Access and Affordability

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two of its most significant cases of the term so far for states. It is difficult to predict what the court will do based on oral arguments but it is the only clue the court offers.

As state leaders outline their goals for 2016, educators and policymakers will look for strategies that ensure America’s students receive a high-quality education while addressing workforce challenges that inhibit economic growth.  2016 promises to be another busy year in transformational strategies in education.  State leaders will likely address these top 5 issues facing states this year:

CSG Director of Education Policy Elizabeth Whitehouse and Senior Policy Advisor Jeff Stockdale outline the top five issues in education policy for 2016, including college access and affordability, Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, WIOA implementation, and student veterans. 

Comprised of eight campuses and over 80,000 students, the Texas State University System has devised an innovative strategy to make college more affordable for its students. Starting next fall, nontraditional students will be encouraged to take free massive open online courses (MOOCs) before stepping on campus and earn college credit for up to a year if they pass related exit exams. 

Credit for Prior Learning is gaining traction as one strategy for advancing postsecondary degree attainment. While much progress has been made in institutions across the U.S., challenges remain in the widespread acceptance and application of prior learning to provide transfer pathways. State and regional collaborations offer promising models.

For the second time the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy is unconstitutional in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

Even though this case arises in the higher education context, the Supreme Court has decided relatively few affirmative action decisions so all are of interest to state and local governments that use race as a factor in decision-making.

College affordability has become an increasingly salient topic among state policymakers, especially with the large amounts of debt facing students (nearly $1 trillion nationally).  While the post-Great Recession years were generally characterized by states slashing funding and colleges and universities subsequently raising tuition, some states in in 2015 have become more “student-friendly.”

Last month, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed...

Undocumented immigrants in Connecticut may soon qualify for in-state tuition and financial aid due to separate pieces of legislation passed by the state’s House and Senate in May. The House bill, signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy in June, expanded a 2011 law that reduced the required length of in-state high school attendance from four years to two in order to qualify for in-state tuition. The Senate bill, which has been sent to the House for review, would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for various forms of financial aid, including waivers, grants and student employment.

The state of Vermont has begun collecting funds for a new program designed to guarantee a college scholarship for every child born to Vermont residents.  As part of House Bill 448, the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation will allocate $250 per child and $500 if that child’s family earns less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level.  Once a birth certificate is issued, the VSAC establishes a savings account on behalf of the child through the Vermont Higher Education Investment Plan. 

CSG South

Since the turn of the 21st century, the United States has maintained a cultural creed that the only path to a middle-class lifestyle is through a four-year bachelor's degree or higher. However, increasing analyses are demonstrating that industries with the highest growth in the next decade will demand skills readily obtainable through a two-year technical education. Moreover, several policy and industry experts have begun raising concerns about the ever-increasing gap between middle-skill jobs (those requiring more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree) and the number of middle-skilled workers available to fill those jobs. These findings, along with evidence indicating that middle-class household incomes are more attainable by those with a member holding at least an associate's degree, are steering SLC policymakers toward creating and expanding programs that increase their technical and community college graduation rates. In that vein, this SLC Regional Resource examines efforts by policymakers in selected SLC member states to implement postsecondary scholarships programs specifically targeted at increasing their number of two-year degree graduates.