Top 5 Issues for 2016 in Education: Expanded

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:

College Access and Affordability

As a highly educated workforce becomes even more critical to the nation’s economic success, the average cost of a college education has steadily increased. Since the Great Recession ended, states have been grappling with controlling tuition costs through a combination of tuition freezes, increased student aid and additional state funding. However, recent data shows that the average annual tuition at public colleges and universities increased by 29 percent between 2008 and 2015, with some states seeing an increase of more than 60 percent. In fact, tuition at public four-year colleges and universities has in-creased faster than inflation every year since 1980. Finding innovative tuition and financial aid policies that keep postsecondary education affordable will be essential to ensuring the nation’s prosperity and preparing students for the 21st century workforce.


Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which provides reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, is the product of bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Senate and House to give states greater control of accountability and academic standards. States have been given the opportunity to apply to the U.S. Department of Education for waivers to utilize their own systems for school improvement since 2011. More than 40 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico successfully requested waivers from certain requirements of federal law by showing a commitment to rigorous state-developed plans for improving educational achievement for all students. The ESSA will provide all states with the ability to develop their own accountability systems and provide the opportunity for state-level funding decisions.

WIOA Implementation

On July 22, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA, to assist those looking for employment by facilitating access to education, training and support services needed to find family-sustaining jobs, and to match skilled workers with the needs of business and industry. One of the first actions states must take under WIOA is to develop and submit a plan that will explain how the states intend to implement WIOA’s core programs and how these plans will serve as a playbook for effective strategies to help workers and businesses succeed. These plans are due in March 2016 and present a major opportunity for the states. States will be free to use these plans to describe the workforce development system they truly want and to explain how they will use WIOA and other state and federal programs to achieve that vision.


Student Veterans

In 2009, there were approximately 500,000 student veterans receiving federal education benefits. In 2013, more than 1,000,000 student veterans used their GI benefits to pursue advanced educational opportunities, and this number is estimated to increase by 20 percent in the next few years. These goal-oriented and experienced leaders are one of the nation’s greatest untapped human resources. However, veterans have a difficult time obtaining the benefits and training necessary to allow them to transition to a productive civilian life. Often, the solution is not about creating or establishing new benefit programs, but in ensuring easier access to the programs and entitlements that already exist. State leaders should explore ways to ensure veterans can readily obtain the education benefits to which they are entitled and that veterans are placed in positions that capitalize on existing skills.


Increase Access to All Forms of Postsecondary Education

Statistics show that on any given day, 600,000 middle-skill manufacturing jobs remain unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates. Studies also show that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require some training beyond high school, 35 percent will require at least a bachelor’s degree, and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree. States must find ways to increase access to some form of postsecondary education, such as technical and community colleges, apprenticeship programs, or university course offerings. This will require state leaders to develop an integrated, long-term vision that connects education to unmet middle-skill workforce needs.


For more information on these topics and for additional resources on education policy, see »​