A Legislator's Toolkit for the New World of Higher Education

Bennett G. Boggs 7/19/2019

About This Series 

This series of briefs seeks to inform legislators about the current challenges to public postsecondary education so that they can form cohesive, strategic approaches to building effective and efficient postsecondary systems responsive to future statewide economic and community needs.

Each brief focuses on a different challenge facing state postsecondary systems and institutions, and ways state legislatures can guide or assist statewide responses.

In addition, an interactive database housed on the NCSL website identifies state approaches to governance, funding and affordability, allowing policymakers to share information, exchange ideas and adopt the best practices that meet their state’s particular needs.

Challenges Facing Legislatures and Postsecondary Education

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Overview

State legislatures face increasing tensions in meeting budgetary responsibilities while positioning their states to prosper in changing economies. On average, more than 50 percent of a state’s budget is “locked in” to meet educational needs, public safety requirements and Medicaid responsibilities. This leaves little flexibility to invest in innovative ideas or opportunities to meet changing economic and workforce needs—not to mention opportunities for cultural and community enhancements.

This brief provides an overview of the radical changes underway in economic and workforce development and briefly examines how those changes create challenges in postsecondary education systems and institutions. Examples of state and institutional responses are offered to spur discussion among legislators about options for their states.

The Changing Economy and Nature of Work

Not since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and the Information Age in the 20th century has the disruption in the American workforce been so complete. A 2013 University of Oxford study predicts that technology—not people—will accomplish nearly 50 percent of American jobs within 20 years. These jobs are not confined to automated “blue collar” positions in transportation or manufacturing, but also include “white collar” jobs in real estate, banking and insurance. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by the year 2030, artificial intelligence will require more than 30 percent of American workers to change jobs.

In addition to rapid changes in technology and artificial intelligence, the American job market is experiencing the emergence of the gig economy. A 2016 study by Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger found that all net American employment growth since 2005 appears to have come from freelance or outsourced entrepreneurial work. Coupled together, these changes require a new perspective on the nature of work and how to prepare workers for the future.

The Changing Nature of Education

In previous economic disruptions, states responded by expanding educational opportunities. Writing in The Atlantic, Jeff Selingo highlights three such examples. First, in the early 20th century, high school became mandatory for entrance into good-paying jobs. According to a Harvard study, the number of Americans earning a high school diploma increased from 9 percent in 1910 to 40 percent by 1935. This transformation led the world and created the foundation for the GI Bill following the Second World War This radically transformed American postsecondary education in the modern era by helping millions of veterans further their education.

Second, in the 1960s, a nationwide “college for all” approach in postsecondary education was established in the Higher Education Act, which provided substantial financial aid available to all Americans. At the same time, states significantly invested in community college systems and campuses and broadened regional public universities from “teacher colleges” to full-fledged universities. In response, enrollment in postsecondary education increased from 8.5 million to 20.5 million between 1970 and 2016.

Economists and educators now claim a third opportunity is upon us—and that simply adding more education class time early in life is no longer sufficient. The rapid and ongoing change in the 21st-century economy—marked by heavy reliance on technology—calls for continual learning throughout a person’s lifetime. People must stay current in their careers, understand the ongoing automation of jobs, and develop new skills and perspectives. This will require a new approach to training and retraining, not as a response to unemployment nor as blocks of time for specific credentials and degrees, but as an aspect of daily work life and one’s personal routine. 

Beyond technology, modern workers also must learn to develop skills in managing and complementing technology with a “freelance” mentality, incorporating problem-solving, teamwork and communication as various work opportunities emerge. It also means that postsecondary institutions will need to expand non-academic credit programs that are short in duration and broadly available—not just in moments of economic crisis, but as a regular part of a worker’s current employment.

The Changing Nature of College and the Students Who Attend It

To effectively address the changes described above, public colleges and universities would need to expand their missions to openly include nontraditional students and form partnerships with other institutions, agencies and organizations. Such partnerships would help postsecondary institutions complement their academic strengths by identifying updated workplace needs and expanding education delivery systems and access to college. A recent Georgetown University study noted five trends colleges and universities will experience in response to the current demographic, economic, political and technological changes:

  • Increased interconnectivity as colleges and universities continue to partner with other campuses to enhance offerings and find areas of efficiency. These partnerships also will include local and regional K-12 school districts to strengthen pipelines. This already can be seen in dual credit offerings and college and career readiness programs. 
  • Student and faculty mobility as new opportunities and needs are revealed. Many may find themselves in “shared work” situations that involve opportunities for learning and employment between universities and external organizations and agencies.
  • Enhanced learning via technology as students will want to learn outside of the traditional classroom in practical ways. This will lead to changes in the way faculty approach teaching by taking on the role of facilitator and accepting experiential and competency-based learning.
  • Economic shifts as state budgets are required to focus beyond education and student tuition and debt reach capacity. Intentional partnerships with corporations may provide new revenue sources and strategic opportunities.
  • Political awareness in terms of addressing genuine concerns of meeting economic and community needs in a rapidly changing society.   

How Legislatures Can Help

With an awareness of the changing postsecondary education environment, state legislators can help their public colleges and universities weather the demands to meet new economic and community needs. This can be accomplished by focusing on issues pertaining to governance, funding and affordability.

Governance

Many state postsecondary education leaders realize that public colleges and universities can no longer afford to operate as autonomous institutions. Instead, they should work as a coordinated, holistic system. In Texas, the state community college system is adjusting its perspective to consider itself one interconnected institution with six branches, rather than six separate institutions. This effort seeks to centralize specific programs, consolidate faculty to reduce competition for students among campuses, and encourage greater collaboration and partnerships among the branches. The resulting efficiencies have allowed faculty salaries to be raised by 15 percent over three years.

In Wisconsin and Georgia, efforts are underway to streamline campuses and even close programs that are duplicated on other campuses. This is forcing interconnected partnerships among remaining campuses, leading to stronger programs and wider delivery options. In Pennsylvania, similar considerations are underway. Many of these difficult efforts and considerations reflect that the baby-boom era of the 1960s is over and population shifts among regions within a state simply cannot support multi-campuses and duplicate programs. These states are seeking to follow the adage, “turn a challenge into an opportunity,” to re-equip and restructure to meet contemporary economic and community needs.

Appropriations

As state budgets are stretched to meet larger needs in K-12 education, prisons, police and fire protection, and Medicaid, public postsecondary education spending is in decline. With other sources of funding available to colleges and universities (i.e., tuition, fees, federal allocations and grants, and private fundraising), state legislatures often redirect state revenue to other pressing needs.

Legislators can help make “every dollar count” in the state appropriation to public postsecondary institutions. As of 2016, 30 states used outcomes-based funding models in some capacity. Begun in the late 1970s, outcomes-based funding (sometimes called performance-based funding) allocates state appropriations based on agreed-upon outcomes (i.e., number of students enrolled, retained, graduated, etc.) for each institution, rather than on simple inputs (i.e., student headcount) or a simple percentage increase from the previous year’s allocation. The outcomes-based funding model allows states to identify their needs and strategically assist and reward their public postsecondary institutions for being a dynamic participant in meeting those needs.

Incentives within the model offer additional funds to institutions that can meet or exceed agreed-upon goals in certain areas (e.g., degree attainment by students of specific demographics, in specific programs) that meet overarching state needs. A challenge to this kind of model is the difficulty of identifying and collecting appropriate data so that outcomes can be clearly and accurately measured. Other challenges include ensuring differences in agreed-upon outcomes per each participating institution based on each one’s specific mission (e.g., research flagship university vs. local community college). Also, the design can risk volatility in appropriation if an institution exceeds its goals one year and then drastically fails to meet them the next. However, outcomes-based models have become more sophisticated over recent years as states have learned from each other, and this model offers a distinctive option to aid postsecondary institutions seeking to adapt to the new challenges.  

Affordability

With nontraditional adult learners now comprising the largest portion of the American college-attending population, states are beginning to address barriers to enrollment and completion. They are offering alternative ways of delivering academic programs and support services, such as child care and meal subsidies, to help adult students complete their education.

The Wall Street Journal notes that 41 percent of students over the age of 25 are challenged to balance school, work and family. Efforts to make postsecondary education more accessible for these learners include financial aid to eliminate gaps in need after loans are applied to tuition costs. This aid may be applied to other expenses, such as books, transportation and child care.

Tennessee and Indiana are connecting financial aid grants to workforce development to attract nontraditional adult learners. Tennessee’s Reconnect Scholarship program covers tuition and fees for students enrolled in a state community college program. Indiana’s Workforce Ready grant provides funds for students to enroll in construction, health sciences, manufacturing and other technical trade programs. Both programs are “last dollar” programs in that students are required to apply for federal financial aid prior to receiving the state grants. Like Tennessee and Indiana, another 16 states are offering a variety of “Promise” programs that provide financial assistance that, when coupled with federal and other state financial aid, make full-time enrollment in a state community college tuition-free.

In Kentucky, the University of Louisville has started a program that allows students to shorten time to degree (and thus tuition and expenses) by earning more than 40 of 120 credits required for an undergraduate degree through competency-based and prior learning demonstrations.

In California, the community college system has intentionally increased its focus on designed “stackable” credentials as new technologies are introduced into the workplace. This allows for more flexibility to meet shifting economic needs, with students building portfolios based on academically hybrid-degree options and more inclusive learning environments. The expressed purpose is to aid students entering the new gig economy to be able to operate as self-employed entrepreneurs and freelance workers able to demonstrate work competency. 

Conclusion

State legislatures and legislators are committed to helping their states navigate transforming economic and workforce needs. State postsecondary education institutions have a dynamic role in assisting their states and citizens in facing the rapid and disruptive economic changes successfully.

Preparing a 21st Century Workforce

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A rapidly changing global economy and public perception of universities as unresponsive to a changing marketplave have created a genuine challenge for American postsecondary education. Addressing this challenge adequately requires public colleges and universities to re-examine their organizational focus, structure and responsiveness. This is no easy task. But as the old saying goes: With challenge comes opportunity. As part of “A Legislator’s Toolkit to the New World of Higher Education” series, this brief provides an overview of the changing job market and how higher education can best respond to prepare today’s students to be tomorrow’s workers. Examples of state and institutional initiatives and legislative enactments are offered to show how states are responding.

The Challenges

A Changing Work Environment

As noted in A Legislator’s Toolkit Brief  No. 1, the  workforce is undergoing disruptive changes involving technology, artificial intelligence and the gig economy characterized by a growth in freelance workers. These changes, occurring both rapidly and simultaneously, affect both “blue collar” and “white collar” professions and require a new perspective on the nature of work and how to prepare workers for the future.

Coupled with this is an understanding that young workers will need to face these changes while also experiencing unique aspects of their own work environment. Jeffrey Selingo writes in The Washington Post that current college graduates are entering one of the healthiest job markets in recent decades. The class of 2018 is facing an unemployment rate of less than 4 percent, compared with their counterparts in 2010, who faced a 9.5 percent unemployment rate. The significance? The year one graduates from college has an effect on his or her earnings during the early, formative years of employment. Those who begin during a downturn start with lower wages, and it might take a decade to catch up to those fortunate enough to begin in better economic times. However, due to the 2008 Great Recession, 43 percent of the 2010 graduates remain underemployed. In fact, 66 percent of graduates underemployed at graduation remain so five years later, and of those, 74 percent remain underemployed 10 years later. Such long-term underemployment leads to chronically reduced income capacity, and therefore less financial independence and fewer personal and professional choices and opportunities. The unique 2008 work environment created enduring consequences and raises questions of lifelong worker advancement and well-being.

A survey sponsored by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) found that, while executives and hiring managers believe educational institutions are adequately teaching entry-level job skills, they do not believe students have the competencies to be promoted. Beyond a student’s academic major, business leaders value workers with critical thinking and effective communication skills coupled with natural curiosity. Institutions are not fostering a commitment to lifelong learning—a skill fundamental to a rapidly changing economic environment.

Changing Perceptions of American Higher Education

The lack of confidence in higher education is not confined to hiring managers alone. Polling by the Pew Research Center over the past two years found uncertainty about the value of higher education broadly. Constituents cite concerns with campus culture and student debt, and anecdotes abound of underemployed college graduates working in coffee shops and living in their parents’ homes. The emerging image is that higher education is unresponsive, or worse, unconcerned.

These frustrations are balanced—and accentuated—by the view that higher education is still seen as the single best gateway to opportunity. Elected leaders want to see their public institutions be more responsive to changing workforce and economic needs. They want them to provide programs designed to help their graduates’ employment prospects as well as aid state and regional economic development efforts.

For both elected and university leaders, this brings into conflict the traditional tensions of institutional missions and purposes: personal growth and enrichment versus pragmatic, professional training. This tension is not new. Historically, in times of economic change, the nation has responded. In the early stages of the Industrial Age, Congress passed the Morrill Act of 1862, which provided land to each state to establish public universities focused on advancing agriculture and industry. This was a revolutionary concept, drastically opening higher education for pragmatic professional learning at a time when it was generally reserved for the select few and focused only on a strictly limited liberal arts curricula.

Approaches That Work

Create Better Student Learning Opportunities

Handshake, an online recruiting platform used by more than 500 colleges and 250,000 employers, reviewed more than 5 million job applications. It found that graduates are changing the types of employers they seek and wanting to apply skills in industries beyond their academic majors. In analyzing the study, Selingo concludes that—similar to the AAC&U findings among business leaders—students preparing for the workplace need to understand that:

  1. The ability to do a job matters more than a student’s area of major. Graduates are working in areas beyond their specific courses of study. What matters is their ability to successfully contribute to the job by applying a variety of skills.
  2. The traditional liberal arts major can be successful in the current job market. However, these students need to include “hard skill” courses such as technology, computer coding and data management in their experience. They also should be prepared to translate competencies in critical thinking and writing in ways employers can understand and value.
  3. Career service programs for all students need to start on the first day, and universities need to include “hands-on” learning opportunities such as internships and undergraduate research projects. These activities allow students to develop demonstrable and translatable skills in addition to specific content knowledge.

Similarly, Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun writes that, in light of the recent STEM and technology debates in economic development and postsecondary education (and the tension between personal growth and learning versus pragmatic professional training), universities can forge a “middle ground.” Such a path would remain true to the perspective of learning for personal development while also preparing students for lifelong employability. Rather than trying to predict what jobs will be available to graduates, universities can instead focus on integrating technical literacies, such as coding and data management, with human literacies, such as creative thinking, writing and entrepreneurship. These, combined with experiential learning such as internships, lead to genuine and demonstrable learning.

Demonstrate Better Institutional Responsiveness

In creating these genuine learning opportunities, colleges and universities also can demonstrate a responsiveness to changing workforce needs even within their own communities. Ken Trzaska, president of Seward County Community College in Kansas, perceived a distinct gap in what his college offered and what his surrounding community and region needed. Seeing the types of jobs available and the skills gap expanding among his graduates, he led an initiative for the college to rethink how it served its community. The college engaged regional business and industry partners on what they needed from their workers in the long term. Most importantly, the institution wanted to ensure the “college offerings were tailored to our students—not the other way around.” This led to the creation of “A-OK” (Accelerating Opportunity Kansas) courses and programs, such as welding and commercial truck driving, offered in venues targeting working adults. Such an effort demonstrates responsiveness, better comprehensive student learning and a willingness to transform higher education to meet workforce needs. 

Form Industry Partnerships

Trzaska’s institution is not alone in seeking better connections to the surrounding community. Similar industry partnerships exist among different types of communities (i.e., urban, suburban, rural) and different types of institutions (i.e., community colleges, flagship and regional universities). All offer opportunities for better connections between institutions and communities, better institutional awareness of workforce needs, and therefore better student preparation.

Examples of these approaches include:

  • In South Dakota, Lake Area Technical Institute forged partnerships with 400 state and regional industries to ensure that graduates have the immediate workplace skills needed. This effort resulted in a 99 percent graduate placement rate. The institution reports that the partnerships help both students and the institution: Academic programs and industry needs and standards are aligned and continually reviewed and strengthened.
  • The New Jersey Institute of Technology and the city of Newark established a center to help both the college and the city enhance its technology infrastructure and connect with corporate sponsors such as IBM and Panasonic.
  • In North Carolina, Duke University and the city of Durham developed an innovation lab in an abandoned cigarette factory. Microsoft invested in the effort, resulting in new research tools for the participating 350 students.

How Legislatures Can Help

With an awareness of changing state economies and workforce needs, state legislators interested in helping their public colleges and universities better prepare their graduates can focus on statewide workforce challenges and educational opportunities.              

Align Postsecondary Education and Workforce Investments with Industry Needs

Arkansas Senate Bill 441 (2017) creates a legislative task force to review technical and workforce education programs. The Legislative Task Force on Workforce Education Excellence is charged with finding ways to improve and better align Arkansas’s career-technical education and workforce development programs.

Indiana Senate Bill 198 (2017) offers a variety of strategies for aligning education and workforce systems. They include requiring the governor's office to develop a comprehensive workforce development plan with assistance from the Department of Workforce Development, the Commission for Higher Education and the State Board of Education. The legislation also requires the State Board of Education and the Department of Workforce Development to work together to develop career-technical education programs.

In 2018, Indiana, enacted Senate Bill 50, which establishes the College and Career Funding Review Committee, statewide requirements for apprenticeship programs and the Real World Career Readiness Program. These efforts are to help ensure clearer and better-coordinated workforce preparation among colleges and their communities statewide.  

Engage Industry and Employers

Minnesota Senate Bill 1456 (2017) requires the commissioner of labor and industry to convene industry representatives to identify occupational competency standards for work-based learning programs in advanced manufacturing, health care, information technology and agriculture. The industry representatives are also charged with identifying, developing and implementing the work-based learning programs.

Tennessee Senate Bill 1231 (2017) limits employer liability to encourage more employers to participate in Tennessee’s Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP). It also allows the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to develop curricula for work-based learning courses in LEAP. LEAP aims to better coordinate key stakeholders at state and local levels to address workforce readiness. LEAP enables Tennessee students enrolled in Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) and community colleges to participate in technical training developed with input from area employers. LEAP started in 2013 with the passage of HB 1276.

In Utah, the Legislature in 2018 enacted House Bill 327, which establishes a pilot project to help people in rural areas take advantage of job opportunities online. The law requires Utah State University to administer the pilot project through existing county extension offices.

Conclusion

With a rapidly changing global economy, higher education graduates need to be prepared for a lifetime of change. State legislatures can help their public institutions respond in a manner that strengthens their ability to address statewide economic and community needs—leading to stronger institutions, and stronger states, better aligned and prepared to meet 21st-century demands.

Reorganization, Alignments and Mergers in Higher Education

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With economic challenges requiring closer alignment of workforce preparation and postsecondary education, state higher education systems are concerned about their abilities to provide high-quality postsecondary education effectively across their states. The challenges are significant. Many states universities are facing downward trends of traditional enrollments due to shrinking numbers of traditional college-aged students and high-school graduates. They also are receiving reduced state appropriations due to state budget constraints. Individually, each of these challenges are difficult. Together, they compel state policy leaders to consider new ways of restructuring and refocusing postsecondary education to their states.

One solution receiving significant attention is the notion of reorganizations, alignments and mergers among state agencies, services, programs and institutions. As part of A Legislator’s Toolkit to the New World of Higher Education series, this brief provides an overview of the issues states and institutions face when considering opportunities to reorganize. Examples of state and institutional initiatives and legislative enactments are offered to show how our states are responding.

What Are the Issues Driving the Interest?

The attraction of reorganizing varies depending on the level—federal, state or institutional—of the consideration. As explored in A Legislator’s Toolkit Brief #1, the American workforce is undergoing disruptive changes involving technology, artificial intelligence and the gig economy. These changes require a new perspective on how to prepare workers for the future. At the federal and state level, the idea of reorganizing and merging governmental agencies is focused on clarifying and strengthening missions for better workforce preparation and postsecondary education alignment to meet economic demands.

However, at the state university system and institutional level, the idea of restructuring, aligning and merging is focused primarily on better operational efficiency and effective program offerings in an environment of shrinking traditional college-aged populations coupled with state budget constraints.   

Shrinking Population Demographics

According to recently released data from the National Center for Education Statistics, public universities that saw decades of growth now face declines in enrollments due to shrinking population demographics. Nationally, this is reflected as 19,105,651 students in 2013 to 17,839,330 students in the spring of 2018. Furthermore, the decline is expected to continue due to decreasing birthrates, especially in the Northeast and Midwest sections of the country. The issue is significant because enrollment is the foundation of the current university operating model. As enrollment declines, tuition revenue declines (and state allocations can decline if using enrollment-based or outcomes-based models), thus overall institutional revenue declines. This leads to less funds available for facilities, programs, faculty and staff. University leaders in this predicament are left with difficult decisions as to which programs and majors to merge or eliminate. This, in turn, can lead to a “death spiral” in which universities find it hard to attract new students due to limited offerings and poorly maintained facilities—and the challenge starts over again, yet from a worse starting point.

Shrinking State Budgets

State legislatures face immense competition for limited resources. As noted in A Legislator’s Toolkit Brief #1, state legislatures face increasing tensions in meeting budgetary responsibilities. A study by Temple University associate professor of economics Douglas Webber found that, on average, more than 50 percent of a state’s budget is “locked in” to meet K-12 educational needs, public safety requirements and Medicaid responsibilities. A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reveals that state funding for higher education has fallen by more than $7 billion nationwide since 2008. Most states are spending considerably less per student—averaging 16 percent less—in 2018 than before the 2008 recession. As a result, tuition costs increased across the board an average of 36 percent for two-year colleges and 40 percent for four-year institutions during that time.

Many state university systems were created during the “baby boom” times of demographic and economic growth. Regional “teacher colleges” aspired to university-status with the resources to pursue those dreams. Now, the “boom” has passed, and state institutions are facing the “bust” of smaller traditional populations and limited state budgets. This makes the option of restructuring and merging—an institutional “back to the future” perspective—both attractive and challenging.

What is the State Legislature’s Role?

Just as the attraction of reorganizing varies depending on the level—federal, state, or institutional—of the consideration, the involvement of the state’s legislature or state agencies vary as well. State legislatures and agencies have no role in federal reorganizational considerations; however, when considering changes among and between state-level agencies, legislatures may have a significant role in affirming executive branch reorganization orders or in advancing legislation stipulating new missions, governing board compositions, and operational structures. As noted previously, changes at this level are primarily focused on clarifying missions and structures to better align workforce preparation and postsecondary education to meet statewide economic demands.

When public university systems and campuses are the focus of the changes, the state legislative role is often more indirect. These system- and institutional-level changes may be led by state university governing and coordinating boards; and in this sense, state legislators may serve an important yet ancillary role in raising policy questions and holding postsecondary governing boards accountable for the proposed changes. While system- and institutional-level changes are ultimately meant to strengthen colleges’ and universities’ ability to meet statewide needs, the reorganizing is often primarily on better operational efficiency and effective program offerings in a challenging economic environment.  

When considering the issues of reorganizing, aligning, or merging, it is important for legislators to understand that the extent of their responsibility and involvement depends on the level—state or institutional—of the proposed changes.

More than One Way to Merge

When thinking of reorganizing, aligning or merging, the tendency is to assume the complete joining of two separate institutions or agencies. However, in reality there is a continuum of options beginning with two entirely separate entities that seek to simply avoid unnecessary duplication of programs and ending with one completely blended institution. For colleges and universities, Robert Archibald and David Feldman note that in between these two endpoints are a number of partial-merger options starting with such possibilities as shared libraries and sports facilities, consolidated “back-office” administrative and business functions, and shared data software and institutional database capacities. Even within state postsecondary systems, forms of mergers could involve simply aligning, streamlining and cross-listing academic courses, transfer policies, and budget allocations and request procedures. Furthermore, individual campuses can be given academic programs and emphasis that set each apart from the other. This could lead to better coordination with reduced duplication, unnecessary competition, and enhanced multi-campus academic partnerships and a stronger sense of the whole.

This is not to say creative mergers are easy. Under any circumstances, they are not. Seton Hall professor and noted higher education scholar Robert Kelchen observes that cutting programs and tenured faculty is always difficult. This goes against institutional history, a culture of institutional autonomy, competition, cherished traditions and symbols. Legislators will undoubtedly hear from constituents regarding the changes proposed to their beloved alma mater.  Change is hard, and any effort will require sustained leadership, comprehensive planning, inclusive participation, clear communication and patience.  

Mergers Being Led by State Postsecondary Systems and Institutions

State Postsecondary Systems

As noted previously, reorganizations at the state system level are generally led by state postsecondary governing boards. The reorganizing of state campuses has attracted significant interest. Among numerous examples, Connecticut has sought to undertake a plan to combine that state’s 12 community colleges in to a single system and consolidate almost 50 percent of all academic programs to create statewide efficiency, focus, and a projected savings of $28 million. In Wisconsin, the university system has worked to merge one or more of the 13 two-year colleges with one of seven public four-year institutions. The focus is on doing more with less: creating administrative efficiencies while expanding bachelor’s degree offerings to more students through the two-year campuses. In Pennsylvania, the legislature commissioned a study that recommended the State System of Higher Education consider merging its 14 small state universities into five separate insititutions or recreating them as branches of one state university, among other options. 

Institutions

Beginning in 2011, the Board of Regents of the University of Georgia began a merging process that reduced the number of state colleges/universities from 35 to 28. At that time, the board approved a set of principles to guide the assessment of potential consolidation among the state institutions.  The six principles included:

  1. Increase opportunities to raise education attainment levels. The consolidation of any programs or institutions was to start with a focus of helping all students raise their education attainment levels.
  2. Improve accessibility, regional identity, and compatibility. Considerations were to be made regarding geographic proximity, transportation corridors, cultural fit and student backgrounds.
  3. Avoid duplication of academic programs while optimizing access to instruction. Demand for degrees, program duplication and overlap, and optimal enrollment characteristics were to be considered.
  4. Create significant potential for economies of scale and scope. Efforts expected to achieve cost efficiency in service delivery, degree offerings and enrollment.
  5. Enhance regional economic development. Consolidations were expected to help improve economic development through better degree offerings, community partnerships and improved student completion.
  6. Streamline administrative services while maintaining or improving service level and quality. Administrative efficiencies and savings leading to more effective service were to be considered.

What Legislatures Can Do

Understanding the different roles legislators play according to the state- or institutional-level or proposed change, some state legislatures have begun the conversation of how to position state agencies and institutions to reorganize, align or merge to better meet statewide needs. Example of state-level efforts include the following:  

  • In 2011, Connecticut restructured its higher education governance by eliminating its Board of Governors for Higher Education and consolidating the public universities (except for the University of Connecticut), the community colleges and the state online virtual college under a single newly created Board of Regents. The state maintains an Office of Higher Education to administer student aid, manage academic programs and regulate private institutions.
  • In 2017, Indiana passed Senate Bill 198 which provided for a variety of strategies to better align education and workforce systems. These included requiring the governor’s office to develop a comprehensive workforce development plan with assistance of the Department of Workforce Development, the Commission for Higher Education and the State Board of Education. Another notable component of alignment requires the State Board of Education and the Department of Workforce Development to work in partnership in the development of career-technical education programs.
  • In 2013, Kentucky created a multi-agency database system that integrates masked data from the state’s department of education, the postsecondary coordinating board, the education and workforce development cabinet, the teacher professional standards board, and the state higher education financial assistance authority. Although the agencies remain autonomous, the database aligns agency research functions and creates a longitudinal database from preschool through adulthood. This linking of data creates opportunities to better understand how high school experiences affect college success and can tie college preparation efforts back to high school districts, and workforce preparation efforts back to specific colleges.
  • In 2018, Vermont enacted House Bill 919. This act adopted multiple provisions relating to workforce development that created a better aligned, coordinated and engaged statewide process to increase and strengthen the state’s workforce, including the ability to collect data and monitor preparation programs. The act also adopted provisions relating to career pathways, Career Technical Education programs, adult training programs and workforce training. It also created the Vermont Returnship Program, which is an internship-like program for experienced workers seeking to re-enter the workforce after an extended period, particularly in a new line of work.

For system- and institutional-level reorganizations, alignments and mergers, legislators serve an important yet indirect role of holding postsecondary governing boards accountable for proposed changes. Questions that legislators may want to consider for their state governing board include:

  • What is the overall strategic plan for our state’s postsecondary system and how does the proposed reorganization, alignment, or merger reflect and/or strengthen the overall plan?
  • What set of principles guided the proposed reorganization, alignment or merger?
  • Who were involved in the discussions leading to the proposed changes? Who has vetted this plan before the board undertook deliberations of it and/or approved it?
  • How will the reorganization, alignment or merger strengthen overall economic and community development both statewide and among the regions of the state?
  • What projected cost-savings and efficiencies are projected and how were these projections calculated?  How much time is needed until the savings are expected to be captured? What are the projected costs required to undertake the proposed reorganization, alignment or merger?   

Conclusion

Faced with a rapidly changing economy and population demographics, coupled with constrained state resources, state legislatures can help their state agencies and public postsecondary institutions to better align and consolidate missions, programs and resources in a manner that strengthens their ability to address statewide economic and community needs—leading to stronger institutions and states that are better prepared to meet 21st century demands.

Additional Resources

Outcomes-Based Funding as an Evolving State Appropriation Model

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Engineering student higher educationA rapidly changing global economy coupled with a public perception of universities as unresponsive to a changing marketplace have created a genuine challenge for American postsecondary education. One popular response over the past few years has been to develop outcomes-based (or performance-based) funding models by which state legislatures determine and measure the ability of their postsecondary institutions to meet defined state needs. As part of “A Legislator’s Toolkit to the New World of Higher Education” series, this brief provides an overview of this funding model and how it continues to evolve. Considerations of benefits and challenges, as well as examples of successful implementations, are provided. Finally, recent legislation and state developments are offered to show how states are shaping this model to meet their specific needs.

What is the Origin and Purpose of Outcomes-Based Funding?

Outcomes-based funding allocates a part of a state’s overall appropriation to its postsecondary institutions based on student outcomes rather than on enrollment or historically standard allocations. In the 1960s and 1970s, enrollment-based models were the primary method by which states calculated the appropriations to their public colleges and universities—and reflected the era of baby boomers flooding American campuses. Beginning with Tennessee in 1978, a few states began developing institutional performance indicators to be included in the funding formulas. In these early efforts, participation was voluntary, and indicators were focused on broad topics such as increasing the number of programs with academic accreditation, testing students in their majors with standardized exams to show overall ability, and engaging constituents to ascertain satisfaction. Meeting such indicators provided a small “bonus” allocation to the college or university in addition to its general funding. The purpose was to provide simple financial incentives for colleges and universities to consider broad state priorities beyond traditional campus calculations. In these early efforts, states learned that some indicators could be poorly designed and difficult to measure. Also, inconsistent funding led many states to abandon their efforts.

Following the Great Recession, states began to reconsider their traditional postsecondary funding methods that were disconnected from pressing state needs. Drawing from the earlier performance indicator models, states sought to have postsecondary funding aligned with state goals and to hold institutions accountable for student outcomes and success. This approach has been attractive. As of January 2018, 41 states are involved in outcomes-based funding for their postsecondary institutions in some capacity: Thirty states employ outcomes-based policies, six states have created but not yet implemented their policies, and five states are designing their outcomes-based policies.

What Are the Benefits and Challenges?

As states have implemented outcomes-based funding policies, natural differences in approaches have occurred. However, HCM Strategists education consultants Martha Snyder and Scott Boelscher have noted that the most successful ones share guiding principles that offer the following benefits.  These policies:

  • Mirror the state’s attainment needs and priorities, with explicit focus on increasing postsecondary success among specific student populations.
  • Provide a reliable and formula-driven funding structure that fosters and rewards continuous improvement by all postsecondary institutions.
  • Allocate resources continually over time as part of the overall funding of postsecondary institutions.
  • Involve state and institutional stakeholders in developing the performance measures and to ensure broad understanding, clarity and commitment in implementing the policy.
  • Phase in implementation so that institutions have time to adjust their internal planning and practices.
  • Use performance measures that reflect the different institutional sectors and missions (i.e., research universities, regional/comprehensive universities, community colleges) and reward student outcomes as defined within the context of that sector.
  • Execute consistently for three to five years, and then take time to evaluate and update as needed given new state needs and/or an awareness of unintended consequences.

Research has shown that there are common challenges with designing outcomes-based funding models. Weaker designs fail to heed these cautions:

Allocations tied to outcomes-based funding need to be significant enough and sustained long enough to drive institutional planning and behavior. This can be difficult to do in states facing difficult revenue issues. Postsecondary education scholars Amy Li, Alec Kennedy and Margaret Sebastian have found that outcomes-based funding of over 5 percent was tied to community colleges producing increases in short-term certificate completions but declines in associate degree completions. In short, these institutions appear to have discovered that the outcomes formula provided community colleges greater financial rewards in the short term. This prompted them to guide students to short-term programs rather than consider longer-term alternatives leading to lasting workforce gains.

Minority-serving institutions can lose significant funding per student when compared to similar institutions in non-outcomes-based funding states. University of Wisconsin researchers Nicholas Hillman and Daniel Corral found that by their missions, these institutions are designed to attract and support underserved students who may require greater time and assistance to complete academic programs. When competing “head-to-head” with other public institutions, they may not show the same outcomes in the same time frames. 

Choosing the right data to track, and tracking it appropriately, is easier said than done. Postsecondary education scholars David Tandberg and Nicholas Hillman found that adjusting which students are counted and when they are counted could significantly change the manner in which an institution scored. While one might suppose certain data could be manipulated, many of these kinds of questions are genuinely difficult to untangle in terms of defining who exactly is counted and when.

Are There Different Types That States Use?

While most all outcomes-based models share similar benefits and challenges, the plans among the states can vary significantly. The differences can include such aspects as the specific performance indicators used and the percentage of funding allocated to each one, and whether the indicators are applied systemwide or adjusted per each sector within the system. In her research, Martha Snyder has developed four types of outcomes-based models that researchers now use to differentiate in their investigations of effective policies. The four types are:

Type 1—Very Basic Model:

  • New money as a one-time bonus allocation only—no state-base funding involved
  • Less than 5 percent of appropriation
  • Institution mission not reflected
  • Degree completion not included
  • Underrepresented student success not included
  • May not have been sustained for two or more consecutive years

Type 2—Like Type 1 Except:

  • Allocates some recurring dollars (not a one-time bonus)
  • Degree completion included

Type 3—Like Type 2 Except:

  • Allocates 5 percent to 24.9 percent of overall appropriation
  • Institutional missions reflected
  • Underrepresented student success included
  • Involves two-year and four-year institutions in all sectors

Type 4—Currently Most Robust Model. Like Type 3 Except:

  • Completion/attainment goals in place
  • More than 25 percent of recurring allocation involved
  • Sustained for two or more consecutive years

Understanding the experiences of states in expanding and adjusting their outcomes-based policies helps to explain the development of these four types of outcomes-based models as well as the process by which states identified and adapted them for their own goals. Two states—Indiana and Tennessee—offer excellent examples of lessons learned as they developed their own outcomes-based policies.

Lessons learned: Indiana and Tennessee

During the 1990s, Indiana created the 21st Century Scholars Program to expand access to postsecondary education. To this day, this program offers early-commitment financial aid to low-income students. In 2005, the state developed the Core 40 high school diploma focused on college preparation with a rigorous curriculum that became the standard at all high schools. The state also converted the state technical colleges into a statewide comprehensive community college system which immediately added 30,000 new college students. Yet these accomplishments in increasing access did not lead to increased completions and degree attainments. State leaders realized that as the workforce needed better-educated workers, postsecondary focus needed to shift from access to success.

In response, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education created a set of three strategic plans. Each plan intentionally built on the outcomes of the previous one to meet state educational attainment goals. In 2007, the first plan emphasized improving overall access, expanding affordability, strengthening student college preparedness and developing programs addressing workforce needs. In 2012, the second plan focused on increasing on-time college graduation, doubling the number of certificates and degrees awarded by 2025, and increasing postsecondary attainment to 60 percent of the state’s adult population by 2025. In 2016, the third report clarified direct channels and timelines for college completion and enhanced quality of competency-based credentials and intentional career preparation.

Parallel to producing these reports, efforts were underway to involve stakeholders in developing an effective outcomes-based funding model. In 2003, one indicator was designed to match federal research dollars at the state’s research universities. In 2007, following four years of careful discussions and preparation, a proposal was approved by the state legislature for the first outcomes-based indicators for postsecondary institutions to be included in the state budget. Each biennium state budget since that time has incorporated an outcomes-based funding model recommended by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

The result has been a dynamic outcomes-based funding model that adjusts to meet the needs of both the state and the institutions. In 2007, the metrics focused on transfer, on-time graduation and increasing the number of awarded degrees. In 2009, metrics addressing completion by at-risk students and workforce training provided by two specific institutions were included. In 2011, the transfer and workforce-training measures were removed and the legislature directed that the entire formula be reviewed to consider institutional missions and other possible improvements. In 2013, the formula included metrics for specific institutional missions and at-risk students that were connected to student success and economically in-demand—or “high-impact”—degrees. In 2015, the formula was again refined to be more inclusive of other specific institutional missions with specific institutional goals. During this time, the percentage of state appropriation tied to outcomes-based metrics has increased from 1 percent to 6.5 percent. The key has been that the model has become more sophisticated as those involved gained a level of understanding and confidence in the way it was defined and administered.  

A review of student outcomes in Indiana between 2005 and 2014 reveals that outcomes-based funding has had a positive impact on bachelor’s degree completion, and students majoring in economically desired majors. In addition, institutions have improved student advising and support programs with better course scheduling and availability.

A key aspect to note is that Indiana also adjusted its state financial aid policies to better align with the outcomes-based funding metrics associated with attainment and completion goals. In 2013, the legislature passed HEA 1348, setting academic credit levels and time frames for students to complete in order to renew their aid. In related research, postsecondary education consultant Dennis Jones has shown that addressing issues of financial aid and tuition is important if outcomes-based funding models are to be effective. Otherwise, institutions have other revenue streams to turn to instead of focusing on performance metrics. This is a matter of state policies working together and not at cross-purposes.  

As noted previously, Tennessee was the first state to undertake an outcomes-based funding strategy, which it has maintained in some form for its public institutions since that time. In 2010, the state legislature passed the Complete College Tennessee Act, which established that all postsecondary funding would be based upon the outcomes-based model. This significant decision has supported many state postsecondary initiatives, including the “Drive to 55” campaign, which set a goal of 55 percent of all Tennesseans holding a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025.

In preparing the groundwork for the 2010 College Completion Act, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission developed the performance indicators for the outcomes-based funding model by carefully engaging a wide array of stakeholders. In particular, the commission engaged the Statutory Formula Review Committee, which included representatives from the state’s public universities, governing boards and community colleges along with state government officials. The metrics developed in consultation with this committee were used for the initial 2010-2015 funding period. The committee still reviews revised metrics to ensure alignment with overall state postsecondary goals. As with Indiana, the metrics have evolved over time to reflect specific institutional missions, different postsecondary sectors, workforce needs, and at-risk and adult learners.

In 1979, Tennessee allocated only 5 percent of the total state postsecondary appropriation to outcomes-based funding policy. As noted above, in 2010 all state funding was based on performance metrics. As of 2016, more than 85 percent of state allocations were devoted to outcomes-based funding with the remaining 5 percent reserved for quality assurance funding and 10 percent for operations and maintenance expenditures.

Since 2010, Tennessee has increased bachelor’s degree completions 3.4 percent each year while associate degree completion has increased 6.5 percent each year. Enrollment has remained steady, which indicates institutions have learned to focus on completions and student success. State leaders claim the outcomes-based focus has transformed the overall postsecondary conversation to focus on comprehensive degree and credential completion.

Common lessons learned between Indiana and Tennessee include: Engage stakeholders early and often; begin with clear goals and policies; take time to set the right performance indicators; reflect institutions’ missions and different sectors’ purposes; align other related financial aid policies; phase in and maintain the investment across budget cycles; make the amount of money meaningful; and evaluate and revise. 

How Legislatures Can Help

Currently, 41 states have some form of outcomes-based funding activity underway. There are abundant examples of possible legislation. In 2017 alone, 34 bills were introduced in 14 states with five enacted. In 2018, 24 bills were introduced in seven states with five enacted. However, five states provide interesting review.

In California, as part of the 2018 state budget, the Legislature passed an outcomes-based funding formula for the state’s 114 community colleges, which enroll 2.1 million students. Of $7.4 billion in general funding, 40 percent (nearly $2.5 billion) over the next three years will be tied to measures of student success and enrollment numbers of low-income students. Specifics include increasing degree and certificate production, boosting transfer to the public universities and reducing achievement gaps among underrepresented students.

In Colorado, the legislature passed House Bill 18-1226, which requires the Department of Higher Education to prepare a return on investment report of undergraduate degree and certificate programs offered by the public colleges and universities. The report must include information related to the number of students enrolled and degrees awarded annually; average time to completion per program; average number of credits earned by students; average cost to complete the degree for in-state students; average student loan debt; average annual earnings of graduates two, five and 10 years after graduation; and employment rate of degree programs during those time periods. While not precisely outcomes-based funding in terms of allocations, the required return-on-investment report specifies what are common performance metrics.

In Florida, legislators passed Senate Bill 4, which modified their outcomes-based funding metrics by increasing the authority of the Board of Governors in deciding the metrics. It also limits comparison of institutions to one another (specifying their missions) and adds $20 million to the formula for allocation. The modifications allow the universities that improve their performances on a series of measures—including graduation rates, salaries of recent graduates, retention of students and student costs—to receive their full share of state performance funds regardless of greater improvement measured at another university.

In addition to these three states passing legislation, two states are actively reviewing their outcomes-based funding formula in preparation for upcoming 2019 sessions. The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is working with the State Board of Education to change the 29-year-old enrollment formula to an outcomes-based one. The state board has facilitated a three-year process to design the new formula, which it intends to present formally to the Legislature in January. The three-year plan is expected to request $16 million in “phased-in” state funding for the new formula, which will focus on increasing degrees and certificates, high-impact fields, at-risk students and students graduating on time. The proposal will be for all sectors of Idaho postsecondary education.

Following a time of no state budgets, Illinois has been convening a higher education workgroup of stakeholders, including legislators, to discuss outcomes-based funding. The purpose is to help public colleges and universities recover from their financially starved years and focus on improving enrollment and graduation rates. Early discussions involve differentiating among the institutions’ missions and the manner the institutions address regional state economic and community needs.

Conclusion

Outcomes-based funding policies connect postsecondary institutions and planning to statewide economic, workforce and community needs. Over the past 40 years, these models have been refined as lessons have been learned and data collection enhanced. State legislatures have much to draw upon in their considerations of how their postsecondary institutions can better serve statewide economic and community needs.

Free Tuition Programs and How They Work

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college student studyingWith a desire to meet changing state and local economic needs, enhance workforce development and provide better financial security for their citizens, 17 states and more than 350 localities across 44 states have enacted and developed “free college” policies—generally known as college promise programs. These programs have proven to be popular—and diverse—as states and localities have tailored their approaches to meet their individual needs and priorities. However, all share three general goals:

  • To send a clear message that the state or locality is proactively investing in workforce development to support a vital and sustainable economic climate attractive to new business and entrepreneurial ventures.
  • To send a straightforward message that pursuing a postsecondary education degree, credential or license is affordable, especially to those who might not otherwise consider it or think such a possibility within reach.
  • To address concerns about spiraling college costs and student debt experienced by state residents.

Promise programs work because the message is simple and clear: One can attend college tuition-free. This plays well in marketing and communication efforts by removing the complex “static” around federal, state and institutional financial aid policies and regulations. However, the simple fact is that nothing is free—the true cost is being incurred somehow—and legislatures wrestle with how to increase access to postsecondary education and address state needs in a financially responsible manner. That is the challenge.

Early Examples and Lessons Learned

Although most promise programs are now generally recognized as statewide programs, they originated at local levels. One of the very first was the Kalamazoo Promise Program in Michigan. This program, initiated in 2005, was created by anonymous benefactors concerned about the stagnated and declining economic development within the community. The program’s simple premise is that students enrolled in Kalamazoo public schools who graduated from high school would have their college tuition and fees paid for four years. The school district saw immediate results as student enrollments increased along with the number of teachers applying to work in the schools, and overall school climate improved. In fact, the increases led to new schools being built for the first time in nearly 30 years, and overall community support for the public school system was enhanced.

The results in Kalamazoo grew beyond the school district. Local businesses and development grew as new families moved into the community to enable their children to attend college tuition-free. By almost all accounts, this early promise program was a boon to the community.

But did the program increase the number of Kalamazoo students going to college? Yes. A 2017 study showed that the program increased the number of students enrolling in any college within six months of completing high school by 14 percent, and of students enrolling in four-year colleges by 23 percent. The program endures as a clearly communicated “first-dollar” model that continues to support increased postsecondary enrollments for its K-12 students and enhanced community and economic development for the greater township.

Different Ways Promise Programs are Designed

As more states draw from local examples such as Kalamazoo, legislatures seek to develop their own approach to this issue. When designing statewide programs, the common questions include:

  • What is the difference between “tuition-free” and “debt-free” programs?

The difference between tuition-free and debt-free is a matter of which costs are covered. Does the program promise to cover only tuition, or to cover costs beyond tuition? The College Board reports that tuition and fees constitute only 40 percent of the total costs for in-state students living on campus at a public four-year institution and only 20 percent of the costs for students attending a public two-year or community college. Additional costs include textbooks, transportation and living expenses such as food and housing. These costs can be met by flexible aid such as Pell grants and other possible state grants (and as part of the considerations of “first-dollar” vs. “last-dollar” designs). Student expenses not met by grants often require loans. This is particularly true of low-income students who often cannot depend on parental support.

  • What are differences between “first-dollar,” “middle-dollar” and “last-dollar” programs?

First-dollar models provide funds without regard to other potential sources of state and federal financial aid. Last dollar programs require other federal and state financial aid to be exhausted before a student is eligible. The program will then “bridge the gap” with what is required to meet the final costs.

First-dollar programs are relatively simple to administer, since no one needs to ensure that students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or track their other forms of aid or scholarships. However, the overall costs are much higher. Last-dollar programs entail more administrative work but allow the program to save money by leveraging existing programs, such as the federal Pell.

Middle dollar is a recent idea in which a program is built on a last-dollar model yet guarantees a set amount of additional financial support beyond the cost of tuition. The extra amount can be applied to cover costs such as textbooks or living expenses. For example, after the cost of tuition has been covered by all other aid, the program guarantees every student an additional $1,000 to help with additional expenses.

  • Should these programs include two- or four-year institutions (or both)?

Most statewide promise programs focus on two-year or community college programs with the intent to accelerate enrollments quickly or emphasize workforce credentials and degrees in a financially efficient manner. According to Education Trust, states are better served by including their four-year colleges and universities among participating institutions. Limiting students to two-year institutions denies many students the opportunity to obtain bachelor’s degrees that are associated with substantially better employment opportunities and greater financial earnings than associate degrees. In particular, low-income and underrepresented students are already more likely to restrict their attendance to two-year institutions. By focusing promise programs only on community colleges, the stratification is reinforced, and the economic divide between lower-income citizens and the middle- and upper-income groups is only widened.

  • Should there be eligibility requirements?

With the intent of creating incentives for better preparation and success, most state promise programs include basic requirements that students must meet to participate and remain in the program. These can include grade point average, level of enrollment, academic credit accumulation and time since high school graduation, among others. They also may include residency and employment requirements for when they have completed the program (i.e., if they move from the state before the required residency is completed, the grant becomes a loan and must be repaid, etc.). However, this raises issues possibly beyond the control of the new graduate: Are jobs specific to the new degree/credential truly available within the state? If yes, is the cost of living in that locale such that the new graduate can live within a reasonable distance of the job? Setting limitations might unintentionally reduce participation. For example, since 1990 more than 40 percent of America’s enrolled postsecondary students are older than the traditional 19 to 23 years of age. In addition, postsecondary institutions already have established policies of minimum grade point averages and credit accumulation needed to continue and progress through an academic program. Furthermore, federal financial aid programs have similar eligibility requirements. In many cases, adding unnecessary additional requirements can result in unintended barriers or simply confuse those to whom the marketing and communication efforts are targeted.

Current Models Among the States

college students studyingAs of 2018, 17 states had enacted legislation to offer some form of statewide tuition-free promise programs. These states include Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Washington. Although each program is unique, the majority are last-dollar programs focused on recent high school graduates from low- or middle-income families seeking to attend community college. Maryland is the most recent state to create a program that provides up to $5,000 in scholarships to in-state students from families earning less than $150,000 in annual income. Arkansas requires recipients to remain in-state for at least three years after completing their programs.

Indiana and Oregon offer a useful comparison. Indiana maintains the 21st Century Scholars program, which has been operating for over 30 years. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch can apply in the seventh or eighth grade for awards that cover four years of tuition and some fees at any participating two- and four-year institution, public or private. While in high school, these students must meet 12 requirements, such as maintaining a “B” average, visiting a college campus, taking a career interest inventory and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The scholarship level is unaffected by other grants, which can be used for non-tuition expenses. Participants must be enrolled full-time while in college, and the scholarship is not available to adult or returning students. In 2018, the income cap was $45,510 for a family of four, and the annual cost to the state was approximately $160 million.

Established in 2015 through Senate Bill 81, the Oregon Promise is a young program focused on recent high school graduates who have a 2.5 grade point average and intend to pursue a degree, credential or license at a state community college. Awards are calculated as equal to the lesser of the student’s local community college tuition compared to the average tuition charged by all 17 state community colleges, minus Pell and other state aid. The award covers two academic years or a maximum of 90 academic credit hours. The student is not required to maintain a grade point average minimum beyond satisfactory progress, and students may enroll part-time. Participation is not income capped, meaning there are no family income restrictions to participate. The annual cost to the state totals $20 million to $25 million.

These two state programs offer contrasting models of promise programs addressing different state needs. Indiana’s long-established program is income capped and focused on encouraging low-income middle school students to prepare for postsecondary education at both two- and four-year institutions. At $160 million, the annual cost is substantial. Oregon by contrast, is a workforce preparation program that is open to all Oregonians graduating from high school seeking credentials or degrees at state community colleges. At $25 million, the annual cost is substantially less than Indiana’s. 

A recent development worth noting is the Tennessee Reconnect program. Established in 2018, the program focuses on non-traditional adult students who previously began but did not complete a degree or credential. Building upon the traditional last-dollar Tennessee Promise program, the Reconnect initiative offers an online network by which an individual may enter academic transcript information and explore options and institutions that can help them to obtain a credential or degree. The program also is designed so that institutions will be made aware of individuals accessing the online network and contact them with additional information and access to local community-based resources such as advising, career counseling and employment development services. These adult students are then able to “re-start” their postsecondary efforts with a last-dollar scholarship. 

Issues to consider going forward

A combination of promise program analysis by The Education Trust, The Institute for Higher Education Policy and The Century Foundation offer six criteria statewide promise programs should pursue to maximize access and overall success:

  • Target low-income students. Cover tuition and living expenses as first-dollar programs. This will allow low-income students to use need-based aid such as federal Pell grants for living necessities and other non-tuition expenses such as books, transportation, and even child care so that they can attend classes.
  • Cover fees as well as tuition. Fees are often hidden costs that form genuine barriers to consistent participation.
  • Include four-year institutions and provide enough aid to support students seeking bachelor degrees. While community colleges are a great place for students to begin and earn credentials, these colleges should not be the end of the opportunity by design. State systems might consider easing transfer requirements so that community colleges are the beginning of the pipeline for the state as needed.
  • Keep eligibility requirements to a minimum so that those who stand to benefit the most—adult, part-time and working students—can participate. Keep the focus on need-based instead of merit-based aid. Non-traditional students have many competing aspects of life such as work and family that already make participation in postsecondary education a challenge. States should be wary of adding to these challenges when the goal is to prepare these students for new economic and workplace opportunities.
  • Maintain and release data on program participation, experiences and outcomes. Such data, when shared in a transparent fashion within and among the states, can lead to stronger and more effective programs for all.
  • Develop and implement strategic investments in student support, success and completion programs. States might consider developing stronger transfer and articulation agreements so that students of all types can continue their education to meet new economic challenges and opportunities. States also might consider rewarding institutions for developing support systems and resources to help students enter and remain in their programs until successful completion.

Enacted Promise Program Legislation

As of 2018, 15 states had active statewide promise programs with 16 additional states seeking to develop such programs. Among the states with enacted legislation, the following offer a few notable legislative models.

In 2017, New York established the Excelsior Scholarship program as part of the FY 2018 budget. As a last-dollar program, the scholarship covers the cost of tuition after other state and federal grants are taken into account. State residents whose families earn less than $125,000 in overall annual income qualify. The scholarship can be applied to any New York public four-year university or two-year community college. To remain eligible, students must maintain 30 credit hours per year for the duration of their degree program (i.e., two years at a community college, four years at a university, etc.); however, there is no grade point average requirement. Following graduation, program students are to live in work in the state for as many years as they received the scholarship.

In 2017, Nevada enacted Senate Bill 391, which established the Nevada Promise Scholarship program. The program provides for tuition, registration fee and other mandatory fees not provided by other financial aid at participating community colleges for a maximum of three years. Students are to complete the promise program application, file a FAFSA, apply for admission to their community college of choice, meet with a mentor and complete 20 hours of community service to be eligible. Once enrolled, students are to maintain a 2.5 grade point average for the 12 credit hours per semester to remain in the program.

As noted previously, Oregon established Oregon Promise program through Senate Bill 81 (2015). The program targets recent high school graduates who complete high school with a 2.5 grade point average and intend to pursue a degree, credential or license at a state community college. The award covers two academic years or a maximum of 90 academic credit hours.

In 2014, Tennessee enacted the first statewide promise programs through Senate Bill 2471 and House Bill 2491. This is the original statewide last-dollar program that offered tuition-free access to the state’s community colleges to all high school graduates. As mentioned previously, the Tennessee Reconnect program, House Bill 531 and Senate Bill 1218 (2017), expanded the promise program to include non-traditional students such as older adults and partial-completer students.

Conclusion  

Since 2005, College Promise programs have expanded across the nation to include more than 350 local and state programs spread across 44 states. This indicates that such programs help individuals, localities and states prepare for 21st century workforce, economic and community needs. It also indicates there is much to learn across the states as individual programs are tailored to meet varying state and local needs. As more programs are established, more can be gained as results are known.

 

U.S. Student Loans, Debt Levels Set Record: What's a Legislature to Do?

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student debtIn 2018, the collective U.S. student debt reached a record $1.5 trillion, owed by more than 44 million Americans. In fact, the Federal Reserve Board notes that this represents 42% of Americans who attended college, and that 30% of all adults have acquired debt to obtain a degree. Of genuine concern is that nearly 40% of student loan borrowers are expected to default by 2023. And although federal loans make up 90% of student debt, the overall impact of this situation has raised concerns at both national and state levels.

This brief provides an overview of the basic issues relating to student debt and briefly examines how those issues can potentially challenge overall economic stability. Examples of state responses are offered to spur discussion among legislators about options for their states.

The Basics

To better understand the size and scope of the national student loan issue, it is helpful to start with a few basic facts. Drawing on the most recent available data from the Federal Reserve, The Institute for College Access and Success, the U.S. Department of Education and the College Board, consider the following statistics:

How much does the average borrower owe?

  • The average student loan debt per borrower is $32,731.
  • The total national student loan debt is $1.52 trillion.
  • The total number of U.S. student loan borrowers is 44.7 million.

Yet, to gain a sense of balance, consider:

  • 56% of borrowers with outstanding debt owe less than $20,000.
  • 14% of borrowers who owe $60,000 or more are responsible for 52% of the overall outstanding loan debt.

How does the debt affect borrowers by age?

  • The largest age group owing student debt are borrowers under the age of 30.
  • Borrowers between the ages of 30 and 39 have the largest amount of student debt.
  • Borrowers age 60 and over have increased 1,256% since 2004.

What is the difference between undergraduate graduate debt?

According to the most recent data from The College Board:

  • In 2016-2017, the 59% of bachelor’s degree recipients from public and private nonprofit institutions who borrowed graduated with an average of $28,500 in debt.
  • In 2015-2016, 5% of master’s degree recipients, 20% of doctoral degree recipients, and 50% of professional degree recipients borrowed $100,000 or more to fund their graduate study.

Therefore, although student loan debt covers all age groups, most of the debt is owed by borrowers between the ages of 30 and 39, many of whom took loans to pursue graduate and professional degrees. With this general understanding, the complicating factors related to graduate student debt, parent and grandparent debt, and nonprofit institutions warrant closer examination to help clarify the broad nature and causes of the national student loan/debt issue.

Graduate Students          

Although most attention is given to undergraduate student borrowers, many of the concerns are the same for graduate student borrowers—except that the amounts borrowed are significantly higher. Research reveals that federal graduate student loans are more generous due to the perception that they are safer and less risky than undergraduate loans. The general assumption is that borrowers with graduate degrees will earn higher salaries and therefore be able to repay higher loans. But the increased level of loans has been significant. Based on 2014 data:

  • The average graduate student carries a debt of about $65,000.
  • Borrowers with balances above $100,000 make up only 5.5% of all borrowers yet owe over a third of all student loan debt.
  • Default rates are high among graduate borrowers attending for-profit institutions.

Parents and Grandparents

As noted previously, the number of borrowers age 60 and over has increased 1,256% since 2004. Older family members are taking loans to help their children or grandchildren avoid or reduce their need for debt. In fact, research shows that over the past 25 years, the average annual amount borrowed by parents has more than tripled from $5,200 per year in 1990 to $16,100 per year in 2014—and parents typically borrow for more than one year. What’s more, they often take out multiple loans for multiple children. The result is that repayment outcomes of parent borrowers are getting worse and default rates are increasing.

Furthermore, a 2017 study found that 2.8 million Americans over the age of 60 have taken out at least one student loan to help support a student in the family—and 53% of families borrow to help pay for an undergraduate college education. Similarly, the age group entering into “serious delinquency” in student loan payments at the fastest rate is 40- to 49-year-olds. These are parents borrowing to pay for their children’s expenses.

For-profit Institutions

Whether enrolled in graduate or undergraduate programs, students attending for-profit institutions tend to have worse outcomes and more struggle with student debt and default compared to their counterparts attending traditional nonprofit public and private postsecondary institutions.

With the increased workplace demands for postsecondary credentials, for-profit institutions focus on offering professional credentials to non-traditional, often first-generation adult learners who have limited understanding of the difference between nonprofit and for-profit education. In general, for-profit colleges have much higher acceptance rates since their business model depends upon high enrollments and market-driven tuition that includes federal aid. The result for the student is often debt higher than the overall average ($39,950 compared to $25,550 for nonprofit public colleges). Beyond the debt, for-profit students default at twice the rate of public two-year students (52% compared to 26% after 12 years). The overall default rate among for-profit borrowers is nearly four times that of public two-year student borrowers (47% compared to 13%).

Yet Loans Are Still Helpful

Although the concerns about the amount of student loan debt are well-founded, research still shows that the academic benefits were significant for community college students who received loans after their institutions informed them of the amount they could borrow and how the loans were to be repaid. These recipients outperformed their peers who did not borrow, since borrowers typically take more classes, earn higher grades and graduate sooner. These students also were more likely to transfer to a four-year institution. 

With this general overview of the current situation, it is helpful to understand how the situation developed, what are borrowers doing to help themselves, and how can states respond.

How Did We Get Into This Situation?

There are basically two reasons for the increase in student debt. First, more Americans are seeking postsecondary credentials and degrees than ever before. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that by 2020, 65% of all jobs in the U.S. economy will require some form of education beyond high school. Also, postsecondary credentials and degrees remain a good investment. Federal Reserve research shows that in 2018, college graduates earned 80% more in weekly wages than high school graduates.

Second, the cost of higher education has increased significantly over the past few decades. From 1988 to 2018, the price doubled at public two-year and private nonprofit four-year schools while in-state tuition and fees at public four-year schools tripled. Taken together, these two reasons have created a “no-win” situation: Americans need a postsecondary credential or degree to compete in the modern economy, but the cost can be simply unaffordable for many students and their families.

This situation did not develop overnight. Before 1958 the issue of student debt did not exist. Federal programs such as the GI Bill, Perkins Loans (directed toward low-income students), Stafford Loans (government-backed student loans) and the Pell Grant made postsecondary education affordable in partnership with state governments, which provided appropriations to public institutions to help keep tuition low. This partnership held into the early 1980s, and most college students with decent summer jobs could obtain a degree with little or no debt.

In the 1980s, state postsecondary appropriations decreased as states sought to reduce overall spending. In response, postsecondary tuition increased while available financial aid remained nearly the same—creating the need for student loans. The Great Recession of 2008 only accelerated this situation as state legislatures further reduced postsecondary appropriations to meet pressing needs.  

What About Defaults?

Surprisingly, student loan delinquencies are highest among individuals with relatively small amounts of student loan debt. This is because these individuals are more likely to have attended one-year or two-year institutions or for-profit institutions with lower resulting pay increases. Furthermore, the most difficult consequences of student debt are faced by those who left school with debt and no degree, or with a degree that provided little benefit in the labor market.

What is troubling is that the number of delinquencies continues to increase even as the unemployment rate is below 4%. This suggests that the strong U.S. job market is not generating enough wage growth to help certain borrowers meet their debt agreements. The age group transitioning into the “serious delinquency” category at the fastest rate is the 40- to 49-year-olds, who are often parents borrowing to pay for their children’s expenses.

What Are Borrowers Doing to Address Their Situations?

As noted previously, 90% of student debt consists of federal loans—and currently, there are more than 30 federal loan forgiveness programs. The most prominent is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). The PSLF premise is straightforward: Many public service careers—such as teaching and social work—require postsecondary and even graduate degrees, which in turn often entail substantial student loans. These careers generally do not offer high salaries yet are important to society. Therefore, to encourage people to consider these careers, “loan forgiveness” is offered by the federal government. To qualify for the PSLF, the individual is required to work full time for a government agency or a nonprofit organization and complete 120 qualifying payments (usually over 10 years) before their loans can be forgiven. It should be noted that in many cases, what is “forgiven” after 10 years of payments is not the loan balance, but the accumulated interest on the original loan.

While the program is potentially available to a wide range of graduates, the program is not widely used. A recent GAO report from September 2018 found that only 96 out of 28,000 applications were approved. Among the rejections, 28% were due to filing and clerical errors which could be remedied over time. Yet more than 70% were due to lack of a manual or clear guidelines of program requirements such as eligibility, employer certification, and correctly counting payments toward the required 120 needed for loan forgiveness.

The second most prominent federal student loan forgiveness programs are income-driven repayment plans (IDRs). While there are several IDR variations, all establish an automatic monthly student loan payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based on income and family size. The upside is that borrowers are less likely to fall behind on their payments since the repayment is through payroll withholding. Thus, they are significantly less likely to default on their loans.

However, while IDRs are fairly simple in their design, circumstances can make them challenging. These can occur when life circumstances change for the borrower—such as family medical emergencies, or when a borrower is drawing from multiple sources of income or works in unsteady “gig” positions.

What’s the Impact?

The current debt situation raises concerns about how the 44 million Americans saddled with debt can participate in the economy, society and workplace. For many of the younger individuals, wrestling with the debt means delaying or being denied home ownership, marriage and parenthood. For example, the Federal Reserve reports that approximately 20% of the decline in homeownership among young adults can be attributed to their increased student loan debts since 2005. In fact, each $1,000 increase in student debt causes a 1- to 2-percentage point decrease in the homeownership rate of student loan borrowers in their late 20s and early 30s. Sizeable debt means limited spending, and limited spending means constrained economic growth.

What Can States Do to Help?

According to The Institute for College Access and Success, there are seven state-level policy recommendations to help reduce student loan burdens:

  1. When allocating state financial aid, emphasize need-based aid over merit-based aid. Students with greater financial need are more likely to borrow to cover costs. Intentional need-based grant aid policies can help reduce the need of students to borrow.
  2. Strengthen state-level longitudinal data systems. A comprehensive K-12, postsecondary and workforce state data system can help identify where affordability problems develop and allow for effective solutions.
  3. Consider developing a Student Loan Bill of Rights. To help prevent borrowers from being poorly advised or misled by student loan collection companies, some states have enacted borrower bills of rights. Many of these include an ombudsman to assist borrowers in navigating uncertain situations and respond to their complaints. The bills also often require student loan collection companies to be licensed and transparent in their collection and pricing policies.
  4. Consider exempting forgiven amounts of federal student loans from state income tax. When federal student loan debt is forgiven after 20 or 25 years of payment, the IRS currently treats the amount forgiven as income, turning a source of relief into a liability. State lawmakers can ease this burden by excluding forgiven federal student loan debt from being a state tax liability.
  5. Set institutional accountability standards for schools that receive state grant aid. State policymakers can require colleges that receive state aid funds to monitor student loan default rates and meet graduation standards. This will help guide potential students to schools where their loans can be manageable, and they can expect to achieve their goals.
  6. Increase awareness of income-driven repayment plans. Most student loans are federal loans and can be repaid via the borrower’s post-graduation income. This allows borrowers to avoid default and often have a portion forgiven after a certain term of payments. Potential students and their families benefit from knowing of these options prior to taking on loans.
  7. Require postsecondary institutions to adopt strategies to help reduce student debt burden. Postsecondary institutions could offer loan counseling to students and provide institutional data on student borrowing to state-level systems to aid statewide policy adjustments.

How Are State Legislatures Responding?

States legislatures are responding through bills that recognize that student debt limits overall consumer spending, and limited spending constrains economic growth. As such, bills that offer pathways to reduced student debt can also provide incentives to meet state needs. These are done primarily through three categories: profession-based legislation (often focused on health care or education); residency-based legislation; and tax incentives/employer-based legislation. A fourth category focuses on student loan regulations and student bills of rights. Below are examples of recently enacted bills.

Student Loan Forgiveness

Profession-Based: Health Care

Year

State

Bill

Summary

 

HI

HB 916

Appropriates funds to the Department of Health for the Hawaii Health Care Provider Loan Repayment Program administered through the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

2017

CO

HB 1282

Creates the state veterinary education loan repayment council to administer the Rural Veterinary Education Loan Repayment Program for veterinarians who agree to practice for up to four years in a rural area of the state that is experiencing a shortage of veterinarians.

Profession-Based: Education

Year

State

Bill

Summary

2018

DE

HB 346

Creates the High Needs Educator Student Loan Payment Program. Allows educators working in a high needs area to receive up to $10,000 in student loan relief over five years.

2017

ND

SB 2037

Creates a student loan forgiveness program for teachers teaching in content areas and geographical locations with an identified teacher shortage or critical need.

Residency-Based

Year

State

Bill

Summary

2018

UT

SB 104

Creates the Talent Development Incentive Loan Program which provides an incentive loan to individuals working a qualified job in the state of Utah. Appropriates $2.5 million to fund the program.

2015

VT

SB 138

Creates the Vermont Strong Scholars loan forgiveness program, whereby graduating high school students will be counseled and encouraged to apply to Vermont schools, take certain courses, graduate and then take certain Vermont jobs, in exchange for student loan forgiveness.

Student Loan Tax Related Legislation

Year

State

Bill

Summary

2018

MD

HB593

Expands the student loan tax credit to include graduate student loan debt.

2017

CA

AB461

Expands exclusion from taxable income for student loan debt that is cancelled under loan repayment plans.

Student Loan Regulation

Year

State

Bill

Summary

2018

PA

HB2124

Requires higher education institutions to inform students of loan details. This includes an estimate of the total amount of loans taken by the student and disbursed by the institution, as well as estimates of the potential total payoff amount, the number of years used to determine the total payoff, and information on how the student can access online repayment calculators.

2018

MD

SB1012

Requires the Office of Commissioner of Financial Regulation to appoint a student loan ombudsman. Subjects student loan servicers to the Maryland Consumer Protection Act.

2015

CT

HB6916

Creates the Student Loan Bill of Rights which imposes requirements on loan servicers. Also creates an ombudsman to receive, review and monitor student loan borrower’s complaints and data.

Conclusion

With rapidly changing economic demands, postsecondary education is crucial for citizens and states to successfully adapt to workforce and societal challenges. In addressing the issues of student loans and debts, legislatures have the opportunity to help keep postsecondary education affordable and to strengthen their citizens’ ability to prepare for 21st century needs.

Correction by Degrees: Postsecondary Programs in Prisons

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inmate educationIn an era of national record-low 3.8% unemployment, the unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people stands at a significant 27%. Complicating this further, by 2020 two-thirds of job postings will require some level of postsecondary education—certificates, associate degrees, bachelor degrees or more—while formerly incarcerated adults are nearly twice as likely as the general population to have no high school credential.

Facing changes in population demographics, some states regard incarcerated people nearing the end of their sentences as a possible resource to help address many challenges: the need for a stronger workforce, the need to reduce state spending, and the need for former prisoners to rebuild their lives and contribute to their communities. This brief provides an overview of the issues relating to prison postsecondary education programs with examples of state responses aimed at creating possible benefits for the participants, the workforce and economy, and the state taxpayers.

The Benefits

To the Participants

The nonpartisan Prison Policy Initiative reports that about 2.3 million people are incarcerated across the nation, and 95% will eventually be released back into their communities. In addition, research by the Urban Institute indicates that society benefits when these individuals return to their communities prepared to rebuild their lives, secure gainful employment and pay taxes. There are positive consequences for their families, communities and local economies. 

Significantly, the benefits of prison education programs are evident before an inmate’s release. Wardens and prison superintendents that postsecondary education programs improve a prison’s environment and culture—creating a safer facility and giving the overall inmate population a more positive post-prison perspective.

Therefore, the primary beneficiaries of postsecondary education programs within correctional facilities are the incarcerated individuals themselves. The programs reorient inmates to focus on life after prison—maximizing the use of their incarcerated time to rehabilitate and equip themselves to contribute to society—within a prison environment that is safe and purposeful.

To the Workforce and Economy

In 2017, more than 622,000 people were released from state and federal prisons. Of these individuals, 78% of the men and 83% of the women were between the ages of 25 and 54—the prime working age population. Those who receive some form of postsecondary education within prison are estimated to have a 10% better chance of higher employment and earnings when they reenter the workforce. Nationally, the overall increase in salaries and wages of this population is projected to be $45.3 million—each year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that just over 5 million entry-level job openings annually over the next decade will require some form of postsecondary education. Education programs within correctional facilities help prepare workers who need employment for the jobs that need to be filled.

Therefore, offering educational programs to prisoners may not only help them reestablish their lives upon completing their sentences—and decrease their chances of returning to prison—but also provide a new source of workers to enhance economic development in their communities. 

To the Taxpayers

As noted above, 95% of the 2.3 million people incarcerated across the nation eventually will be released back into their communities. Furthermore, inmates who have an educational experience while in prison are significantly less likely to recidivate. Reduced recidivism saves taxpayers an average of $5 for every $1 spent on prison education. A study by the Vera Institute of Justice found that inmates who receive an education while in prison are 43% to 72% less likely to return to prison. The projected nationwide savings from reduced recidivism total $365.8 million per year. These findings indicate significant savings for states while increasing opportunities for former prisoners to contribute to the workforce of their communities.

Restoring Pell Grant Eligibility

student classroom educationWith an understanding of the potential benefits of providing high-quality postsecondary education programs within correctional facilities, a significant issue to consider is funding. Historically, the major source of postsecondary funding within prisons was the federal Pell Grant program. Created in 1972, this program provides funding to low-income students unable to afford postsecondary education. This originally included incarcerated individuals. In 1982, there were 350 postsecondary programs in prisons and by the early 1990s, the number had increased to nearly 800 programs in nearly 1,300 prisons.

However, in 1994 Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Reflecting a “tough on crime” approach, the legislation made incarcerated individuals ineligible for the Pell Grant program. As a result, the number of prison-based postsecondary education programs quickly plummeted to a national total of only 12 by the year 2005. Currently, 64% of inmates in state and federal prisons would be academically eligible to enroll in postsecondary education programs beyond the GED yet do not have the opportunity to do so.  

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Second Chance Pell Grant program. This initiative, started under the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration, is a pilot program that gives 65 two- and four-year postsecondary institutions in 27 states the opportunity to develop prison-based programs for 12,000 eligible inmates with access to Pell Grants. The participating colleges now offer a combined 82 certificates, 68 associate degree programs and 21 bachelor programs to nearly 8,800 incarcerated students. As of 2018, more than 950 credentials had been awarded.

As the Second Chance Pell program has gained attention, congressional lawmakers have developed bipartisan support for the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act. The REAL Act intends to re-establish incarcerated individuals’ eligibility for Pell Grants as a way to reduce recidivism and lower incarceration costs. The bill comes as Congress considers renewal of the Higher Education Act, which also includes restoration of Pell Grant eligibility to inmates.

Challenges

While the Second Chance Pell Grant program appears to be broadly successful, a 2019 review by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) also identified a few challenges for the program. First, the participating colleges report difficulties in establishing and documenting inmate applicants’ eligibility for Pell grants. This is due to some having defaulted on existing student loans or not having registered for the federal Selective Service system (required for Pell). Second, the colleges report that acquiring proper Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) documentation is often difficult. The FAFSA is known for its numerous questions and complex procedures—and the variety of backgrounds among the incarcerated population only aggravates this problem. Third, arranging for classrooms within prisons often requires creative solutions because of technological limitations and difficulty scheduling facility space. Finally, a few colleges note the difficulties that arise when inmates are transferred to other prisons that don’t offer the same programs—a challenge often resolved once brought to the attention of wardens.

Possible Approaches

As lessons are being drawn from the reestablishment of postsecondary education programs within prisons, the nonpartisan Prison Policy Initiative offers these suggestions to improve overall prison education:

Address K-12 education inequalities, such as those related to zero-tolerance discipline policies. The issues inhibiting education for incarcerated individuals begin before prison. States need to consider the condition of their public schools and the need for ample educational resources regardless of a school’s location. This also includes punitive disciplinary policies that create “school to prison” pipelines for underserved students facing socio-economic challenges. These challenges reveal themselves within prison as incarcerated adults are nearly twice as likely as the general population to have no high school credentials.

Ensure that incarcerated populations have access to vigorous educational services. The correctional community needs to view education programs as the beginning of a prisoner’s preparation to enter a new life, not as an “extra” elective activity.

Eliminate indications of previous imprisonment on applications to public colleges and universities. As former inmates seek to continue or complete credentials and degrees started in prison, barriers that limit their ability to join traditional campus communities need to be removed. Having to identify oneself on an application as having a felony record severely limits the opportunity for the individual to “get on” with his or her life.

Restore Pell Grants to incarcerated people and open opportunities for financial aid.  As noted above, federal Pell Grants have traditionally been the primary source of financial support for prison postsecondary education programs. Pell Grants and other student aid should be viewed not only as a benefit to the incarcerated individual, but also as a public good that supports overall economic and community development.

Examples Among the States

Even without federal Pell Grant funding, a number of states and postsecondary institutions have attempted—either independently or through Second Chance Pell—to develop credential and degree programs within their state prison systems.

The  Prison University Project is an initiative at the San Quentin Prison in California. The purpose is to identify the most effective methods for educating prisoners. While policymakers understand that these programs reduce recidivism rates and increase post-prison job opportunities, few studies reveal how those programs work best. This information could offer helpful principles for establishing state coordinated programs that are both effective and efficient within the unique prison environment. For example, science laboratories cannot have glass containers or various substances, yet programs need to offer the same rigorous curriculum as academic programs in traditional campus settings.

Beyond the San Quentin study, California has demonstrated an unusual commitment to prison education. In 2018, 22 of the state’s community colleges provided instruction to more than 7,000 students in 35 prisons. The California system is developing an associate degree pathway that would be available to inmates regardless of where they might be transferred within the state correctional system.  

In Indiana, the Department of Corrections works in partnership with Oakland City University, Vincennes University and Ivy Tech Community College to help more than 800 convicted felons earn industry-recognized credentials in welding, computer coding, carpentry, culinary arts, cosmetology, horticulture and other fields. By enrolling in these academic and vocational programs, the inmates prepare to reenter their communities—and help ensure that businesses can find qualified workers for vacant and in-demand positions. Approximately 20,000 former inmates are released annually from Indiana prisons. Data reveal that 60% of those released and who remain unemployed for three years will return to prison. The percentage drops significantly for those who secure work.

Michigan’s Jackson College is one of the 65 postsecondary institutions participating in the Second Chance Pell program. Currently, about 600 prisoners participate in the program, which has 60 faculty members. Before inmates enroll, their file is reviewed by the prison’s warden for recommendation. Once enrolled, they face challenges unknown to non-prison students such as a crowded and constantly noisy environment with a lack of privacy to study, and sometimes unsupportive fellow prisoners and guards. Furthermore, prisoners could be transferred to another prison that may not offer the program in which they enrolled.

As part of the program, Jackson College provides a letter to parole boards for prisoners nearing parole eligibility. The letter underscores the student’s classroom achievements and includes his or her academic transcript. In certain cases, the college works with the board to ensure the paroled inmate is placed near a satellite campus so the former prisoner can continue and completed an academic program as part of his or her parole.  

Sinclair Community College of Ohio has offered prison education programs for over 30 years. Working with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, the college is reimbursed an average of $1,950 for every student enrolled. Currently, the college offers programs in 10 of the state’s 28 prisons. Each inmate in Ohio costs $26,000 to house and feed annually. With reduced recidivism, Sinclair is saving taxpayers more than $33 million each year. In Ohio, 70% of prisoners lack a high school diploma, but Sinclair’s educational programs show a 92% completion rate—a remarkable accomplishment within this environment.

As in many prison education programs, prisoners are not allowed to apply to Sinclair unless they are five years or less from their release date. Each prisoner who applies and is approved is given an entry assessment to determine his or her skills. The most popular education tracks are business/entrepreneurship and community/social services—reflecting the desire among inmates who have dealt with addiction to help others in their home communities to avoid their mistakes. Those in business/entrepreneurship learn how to start their own businesses in communities where they may find it difficult to be hired as former felons. Although inmates are encouraged to take classes that interest them, Sinclair instructors also guide them to programs that will lead to adequately paying, “in demand” jobs once they are released.

The Sinclair program has 80 full- and part-time faculty who teach across the 10 prisons. The level of access and allowed materials in each prison varies depending upon the warden and the facilities. Some prisons have computers available to the students, but few have an internet connection. Therefore, the Ohio Department of Higher Education has provided internet-free tablets so that instructors can preload information for the students. 

Similar to Michigan’s Jackson College, Sinclair College works with parole officers to ensure that former inmates continue their studies and attend classes once released from prison. In this sense, Sinclair views itself as a partner with the Department of Corrections to help former prisoners readjust to life outside prison.

How State Legislatures are Responding

Over the past few years, state legislatures have introduced bills that address the issues of basic and advanced education programs in state correctional systems. In some cases, the legislation focuses only on post-incarceration opportunities for the individuals. Below are examples of some recent bills. One will note that a number have failed in recent sessions. This may well be due to the current ineligibility of incarcerated individuals for federal Pell Grants—a major source of revenue for these programs.

2019 Legislation
State Bill Summary Status (as of June 2019)

AL

H 108

Would create the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to promote apprenticeships through community colleges to certain targeted groups, including formerly incarcerated individuals

Pending

DE

H 22

Provides the authority for the Department of Education to prescribe the rules and regulations necessary to implement the prison education program which provides educational services to the Department of Correction.

Pending

MI

H 4347 

Removes student credit hours generated through inmate prison programs from the list of excluded sources for student credit hour reports used by the higher education audit.

Pending

MS

H 9

Requires the department of corrections to administer the adult basic examination to each adult offender within its custody; provides that if such offender fails the examination, he or she shall receive individualized instruction as well as remedial classes until he or she passes the examination; requires the commissioner of the department to award meritorious earned time to an offender who successfully completes the examination.

Failed

NC

H 463

S 561

Provides access to education and job readiness skills for individuals incarcerated in state prisons and local jails.

Pending

NJ

S 2055

A 3722

Permits incarcerated persons to receive student financial aid; provides that a person who is incarcerated shall be eligible for student financial aid provided that the person had been a resident of the state for a certain period of time immediately prior to the date of incarceration, the person is a state-sentenced inmate, and the person receives approval from the Department of Corrections to enroll in an eligible institution.

Pending

NY

S 2206

A 4011

Establishes the commission on postsecondary correctional education to examine, evaluate and make recommendations concerning the availability, effectiveness and need for expansion of postsecondary education in the New York State prison system.

Pending

OR

S 949

Appropriates money to Higher Education Coordinating Commission for purposes of prison education programs.

Pending

OR

S 777

Establishes Task Force on Prison Education.

Pending

TN

H 30

S 299

Relates to scholarships and financial aid; permits certain incarcerated persons who are allowed to enroll in courses offered by a community college or state college of applied technology pursuant to an approved release plan to receive a state reconnect grant.

Pending

TN

H 1303

Requires the Department of Correction, in partnership with the Tennessee higher education commission and the board of regents, to develop and submit to the General Assembly an annual report detailing the higher education opportunities available to incarcerated individuals in this state.

Enacted

WA

S 5433

Provides postsecondary education opportunities to enhance public safety.

Enacted

2018 Legislation
State Bill Summary Status

FL

HB 1201

Education for Prisoners; Authorizes DOC to contract with certain entities to provide education services for Correctional Education Program; authorizes each county to contract with certain entities to provide education services for county inmates; authorizes use of state funds for operation of postsecondary workforce programs for education of certain state inmates.

Enacted

NJ

A 3722

Permits incarcerated persons to receive student financial aid.

Failed

2017 Legislation
State Bill Summary Status

IL

H 3831

Provides that the Department of Corrections shall provide educational programs in each of its institutions and facilities for all committed persons.

Failed

NY

S 3735

An act to repeal paragraph d of subdivision 6 of section 661 of the education law relating to the ban on incarcerated persons for receiving student financial aid awards.

Failed

NY

S 7505

Would have created a pilot program: a college educational leave program for no more than 50 inmates.

Failed

WA

S 5069

Authorizes the Department of Corrections to partner with community and technical colleges to provide associate degree programs, preparing inmates to re-enter the workforce.

Enacted

2014 Legislation
State Bill Summary Status

CA

S 1391

This bill allows California Community Colleges (CCCs) to receive full funding for credit-course instruction offered in correctional institutions and seeks to expand the offering of such courses.

Enacted

Conclusion

With demands for a larger and better prepared workforce increasing, prison education programs offer benefits to a state’s economy, workforce and communities as incarcerated individuals prepare to return to their communities. These programs also aid efforts to reduce recidivism—which has the potential for significant state savings—and help strengthen states to meet 21st century needs. With the anticipated renewal of incarcerated individuals’ eligibility for federal Pell Grant funds, states may have an opportunity to reestablish high-quality postsecondary education programs in their correctional facilities—to the benefit of all.

Planting the Seeds, Working the Land: Postsecondary Programs in Rural Areas

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education road sign

Rural America is challenged. Hampered by an aging and shrinking population, it trails urban areas in the portion of people who hold postsecondary degrees. This condition is often aggravated when rural young people seeking postsecondary credentials leave their communities—often referred to as “rural brain drain”—to attend postsecondary institutions, and perhaps not returning as they seek employment after earning their credential or degrees. The consequences for the economic vitality of the rural communities and states are significant. Consider the following:

  • According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost 68% of rural counties lost population between 2010 and 2016 and only 7% grew by more than 5%.
  • Since 2000, the number prime-age workers employed in rural areas declined by 11% while urban and suburban numbers rose.
  • Furthermore, the college attainment gap between rural and urban populations has increased nearly three-fold, from 4.8% in 1970 to 14% in 2015.
  • Individuals in rural communities are less likely to have postsecondary credentials—and less likely to be employed.  

The economic and community challenges facing rural areas are real. Since the Great Recession, Americans in rural areas have been left behind in both income and health. And research reveals that a college education is linked to better pay, stronger employment and enhanced overall well-being.

For the economic vitality and well-being of rural communities, states are seeking ways to strengthen postsecondary opportunities there. However, the challenges and barriers are genuine and need to be understood.

Challenges and Barriers

The barriers to improving postsecondary opportunity and attainment in rural communities can be addressed primarily by meeting geographic, cultural and financial challenges.

Geographic Barriers

When choosing colleges, location matters to students. This factor is often underestimated.  In 2014, nearly 60% of incoming students chose a college less than 50 miles from their homes—a trend that has held true since the 1980s. This can be even be more important for the nearly 25% of the nation’s undergraduates who are considered nontraditional—older students who are working full time, attending college part time and may be balancing child care responsibilities.

For rural communities, this dilemma is more pronounced. Regions where postsecondary opportunities are unavailable or extremely limited to place-bound students are known as education deserts. In these areas—where the nearest postsecondary institution is more than 25 miles away—12.8% of adults live below the poverty line. That percentage falls to 11.4% if an institution is closer than 25 miles. The magnitude of this challenge is significant. According to research by the Urban Institute, nearly 41 million Americans live in an education desert. Of those, 75% live in rural communities and are 20% less likely to complete a postsecondary degree than those with easier access.

Cultural Challenges

rural hispanic farmer

Distance may be as much a cultural challenge as a geographical one. For men, there is often a sense that it is one’s duty to be the primary provider for their families—and taking time to attend college will delay or reduce earnings in the near-term. In response, institutions can promote the long-term view of education as an investment that leads to better work and income. In addition, academic and credentialing programs can show clear and efficient pathways to completion and provide sufficient financial aid and scholarships.

Also related to culture, rural students are often reluctant to leave their homes—and their parents are often concerned their children will never return. Rural communities are often tight communities, where generations of families have an established sense of identity and belonging. The sense of closeness and responsibility within the community lead many to ask whether leaving—even to better oneself and improve one’s employability—is shunning one’s duty to the greater community good.

Financial Challenges    

Student loan debt also adds to the difficulties—and data can prove reluctant parents correct. According to a study by the U.S. Federal Reserve, individuals with student loan debt are less likely to remain in rural areas. Only 52% of student loan borrowers in rural areas still reside in their home communities six years later. Additionally, those with the highest debt are more likely to leave. And—using debt reduction as a measure—those who do relocate to urban areas fare better than those who remain in rural areas.

With these challenges in mind, state and postsecondary leaders can better understand the importance of proximity and financial aid to postsecondary opportunities for rural communities. Efforts can be made to better communicate how postsecondary attainment is connected to economic opportunity and stronger community development. With innovative state support, postsecondary institutions can improve access for underserved areas through multi-institutional partnerships and transfer agreements, aggressive rural recruitment, enhanced technology and broadband services. For state legislators, it is often an issue of targeted investment with clear expectations of how their postsecondary institutions are to help.

How Colleges and Universities Can Help

Public colleges and universities can play direct roles in drawing more rural students into postsecondary education. They can partner with rural K-12 school districts to recruit more students and also help strengthen academic programs to “build pathways” for rural students and better prepare them for postsecondary work.

Recruit and Enroll More Rural Students

One way for more rural students to participate in postsecondary education is for more colleges and universities to recruit them. It is that simple—and that difficult. Colleges rarely send recruiters to rural high schools for two reasons. First, it often is not cost-effective. Recruiters can see many more students in one day and at less expense in urban and suburban communities. Also, rural students often come from lower-income families and therefore require more institutional financial aid. Many public universities often face difficult decisions on how to spend limited resources as they consider their admissions travel budgets. Second, as mentioned above, students from rural communities are often reluctant to leave home, and their parents are often concerned their children will never return. This is not lost on admissions officials allocating their travel time and resources. 

However, these challenges can be overcome with an institutional approach of enlightened self-interest and institutional incentives. Many colleges are noting the shrinking population of traditional college students and realize they must broaden recruitment to achieve their student enrollment goals. They also note the need for greater diversity among their students, and that includes students from rural America. State lawmakers can incorporate enrollments and graduation rates from rural regions as part of postsecondary outcomes-based appropriation models to help reward institutions for seeking and enrolling more rural students. Rural K-12 school districts from neighboring counties also can help by organizing regional college fairs in district community or civic centers.

Build Pathways for Rural K-12 Students

Overcoming the reluctance of families to encourage their children to attend college is a difficult task. Universities can help by forming active partnerships with K-12 school districts and sending professors to the schools to speak on relevant topics. This can be in keeping with—and build upon—public land-grant universities’ history of extension service to agricultural communities. It can help ensure that institutional names are familiar in the community and viewed as a positive partner addressing community needs. Campus visits by middle and high school students for various events can also help to ease the cultural divide.

More directly, public colleges and universities can collaborate with rural school districts to strengthen academic programs. For example, the University of Iowa College of Education is assisting 10 rural K-12 schools in strengthening STEM classes for gifted students. Through its Belin-Blank Center, the college created the STEM Excellence and Leadership Program with funds from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The 10 schools receive extra funds to provide additional tutorial time for the students, purchase science equipment and software, and bring their students to the University of Iowa campus for a tour—allowing rural students to think about attending college much earlier, meet and form connections with faculty and older students, and see that college is truly a possibility.

Similarly, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a variety of programs to K-12 schools through its School of Science, including a week-long summer program for economically disadvantaged middle school students. The intent is to inspire them in the STEM fields and to see that college is possible. A second program focuses on middle and high school girls and math. Other programs involve free summer research projects with MIT graduate students.

Jobs for the Future found that colleges and rural high schools in Ohio, Tennessee and Texas formed successful partnerships in areas such as dual enrollment, transition courses and college success programs. These efforts demystify college campuses for rural K-12 students and open channels of better communication and information in terms of available student support and financial aid.

These efforts can be undertaken in various ways by all postsecondary institutions within a state—flagship research universities, comprehensive universities, private colleges, and community and technical colleges. However, public comprehensive universities and community and technical colleges have distinct roles to play in addressing rural needs as part of their institutional missions.

Comprehensive Universities

college students classroom

Located throughout the state and with a mission to address regional economic and community needs, public comprehensive universities are situated to serve rural areas. These universities fill the niche between the public flagship research university and local community colleges. Approximately 70% of the nation’s undergraduates pursuing four-year degrees attend these universities—making them the nation’s university workhorses. Furthermore, they enroll higher percentages of first-generation, black, Hispanic and adult (age 25 and above) students. And the value of these universities to their service sectors is clear: Research shows that more than half of low-income students who attend these universities reach the top half of the nation’s income earners by their 30s.

Serving their regions of the state, comprehensive universities generally accept between 75% and 85% of their applicants. Their students are generally drawn from geographically nearby counties and are preparing for jobs in the local and regional economy. Comprehensive universities’ colleges of education often serve as the teacher pipeline for regional K-12 school districts. With strong regional identities, geographical proximity that can allow rural students to often visit home on weekends, and access to rural K-12 schools through their educator/teacher alumni, comprehensive universities are well positioned to serve rural communities and strengthen rural economic development.   

Community and Technical Colleges

While comprehensive universities play a notable role, community colleges are the primary source of postsecondary education in rural communities. Of the 381 rural postsecondary institutions across the nation, 218 are public community and technical colleges that enroll 78% of the 1.1 million undergraduates who attend rural institutions. In many rural areas, community colleges are the only geographically available option and create a direct connection to the regional labor market. These colleges provide programs by which students can transfer to a four-year institution or earn credentials necessary for enhanced local employment. These institutions also can help students identify employment opportunities and form basic professional and personal networks for support and advancement.

Due to their significant role, it is important that community colleges perform well. The Association of Community College Trustees has identified several strategies community and technical colleges can take to strengthen their services and opportunities in rural communities.  These include:

  • Bring the college closer to students’ home and work. Provide remote classrooms or online course options to those challenged to attend on a main campus.
  • Conduct effective outreach. Intentionally recruit rural students through a variety of methods, including local and social media and faith-based and civic organizations.
  • Ensure students have access to all available resources. Make sure students are connected to available academic, social and financial support and resources. Make those resources known and easy to access via a “one-stop” contact.
  • Partner with high schools to create a seamless postsecondary education pipeline. Develop dual-credit programs and other opportunities where rural students sense a seamless continuation into post-high school education.
  • Increase internship and apprenticeship opportunities to help students develop career-focused skills. Typical rural industries have relied on farming, manufacturing and health care which now involve rapidly changing technologies. Involving students early with hands-on opportunities allows them to better understand and become comfortable with the real life needs of those jobs.
  • Create programs targeted to local needs. Partner with local industries so that workforce preparation programs are adequate and timely. This will demonstrate to students the immediate application of their learning as well as strengthen local economies.

Innovative Consortiums

In some rural areas, even a community college may be more than 25 miles away. In those cases, online courses and programs can often provide a workable option. With the ability to provide flexible scheduling and remove the need for travel, online learning can also help students who need to balance other life responsibilities such as work or child care. However, online programs are not a silver bullet because many rural areas still lack access to high-speed internet service. Relying completely on online courses also raises questions as to overall education quality and adequate engagement with course instructors. So, while online learning can be part of the solution, it cannot be the only one.

Another innovative solution being tried among more isolated rural communities are “higher education centers.” These inventive hubs are lean and limited cost-efficient satellite locations through which existing colleges or universities can offer hybrid online and in-person instruction without building a campus. In some locales, they may offer occupational training aligned with local industry, along with more traditional academic programs. Centers are often located at the local high school for evening classes or in commercial offices or even in refurbished warehouses or factories. The purpose is to provide a place where students gather for online courses, along with an occasional in-person class with an instructor.

One of the regions experimenting with this model is rural northern Pennsylvania. In 2014, the legislature authorized the “rural regional college” initiative to bring postsecondary access to an area encompassing 7,000 square miles over nine counties. The Northern Pennsylvania Regional College (NPRC) was formed in 2017 with a budget of $1.2 million (now increased to $5 million for the next three years). The NPRC is actually a consortium of six different hubs, or mini-campuses, throughout the region, along with “classrooms” that use available space in local high schools, public libraries and other community buildings. The NPRC does not grant degrees, but only provides the infrastructure by which other accredited institutions offer hybrid online and in-person programs. The physical presence offers two benefits that strictly online programs do not. First, it gives students who do not have broadband internet in their homes access to online learning. Second, by requiring students to attend classes together, it provides a structure and positive peer pressure to stay on schedule and be successful.

In Virginia, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) occupies two renovated tobacco warehouses in rural South Boston. It partners with Longwood University and Danville Community College to offer classes and occupational training in welding, IT, nursing and advanced manufacturing. The center was established in 1986 in a 500-square-foot trailer. It now has 100,000 square feet of well-purposed space to meet local workforce preparation needs as well as provide adaptable space to experiment in new industries such as recyclable wine barrel construction for Virginia wineries. Similarly, in Maryland, the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center offers courses from 10 different institutions, including the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University.

Tennessee offers a slightly different model. The Supporting Postsecondary Access in Rural Communities (SPARC) initiative provides small grants to existing community colleges in distressed counties to allow instructors to travel and provide dual credit workforce training in partnership with county high schools. The county-focused grants have enabled rural counties to facilitate communication among colleges and regional universities, local farms and industries. This clarifies workforce shortages and cultivates long-term economic opportunities and plans.

Regardless of adaptations, these higher education centers offer innovative approaches to providing programs that are affordable and convenient for rural students. Many also have policies that allow “partial completer” students who have dropped out of previous programs to apply previously gained academic credit toward a credential or degree. Furthermore, these centers have the capacity to work with local high schools on dual enrollment programs to encourage rural students to continue their studies and gain a postsecondary credential or start a pathway to a degree while remaining close to home.

Perhaps best of all, to be truly successful these innovative approaches require open communication among postsecondary institutions, local high schools, farmers, rural businesses and industries to find local solutions to local challenges. In addition to providing postsecondary access to rural students, these centers directly enhance rural economic and workforce development by connecting established postsecondary agricultural, veterinarian, and advanced manufacturing and technology programs to local communities in cost-efficient ways.   

How State Legislatures Are Responding

Over the past few years, state legislatures’ recognition of the need for expanded postsecondary opportunities in rural areas has been coupled with concern for workforce shortages in health care and education, among other fields. Below are examples of legislation reflecting these concerns. The first section offers examples of financial and student loan debt reduction incentives to address workforce shortages in rural communities. The second section provides examples of innovative efforts to increase rural educational opportunities.

Student Loan Forgiveness Legislation—Rural
Year State Bill Title/Summary Status as of June 2019

2019

AR

H 1841

Creates the osteopathic rural medical practice student loan and scholarship; creates the osteopathic rural medical practice student loan and scholarship board.

Enacted

 

IA

H 784

Provides for loan repayment under the rural Iowa primary care loan repayment program to physicians who are national guard members and practice full time, in service commitment areas.

Pending

(Carryover to 2020 session)

 

KS

S 125

Extending the eligible time period for rural opportunity zones loan repayment program and income tax credit.

Pending

(Carryover to 2020 session)

 

KS

H 2312

Establishes the rural revitalization student loan repayment program.

Pending

(Carryover to 2020 session)

 

NY

SB 4838

Establishes the Rural Teacher Education Loan Repayment Program; provides payment for the undergraduate and graduate education loans of teachers in rural school districts who agree to teach in rural areas for at least five years.

Pending

 

NY

S 1200

Relates to creating the New York state rural doctors and nurses loan forgiveness program to attract doctors and nurses to be employed in rural areas throughout New York state on a full-time basis.

Pending

2018

IL

H 5109

Creates the Community Behavioral Health Care Professional Loan Repayment Program, provides that the program shall provide loan assistance, subject to appropriation, to eligible mental health and substance use professionals practicing in a community mental health center in an underserved or rural federally designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Area.

Enacted

 

WA

H 2143

Provides for a medical student loan program to increase the physician workforce in rural areas, establishes the program must be funded exclusively with private funding for the purpose of providing medical student loans, provides state funding may be used for the administration of the program.

Enacted

2017

CO

H 1282

Creates the Rural Veterinary Education Loan Repayment Program for veterinarians who agree to practice or up to four years in a rural area of the state that is experiencing a shortage of veterinarians.

Enacted

 

HI

H 916

Appropriates funds to the department of health to fund the Hawaii rural health care provider loan repayment program.

Enacted

2016

NE

L 196

Creates the Nebraska Rural Health Advisory Commission, establishes a student loan repayment program to provide financial incentives to medical, dental, master's level and doctorate-level mental health, and physician assistant students who agree to practice their profession in a designated health profession shortage areas.

Enacted

 

State Rural Education Initiative Legislation
Year State Bill Title/Summary Status as of June 2019

2019

MA

H 3756

Increases student access to career technical education schools and programs which are aligned with regional labor market needs.

Pending

 

SD

S 43

Redirects funding to a collaborative program in rural veterinary medical education and to provide tax revenue for the support of veterinary students.

Enacted

 

VA

H 2185

Establishes the Virginia Rural Information Technology Apprenticeship Grant Fund and Program, to be administered by the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, for the purpose of awarding grants to small, rural information technology businesses in certain localities in the Southwest and Southside regions of the state to establish apprenticeship programs for full time employees.

Enacted

2018

AL

SB 351

Creates the Alabama Rural Hospital Resource Center, within the University of Alabama at Birmingham; creates a rural administrative residency program; establishes the areas in which the resource center may support participating rural hospitals.

Enacted

2016

PA

H 1606

Promotes the establishment of a rural regional college in a multicounty rural area that is underserved by comprehensive community college education and work force development.

Enacted

 

Conclusion

America’s rural communities are challenged. Foremost among these challenges is the need for greater postsecondary education opportunities for rural citizens, leading to stronger economic and workforce development for their communities. Colleges and universities have the opportunity—and the mission—to partner with their state’s rural communities to offer innovative, affordable and effective educational opportunities that meet state and community needs. Some state legislatures are playing a role by putting in place a variety of policies to expand both education and workforce opportunities in their rural communities.