The NCSL Blog


By Andrew Smalley

As the 2020 legislative session kicks off, legislators will consider a range of higher education issues affecting students across the country.   

Image credit: Helena LopesFunding and affordability remain cornerstone concerns for lawmakers.

States enter the 2020 session having provided modest funding increases for higher education in the past budget cycle. Recently released data from the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association found that state appropriations for higher education grew by 5% in fiscal year 2020 compared to 2019.

While most state budgets won’t be set until later in the session, legislators are exploring other ways to increase affordability.

 A bill in New York would increase the excise tax on beer by 30 cents per gallon to increase funding for the State University of New York and City University of New York systems. Legislators in two states, Missouri and Florida, have introduced legislation to add Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion to high school graduation requirements. If enacted, these states would join Louisiana, Texas and Illinois in requiring FAFSA completion for graduating seniors.

Virginia and New Hampshire will consider student loan oversight legislation to establish new rules and licensure for student loan servicers, while at least six other states have introduced legislation pertaining to student loans. Legislators in at least two states, Washington and Colorado, have floated bills to provide loan relief or financial incentives to students who reside in the state after graduation.

Several states are also focusing on supporting military personnel and veterans who are pursuing postsecondary education.  States including New Hampshire, New Jersey, Indiana and Washington have also introduced legislation to help military personnel and their families attend postsecondary education. Additionally, Florida will consider developing a new process for awarding credit for prior learning for service members and veterans.  

After the passage of California’s Fair Pay to Play legislation late in the 2019 session, student athlete compensation will be a topic of interest in numerous states in 2020. Currently, legislation has been pre-filed or lawmakers have announced plans to introduce bills related to student athlete compensation in 27 states.

After states passed nearly 100 bills relating to campus safety in 2019, legislators will also continue to examine issues including guns on campus and campus sexual assault in the upcoming session. At least six states including California, Indiana, New Hampshire, New York and West Virginia will review legislation related to campus hazing.

Maine legislators will consider a bill that will establish a commission to study the use of adjunct professors at public colleges and universities.

NCSL’s higher education team will be tracking 2020 legislation in the new NCSL Postsecondary Bill Tracking Database. This database includes pending and enacted legislation in 40 higher education categories ranging from admissions and affordability to workforce development. The database includes more than 1,400 bills from the 2019 session and nearly 300 bills that have already been introduced in 2020.

Andrew Smalley is a research analyst in NCSL’s Education Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

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