By Julie Bell

Higher education, a perennial agenda item for state legislatures, has matriculated to an even higher profile in recent years.

Cutbacks to higher ed budgets caused by the recent recession and an increased emphasis on seeing more students graduate on time with a post-secondary credential or degree have given states, which subsidize higher ed to the tune of nearly $80 billion annually, even more reason to ensure their dollars are being used productively.

That is why NCSL has held a Legislative Institute on Higher Education for the last decade. The institute, funded by the Lumina Foundation, brings state legislators and legislative staff from 8 to 10 states together for an intensive two-day workshop focused on funding and policy strategies that can improve college completion and student success. 

A particular focus of the 2013 Institute, held Nov. 7-9, was a move away from funding based on enrollment to funding based on how well students do. Teams, including 50 legislators and staff from 11 states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas,  Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington), also heard about how legislatures are considering state financial aid reform to better target money to the most needy students and help all students finish their degrees with less debt. 

 Finally, states are considering important reforms to help students move through the higher ed system quicker and get their degrees. Reforms include:

  • Awarding prior learning credits.
  • Reducing the need for remediation in college.
  • Providing more structure so that students don’t earn too many excess credits.
  • Using technology to provide more choice and flexibility.
  • Identifying and supporting adults who have earned credits but not enough to obtain their degrees.

Julie Bell is the director of NCSL's education group.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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