes more information on school start and/or finish dates. Because instructional time policies continue to be of high interest to policymakers, parents and school district administrators, we update this 50-State Comparison regularly and have done so for over 35 years. Even minor adjustments in instructional time requirements may be of interest because small changes can mean big changes in flexibility for districts.
Summary of Major Provisions in the Proposed Reauthorization of the Federal Higher Education Act (HR 4674)
The Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA; P.L. 89-329, as amended) authorizes programs and activities to provide support to individuals who are pursuing a postsecondary education and to institutions of higher education (IHEs). During the 116th Congress, the House Committee on Education and Labor marked up and ordered to be reported the College Affordability Act (H.R. 4674), which would provide for the comprehensive reauthorization of most HEA programs. This report organizes the changes proposed by H.R. 4674 into seven themes. (Congressional Research Service)
Historically, state policymakers have sought ways to connect people to quality education that leads to sustaining and fulfilling jobs. As the 2020 legislative sessions get underway in states, there are a few general principles that support connecting education and workforce development. In many instances, the legislation introduced in 2019 (at least 258 bills in 49 states) and ultimately enacted (49 bills in 26 states) apply these principles. Design policy to support the diverse needs of people engaging or reengaging, with work-relevant education. Today’s postsecondary students are older, diverse and are not going directly to postsecondary institutions following high school. They require additional support and resources to access work-related educational experiences. Considering the diverse needs of existing postsecondary students and those outside of the postsecondary system can support individuals to engage or reengage with work-relevant education.
It is not often that an educational reform movement takes hold in both policy and practice. Yet, over the past decade the momentum to reform developmental education has intensified. Here are three reasons why. First, the research is conclusive. Save the few, students who are placed into developmental education math and English courses meant to remediate perceived academic deficits never complete the courses nor enter credit-bearing courses that are part of a program of study. Rigorous research now shows that reforms focused on changing institutional policy and practice are much more likely to help students complete the course and even graduate than traditional developmental education courses. Second, the reforms are jointly owned. Momentum for developmental reform continues as those involved do not place the blame for poor outcomes on the backs of one group; rather, they acknowledge the role of policy at both the state and institutional levels and practitioners at the campus level, all of whom jointly remove barriers.
This year the collaboration, known as the Pack Essentials Steering Committee, will begin implementing solutions after extensive research, interviews and campus meetings. “We have a lot of resources on this campus — our motto right now is ‘think and do the extraordinary,’” says NC State psychology professor Mary Haskett, who a year earlier published a research study finding 14 percent of NC State students had experienced food insecurity over the previous 30 days and nearly 10 percent experienced homelessness in the past year. “What we’re saying is: ‘How about we do the ordinary?’ Let’s make sure our students aren’t struggling with food and housing.” In many ways, this work lifts the veil on a problem increasing across U.S. campuses. A 2019 survey of nearly 86,000 students found that homelessness affected 18 percent of respondents attending two-year colleges and 14 percent attending four-year institutions, with 60 percent at two-year colleges and 48 percent at four-year institutions facing housing insecurity. Despite growing numbers, “there’s incredible stigma around poverty and homelessness,” Haskett says. “Students will work very hard to fit in and hide their circumstances.”
Currently, only about half of students who enroll in college graduate within eight years of beginning their studies. Microgrants can help to increase this number. Our system of federal financial aid hasn’t kept up with the reality of today’s students—who are more diverse in age, race, and income than previous generations of students. While the net price of college has risen, federal aid has remained limited: federal student loans for undergraduate students are capped, both yearly and in the aggregate, and students can only receive Pell Grants for 12 semesters. Students today are more likely to be financially independent, working, and are often parents—financial emergencies during the academic year, like a medical bill or car repairs, can derail their studies, and financial holds on student accounts, like unpaid parking tickets or fees for overdue books, can prevent students from re-enrolling and completing their credential.
Free college is a popular policy among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, even as one in four states already has some type of program in place. But as more state and local governments roll out so-called college promise programs, lessons learned from early offerings suggest the funding should go beyond getting more students in the door. While free college programs have been around for several years at the local level, statewide versions have taken off in the last five years, particularly for community colleges. The scholarships typically cover two years of tuition and mandatory fees for eligible students, usually after applying all other financial awards — such as Pell grants, state aid and scholarships.
The Colorado Department of Higher Education announced on Tuesday that it will accept applications to forgive $5,000 annually for five years in student loans for educators. “This program changes the calculus for current and aspiring educators so more choose to serve and stay in our classrooms,” said Executive Director Angie Paccione in a statement. This year, Senate Bill 19-003 repealed a program established in 2001 to provide loan forgiveness for math, science and special education teachers — or those who worked in high-poverty rural schools — but that the General Assembly had neglected to fund for several years. Now, the law has expanded the program to include up to 100 new participants annually, allowing principals and other school service providers to join, and changed the eligibility criteria to apply to employees in hard-to-staff schools or in content-shortage areas. The General Assembly appropriated $524,000 in the next fiscal year for the initiative.
The 50 states appropriated a total of 96.6 billion dollars to support their public universities and financial aid programs in Fiscal Year 2019-20. That’s a 5% increase over 2018-19 and an 18.8% increase over five years ago, according to Inside Higher Education’s summary of the annual Grapevine report of state higher education spending published by Illinois State University’s Center for the Study of Education Policy in cooperation with the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO). This year’s increase continues an eight-year trend of annual increases, and it’s larger than any percentage increase in the past four years. The figures come as welcome news, reflecting the continuing recovery of state revenues and a corresponding investment in public higher education by state policy makers.
Four state universities in Illinois will now automatically accept first time undergraduate applicants who rank in the top ten percent of their high school graduating class. This is due to the new Public University Uniform Admission Act. Provided that these students meet all the admission requirements at the participating universities, they will have a guaranteed admission. “We believe that grade point average is the best predictor of success in college, and we certainly want to encourage more Illinois students to apply,” said Western Illinois University, Director of Admissions, Douglas Freed. Schools currently participating in this act are Western Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, and Eastern Illinois University.
This Policy Snapshot captures 2019 legislation focused specifically on access to dual enrollment courses. It identifies four themes in enacted legislation across the states, including reducing costs for students, removing barriers to participation, expanding student eligibility and increasing qualified educators.
Many policies and procedures that are in place at both two-year and four-year institutions don’t take into account the demographics of contemporary students. In the report titled “Expanding Pathways to College Enrollment and Degree Attainment, Policies and Reforms for a Diverse Population,” Ithaka S+R provides suggestions on how states can examine their higher education landscape and be more effective in meeting students’ needs. “Systems that may work well for [traditional] students won’t necessarily work well for a working adult who’s taking classes in the evenings or someone who is returning to school after years or may have family obligations outside of their coursework,” said Dr. James Dean Ward, one of the authors of the report. “In this brief, we try to highlight some of the ways in which state policy makers can step forward and facilitate both getting into and then through degree programs for these students who may have a different trajectory.” A persistent issue is transferring credits from one institution to another. The report notes that community college students who are able to transfer at least 90% of their credits to a four-year institution are 2.5 times more likely to graduate when compared to students who had less than half of their credits transfer. Despite that statistic, 43% of all transfer credits are not counted.
More Students in Washington are Taking College Courses in High School, but Cost Keeps Many Low-Income Kids Out
Dual-credit programs, which allow high-school students to take college-level courses, have a lot of appeal. But who are they helping? Ideally, the courses, such as Advanced Placement or Running Start, expose and prepare students for the rigor of college-level coursework. If the students pass the class or score high enough on an exam, they can earn college credit and save money on tuition in the future. They could also graduate from college sooner. Despite the goal of expanding access to college for all students, a new report from the state superintendent’s office suggests that’s not happening for families who can’t afford dual-credit programs now — let alone college tuition down the road. And that’s prompted state schools chief Chris Reykdal to float a bill that would make dual-credit coursework free for every student in Washington by 2023.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has announced the awarding of nearly $9 million in tax credits for Maryland residents with student loan debt. The administration says there were 9,600 applicants who were eligible for the Student Loan Debt Relief Tax Credit. That includes 6,331 eligible applicants who attended in-state institutions who will each get $1,000 in tax credits. There were 3,269 eligible applicants who attended out-of-state institutions who will receive $813 each in tax credits. Last year, the Maryland Higher Education Commission awarded 9,484 state residents tax credits under the initiative. Of them, 5,238 applicants attended an in-state institution and received $1,000 each in tax credits. There were 4,246 who attended an out-of-state institution and received $883 each in tax credits.
Trying to hold down the growing cost of a program that pays for Georgia high school students to take college courses, lawmakers are considering limits on what students can enroll and what courses they can take. Gov. Brian Kemp and a number of lawmakers have been raising concerns about Georgia’s dual enrollment program, and administration allies on Wednesday unveiled an overhauled bill that would limit most students to 30 hours of college credit, what a student would have to take to reach college sophomore status. House Bill 444 would also say that most students taking academic courses would have to be high school juniors or seniors.