#1—Enhancing Institutional Performance
This year’s legislative sessions will pick up where last year’s left off, with ongoing drive developing and implementing state performance- based higher education funding systems. These funding formulas dominate the current higher education policy landscape—33 states have expressed interest or are currently implementing performance-based funding systems, up from fewer than 10 states just two years ago.
The refinement of these new state appropriations distribution systems has evolved markedly, with institutions incentivized to improve key outcomes, such as student retention and degree completion, and less attention to boosting inputs, such as student enrollments. As important, performance-based funding systems are becoming more equitable.
#2—State Operating Support for Public Higher Education
Public colleges and universities will continue to operate in a fiscally-challenged environment. At the campus level, tough decisions involving institutional spending, resource reallocation and mission-sustaining investments are the new norm. Add in the simultaneous demands of boosting degree production and maintaining, if not enhancing, academic quality, and the challenges for public postsecondary institutions are evident.
#3—Tuition Prices and Tuition Policy
The strong focus on college affordability amidst the state-to-student cost shift in who pays for college will once again bring considerable attention to tuition policy in many states. Tuition price increases have come under heavy scrutiny and will continue to be a controversial talking point for policymakers in this year’s legislative sessions. By 2012, the tuition revenues collected by public universities in 20 states covered more educational costs than did state-provided dollars.
#4—State Student Grant Aid Programs
Ensuring the long-term sustainability of state financial aid programs will be a focus in many states. Higher education policy analysts remain concerned that the growth in states’ investment in merit-based programs (involving non-financial need factors such as high school and college academic achievement) continues to outpace programs in which eligibility is based on students’ financial need. The continued growth of investment in state aid programs that do not integrate financial need- based eligibility criteria represents a misalignment with states’ efforts to increase degree production and educational attainment rates, especially when considering current demographic trends.
Always a top higher education state policy issue, emphasis will again be placed on college readiness this year. Reforming developmental education (also known as remedial education) continued to be a topic of discussion among lawmakers and higher education officials in 2012 and will remain on the policy agenda this year. Currently, 21 states and postsecondary education systems either prohibit remedial education courses from being taught at four-year institutions or strongly discourage such courses by discontinuing funding for developmental education.
For the first time in several years, 2013 may present a rare window of opportunity for Congress to
come together in a bipartisan manner around comprehensive immigration reform. Potential federal legislation could include elements of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), first introduced more than a decade ago, which would provide conditional permanent residency for undocumented residents who meet certain criteria, including completion of two years of college or military service.
#7—Competency-Based and Online Education
A renewed emphasis on the assessment of students’ prior learning—the granting of credit for competencies gained outside the classroom—and the evolution of online course and program delivery models, signals that a considerable broadening in access to postsecondary education is underway, especially as it involves returning students and working adults. State policy officials will also pay closer attention to how the fast growing array of free and fee-based online courses can be optimally packaged into competency-based and credit-bearing credentials and which can prove to be a sustainable business model for institutions.
#8—Guns on Campus
Attempts by legislators to overrule existing institutional policies that seek to restrict concealed handguns on public college campuses will again occupy numerous state legislative calendars in 2013, with some state lawmakers already pre-filing legislation. Five states currently require public universities to allow guns on their campuses. The recent mass shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, however, may spur action at both the federal and state levels aimed at restricting the acquisition and concealed possession of some types of firearms.
#9—Economic and Workforce Development
Continued high unemployment and concerns over future skilled workforce shortages will make alignment between education systems and state economic and workforce policies a salient topic in the upcoming legislative sessions. For higher education, this may translate into a renewed focus on STEM majors at universities and policies to give greater prominence to the role of community and technical colleges in state workforce development. Policies aimed at helping adult students access and finish higher education will also be considered, as well as policies to encourage partnerships between businesses and college campuses. Legislation calling for the establishment of programs designed to recruit students into high need occupations (such as those affiliated with the health professions) and communities will also likely be on the docket.
#10—Consumer Protection Involving For- Profit Colleges
Allegations of fraud and abuse in the for-profit college industry continued to plague the sector in 2012. U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) concluded a two-year congressional investigation of for-profit colleges’ practices and performance in July 2012. The investigation found that for-profit colleges have much higher tuition rates than community colleges and public universities; comparatively low college completion rates; higher levels of student debt and loan defaults; and a history of engaging in misleading student recruitment tactics.
Source: American Association of State Colleges and Universities - Top 10 Higher Education State Policy Issues for 2013 By AASCU State Relations and Policy Analysis Team