Higher Education Legislation in 2015

12/22/2015

Graduation

With a greater portion of jobs requiring some form of postsecondary education, creating affordable, structured pathways for students to be successful in college have become high state priorities. In 2015 college affordability was a top legislative priority as some states like Washington and Minnesota took the bold step of reducing tuition rates for the current biennium.

Financial aid programs were also high state priorities in 2015 with several states creating new programs. Oregon and Minnesota created new financial aid programs to provide tuition-free access to community colleges for recent high school graduates while Tennessee created a similar program for adult learners. Nevada also created a new need-based aid program—the first at the state level.

Student debt is also a growing concern among state legislatures. Several states enacted legislation to ease the burden of student borrowers through repayment programs or refinancing existing loans. States also created policies to provide students better information about borrowing and better protections from loan servicers.

Increasing the number of residents with high quality postsecondary credentials to meet future workforce demands is becoming a priority in many states. Connecticut and Minnesota established educational attainment goals to help guide future policy discussions and decisions. Several states passed bills to encourage work-based learning opportunities that help meet workforce demands.

Campus safety was also a top legislative priority in 2015. Several states passed bills related to sexual assaults on college and university campuses. 

Affordability

College affordability is consistently on the minds of students, families and legislators. With published tuition prices regularly outpacing inflation, many legislators are concerned that price of higher education is increasing at a rate that will price many students out of the market. In 2015 states took a variety of approaches to create more affordable postsecondary educational opportunities. Washington mandated tuition reductions of 5-20 percent at all public institutions over the next two years, while Minnesota mandated a 1 percent tuition reduction at community colleges for the 2016-17 academic year. New Hampshire and Vermont took a long-term approach by establishing child savings account programs. California and Connecticut focused on providing open-source materials to lower textbook costs. Finally, New Jersey and Oregon are studying options to provide more affordable educational opportunities.

Legislation Related to College Affordability

State

Legislation

California

Assembly Bill 798 establishes the College Textbook Affordability Act of 2015 to reduce costs for college students by encouraging faculty to accelerate the adoption of lower cost, high-quality open educational resources. The bill creates the Open Educational Resources Adoption Incentive Program to provide incentives and reward campus, staff, and faculty efforts to accelerate the adoption of open educational resources. The bill also requires that specified funding for the program be used by campuses to create and support faculty and staff professional development, open educational resource curation activities, curriculum modification, or technology support for faculty, staff, and students.

Connecticut

House Bill 6117 requires the Board of Regents for Higher Education and The University of Connecticut to each establish an open-source textbook pilot program to (1) assess the use of high-quality digital open-source textbooks, and (2) promote the use of and access to open-source textbooks within their respective constituent units. The bill also establishes a task force to study best practices with regard to open educational resources. The task force shall consider the development of a program to incentivize the creation or adaptation of open educational resources that will significantly reduce the cost to students of course materials, including, but not limited to, offering financial or academic or professional credit to faculty to create open educational resources.

Minnesota

Senate Bill 5 requires tuition for the 2015-16 academic year at community colleges be frozen at the 2014-15 levels. In addition tuition for the 2016-17 academic year at community colleges will be reduced by one percent.

New Hampshire

House Bill 577 establishes the New Hampshire children's savings account program with the purpose of increasing opportunities for college and career success for all students, encouraging positive postsecondary education savings behavior for low and moderate income families, and providing, in cooperation with the public schools, financial literacy education for all students and their parents. The bill establishes the children's savings account program commission to ensure the proper administration, management, and development of the children's savings account program.

New Jersey

Senate Bill 979 creates the College Affordability Study Commission for the purpose of examining issues and developing recommendations to increase the affordability of higher education in New Jersey.

Oregon

House Bill 2973 known as the Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Act, directs public universities to work toward developing and providing four-year baccalaureate degrees, or pathways to baccalaureate degrees, that are affordable and offered at a fixed cost that is significantly less than the cost of a traditional baccalaureate degree at the universities. In addition, the bill requires the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to analyze options to provide affordable baccalaureate degrees. Options to be studied include: dual enrollment, transfer of community college credits, massive open online courses, and the potential use of state funds or other incentives that may ensure that affordable baccalaureate degrees are available.

Vermont

Senate Bill 44 establishes the Vermont Universal Children’s Higher Education Savings Account Program, a partnership between the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and one or more foundations or philanthropies. Each year the corporation will deposit $250 into the program fund for each eligible child born that year. For eligible children from families earning less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level, the corporation may make an additional $250 deposit. The bill also establishes criteria for withdrawal of funds for postsecondary education expenses.

Washington

Senate Bill 5954 requires public universities to reduce tuition by 15-20 percent over the next two years and tuition at community colleges be reduced by 5 percent this year and frozen at that level next year. In addition, beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, tuition increases are limited to the average annual percentage growth rate in the median hourly wage for Washington for the previous fourteen years as the wage is determined by the federal bureau of labor statistics.

 

Financial Aid

In addition to the affordability efforts outlined above, many states either created new financial aid programs or modified existing programs to help students with the cost of college. Nevada created a new need-based aid program that outlines the share students, families, the federal government, and the state are expected to contribute to paying for college. Montana also created a new financial aid program, but requires recipients major in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics program. Minnesota and Oregon created new programs that will ensure recipients do not have to pay tuition at community colleges. Having created a similar program last year to the ones Minnesota and Oregon created this year, Tennessee created a program for adult learners who have earned some credit but stopped before earning a degree. Washington adjusted requirements for the state’s need-based program so that students enrolling in as few as three quarter hours are eligible. Indiana made a small change in the name a program to better market it to adult learners. Finally, Oregon enacted a bill that places restrictions on third-party financial firms that disburse financial aid and prohibits fees associated with aid disbursement.

 

Legislation Related to College Financial Aid

State

Legislation

Connecticut

Senate Bill 393 requires the University of Connecticut and the Board of Regents for Higher Education to submit a report describing how institutional financial aid was awarded to undergraduate students during the previous academic year. The report will include, at a minimum, a separate description for in-state and out-of-state students regarding: (1) the aggregate amount of institutional financial aid funding available, (2) need-based financial aid awarded, and (3) merit-based financial aid awarded.

Indiana

Senate Bill 509 renamed a part-time student grant the "adult student grant." In addition, the bill allows for unused appropriated funds for one grant program be transferred to another grant program fund with unmet demand.

Minnesota

Senate Bill 5 establishes the College Occupational Scholarship Pilot Program that will provide a last-dollar scholarship to cover any tuition and fee expenses not covered by state or federal grant aid for students seeking a credential in designated high demand program areas. Recipients must have an adjusted gross income of less than $90,000, and enroll within two years of completing high school or passing an equivalency test. Scholarship recipients must complete at least 30 hours and have a grade point average of 2.5 or higher during each academic year to maintain eligibility. The Minnesota pilot program also includes a mentoring component. Mentors are expected to help develop student success plans, connect recipients to on-campus resources, and assist with financial planning.

Montana

House Bill 617 establishes the Montana Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) scholarship program. The purpose of the scholarship program is to provide an incentive for Montana high school students to prepare for, enter into, and complete degrees in postsecondary fields related to science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health care, with the goal of increasing the number of STEM degree recipients participating in Montana's workforce.

Nevada

Senate Bill 227 creates the Silver State Opportunity Grant Program, a need-based grant program that will use the shared responsibility framework to establish the share for which students, families, and the federal government, and the state are responsible for paying.

Oregon

Senate Bill 81 creates the Oregon Promise, a last-dollar tuition waiver, program. To be eligible students must be an Oregon resident, enroll in a community college within six months of graduating from high school or passing a high school equivalency exam, have a high school grade point average of 2.5 or higher, and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Each Oregon Promise recipient will receive a minimum grant of $1,000 even if state and federal grants cover the full price of tuition. However, each Oregon Promise recipient must pay $50 dollars per term to enroll in courses. Students enrolled part-time are also eligible to receive Oregon Promise grants.

Oregon

House Bill 2832 requires the governing entity of all public and private higher education institutions to review and approve all contracts with third party financial firms for disbursement and management services of financial aid funds. The bill also prohibits third-party financial firms from charging fees for initial disbursement of financial aid funds, and transaction fees for debit or similar transactions, fees for account inactivity. All third-party contracts must be made available for public inspection and published on the institution's website.

Tennessee

Senate Bill 605 established the Community College Reconnect Grant designed to help adult students who have earned at least 30 hours of college credit toward an associate of applied science degree complete their degree program. Applicants must have an adjusted gross income less than $36,000 and not been enrolled in college for at least 24 months. Recipients of a Reconnect grant must enroll in at least nine credit hours per semester and maintain a 2.0 grade point average. The Reconnect program is a last-dollar grant that will cover any tuition and fees after federal and state grant aid have been deducted from expenses.

Washington

Senate Bill 5638 lowered the minimum enrollment requirements for receiving the state need-based grant from half-time enrollment to at least three quarter credits or the equivalent semester credits.

 

Increasing Educational Attainment

Every year states enact a number of reforms and new programs designed to improve the educational attainment of the adult population. A growing number of states are establishing attainment goals that use data to set a goal for the attainment level of the state’s adult population. In 2015, Connecticut and Minnesota both enacted attainment goals through legislation. In addition, Connecticut, Florida, and Vermont all took steps to tie some state funding to increasing educational attainment of state residents. Maryland is starting a pilot program to match funding with nonprofit organizations that have a successful history of higher education outcomes.

Legislation Related to Increasing Educational Attainment

State

Legislation

Connecticut

House Bill 7007 requires policies of higher education in the state to be consistent with the goals adopted by the Planning Commission for Higher Education. The goals include increasing the education levels of adults so that 40 percent have earned a bachelor degree and 35 percent have earned an associate degree or sub-baccalaureate credential by 2025. Additional goals include developing a globally competitive workforce and economy, and ensuring that higher education is affordable for state residents.

Connecticut

House Bill 6919 establishes a task force to develop a strategic outcomes-based plan for financing higher education that is aligned with the goals and benchmarks for higher education recommended by the Planning Commission for Higher Education—see House Bill 7007.

Florida

Senate Bill 2502 implements performance-based funding for the Florida College System. The bill requires the State Board of Education to adopt performance metrics that measure retention; program completion and graduation rates; job placement; and post-graduation employment, salaries, or further education. The amount of performance funds available for allocation to the institutions each fiscal year will be composed of the state's investment in performance funding, plus an institutional investment consisting of funds to be redistributed from the base funding of the Florida College System Program Fund.

Maryland

House Bill 779 establishes the Maryland Higher Education Outreach and College Access Pilot Program. The program is designed to encourage low-income high school students to attend and complete college by connecting potential college students with nonprofit organizations that have a successful history of higher education outcomes. The nonprofit organizations will receive matching funding under the two-year pilot program to provide outreach programming that helps encourage low-income students to enroll in college.

Minnesota

Senate Bill 5 establishes a higher education attainment goal that 70 percent of Minnesota residents between the ages of 25 to 44 years will earn a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2025. The Office of Higher Education is required to report on the progress toward meeting or exceeding the goal each year and utilize benchmarks to report progress by race and ethnicity groups toward meeting the educational attainment rate goal of 70 percent.

Oregon

House Bill 2525 directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to develop a process to align requirements and ensure that credits earned for completion of sufficiently similar courses are fully transferable between all community colleges and public universities.

Vermont

House Bill 490 requires the secretary of Administration and certain members of the Prekindergatern-16 Council to develop a proposal by which a portion of state funding for the Vermont State Colleges and the University of Vermont would be allocated based upon nationally recognized and established performance measures. The Council is also must consider the number of first generation and socioeconomically disadvantaged students earning a degree from each institution and the number of students enrolled in and completing programs identified as important to Vermont's economy.

 

Student Loan Debt

With student debt rapidly increasing in recent years, state legislatures—concerned about the adverse effects of that debt—have enacted a variety of policies to address the growing loan burden of college students. Rhode Island created a new tax credit to help graduates of certain occupations repay their loans. New York created a loan repayment program for low-income individuals. Connecticut and Maine both passed legislation authorizing state loan authorities to begin refinancing existing student loans. Indiana and Arkansas both passed bills that will ensure students receive information regarding student debt. Connecticut passed a student loan bill of rights to provide borrowers better protections. Montana repealed a law that revoked state-issued licenses for borrowers that defaulted on certain student loans.

Legislation Related to Student Loan Debt

State

Legislation

Arkansas

Senate Bill 211 requires the Department of Workforce Services to prepare an economic security report of employment and earning outcomes for degree and certificates earned at public higher education institutions. As part of this report, the department will make available the average student debt for graduates of degree and certificate programs.

Connecticut

House Bill 6915 establishes the Student Loan Bill of Rights and creates a student loan ombudsman to assist borrowers and report data. This bill also requires all non-bank student loan servicers to be registered with the state and meet certain requirements. The bill also outlines expectations of student loan servicers.

Connecticut

House Bill 6907 allows the Connecticut Higher Education Supplemental Loan Authority to refinance student loans, including loans made to the parents of students.

Indiana

House Bill 1042 requires postsecondary institutions to provide students with information estimating: a) the total amount of loans taken out, b) total payoff amount, c) monthly repayment amount and d) how close the student is to reaching the maximum federal borrowing limit. All institutions that take part in state grant programs must report this information to students.

Maine

House Bill 597 allows the Finance Authority of Maine to refinance student loans.

Montana

House Bill 363 repealed laws that allowed the state to revoke state-issued licenses if licensees defaulted on student loan obligations.

New York

House Bill 2006 created a student loan forgiveness program for low-income borrowers earning less than $50,000. Under the program, the state will make full monthly payments for up to two years for former students enrolled in a federal income-based repayment program.

Rhode Island

House Bill 5900 created a tax credit that will require beneficiaries to be full-time employees with a Rhode Island-based employer and work in certain science, technology, engineering, mathematic and health fields. The amount of the credit will be based on the type of degree earned. The maximum credit is $1,000 for an associate’s degree, $4,000 for a bachelor’s degree and $6,000 for a graduate degree.

 

Workforce Development

With the modern economy requiring a highly skilled workforce, many states are putting policies in place to help ensure the future workforce meets the demands of the economy. Colorado passed a bill authorizing a limited number of P-tech schools that combine high school and college-level course work with workplace experiences. Colorado, Connecticut, and Maryland all passed bills designed to create or expand apprenticeship and internship opportunities. Colorado and Nebraska passed laws that will provide financial support for workforce development initiatives. California passed a bill related to creating college and career access pathways partnerships with community colleges and local school districts.

Legislation Related to Workforce Development

State

Legislation

California

Assembly Bill 288 authorizes the governing board of a community college district to enter into a College and Career Access Pathways partnership with the governing board of a school district. The goals of these partnerships are to develop seamless pathways from high school to community college for career technical education or preparation for transfer, improve high school graduation rates, and help high school students achieve college and career readiness.

Colorado

Senate Bill 82 allows counties to establish a county workforce development program, known as Bright Future Colorado, to provide financial assistance to high school graduates in the county who pursue postsecondary education or training from an accredited higher education institution or certified training program. Counties may offer tax credits or rebates to residential or commercial property owners that contribute to a county workforce development fund. 

Colorado

House Bill 1230 creates the Innovative Industries Workforce Development Program to provide reimbursement to approved businesses for qualifying internships in advanced manufacturing, aerospace, bioscience, construction, electronics, energy, natural resources, engineering, and information technology industries, and other industries as determined. In addition, the bill requires partnerships with secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, and contracting with intermediaries to perform related business outreach.

Colorado

House Bill 1270 authorizes the operation of a limited number of pathways in technology early college high schools (P-tech schools) that combine high school and college-level course work with workplace educational experiences. Students who graduate from a P-tech school are expected to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in applied science. The P-tech schools will be funded through the school finance formula and subject to state assessment and accountability requirements.

Colorado

House Bill 1275 allows local education providers to include course work related to apprenticeship programs and internship programs in concurrent enrollment programs. The Concurrent Enrollment Advisory Board will create recommendations to advise and assist local education providers in creating such agreements. The bill also establishes a tuition assistance program for students enrolled in career and technical education certificate programs that do not meet minimum Pell Grant credit hour requirements.

Connecticut

House Bill 6959 creates a task force to develop a pilot earn and learn program, that provides: (1) opportunities for students attending institutions of higher education to engage in applied, work-based learning while earning money to pay for higher education, (2) incentives for institutions of higher education to develop the curricula, faculty incentives and support structures to implement work-based learning, (3) encourage employers in the state to foster existing work-based learning experiences and provide additional work-based learning opportunities, and (4) identify ways in which work-based learning is fiscally viable for institutions of higher education and employers in the state.

Maryland

House Bill 942 establishes the Apprenticeship Maryland pilot program with the purpose of preparing students to enter the workforce by providing some of the necessary on-site employment training and related classroom instruction needed to obtain a license or certification for a skilled occupation. Two local school systems will be selected to participate in the pilot program. The bill also specifies student requirements for participation.

Nebraska

Legislative Bill 519 establishes the community college gap assistance program. The purpose of the program is to provide funding to community colleges to award community college gap assistance to students in eligible programs. Eligible program is defined as a program offered by a community college that is not offered for credit but is aligned with training programs with stackable credentials that lead to a program awarding college credit, an associate's degree, a diploma, or a certificate in an in-demand occupation, has a duration of not less than 16 contact hours in length, and meets additional specifications.

Oregon

House Bill 2410 allows the board of a district operating a community college to award training certificates indicating satisfactory completion of noncredit courses and programs. Prior to offer a new, noncredit course for a training certificate, the board must follow procedures established by the commission to ensure that the course meets an occupational employment need and fulfills a regional educational need.

 

Campus Safety

Campus safety was a hot topic in 2015 with surveys reporting 20 percent of female students are sexually assaulted while enrolled in college. Hawaii and New York both passed laws requiring higher education institutions develop affirmative consent policies while Texas passed a bill requiring all higher education institutions develop a policy on campus sexual assault. Other states enacted legislation related to developing agreements with law enforcement and medical facilities to assist victims of campus sexual assaults. Louisiana and Washington passed bills requiring colleges and universities to conduct campus climate assessments.

 

Legislation Related to Campus Safety

State

Legislation

California

Assembly Bill 913 requires California State University Trustees, University of California Regents, and the governing boards of independent postsecondary institutions develop written agreements to designate the law enforcement agency that will have operational responsibility for the investigation of each sexual assault and hate crime. These written agreements must be reviewed, updated if necessary, and made available to the public on a periodic basis.

Colorado

House Bill 1220 requires each institution of higher education to enter into and have in effect a memorandum of understanding or other formal agreement with nearby medical facilities that has sexual assault staff, or a medical forensic exam program. The bill also requires each institution to provide information for victims on how to access a medical forensic examination on its website and to have a training and response policy in place to provide appropriate information.

Hawaii

Senate Bill 387 establishes the affirmative consent task force to review and make recommendations on the University of Hawaii's executive policy on sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

Louisiana

Senate Bill 255 requires each public postsecondary education institution to administer an annual, anonymous sexual assault climate survey to its students when funding is available. Institutions must report school-specific results of the survey to the Board of Regents. The Board of Regents must submit a report each year regarding the survey results of each public postsecondary education institution and the state as a whole. The Board must also publish the survey results on its website or other location deemed appropriate.

New York

Senate Bill 5965 requires higher education institutions to adopt a uniform definition of affirmative consent in student code of conduct policies. In addition, the bill requires institutions adopt a “student bill of rights” as part of the campus student code of conduct policy and conduct a campus climate survey at least every two years. The bill also establishes a sexual assault victims unit with the state police division.

Oregon

Senate Bill 759 requires each public and private higher education institution adopt a written protocol to ensure that victims of sexual assault receive necessary services and assistance in specified situations.

Texas

House Bill 699 requires each higher education institution to adopt a policy on campus sexual assault. The policy must include definitions of prohibited behavior, sanctions for violations, the protocol for reporting and responding to reports of campus sexual assault, and be approved by the institution's governing board before final adoption by the institution.

Virginia

Senate Bill 712 requires employees at higher education institutions with the authority to take action to redress sexual violence to report information related to acts of sexual violence to the Title IX coordinator as soon as practicable after addressing the immediate needs of the victim. The Title IX coordinator must report the information to a review committee that each institution must create. The bill also requires each institution of higher education to establish a written memorandum of understanding with a sexual assault crisis center or other victim support service in order to provide sexual assault victims with immediate access to a confidential, independent advocate.

Washington

Senate Bill 5518 creates procedures to address campus sexual violence. Higher education institutions are prohibited from establishing a different disciplinary process on the same campus for a matter of sexual violence based on the status or characteristics of the student involved, including membership on an athletic team, membership in a fraternity or sorority, academic year, or any other characteristics or status of a student. The bill also requires institutions to conduct a campus climate assessment.

 

Dual Enrollment

Enrolling in postsecondary courses while in secondary school can provide many students with many benefits such as graduating on time and reducing the total price of college. In 2015 several states enacted polices related to dual or concurrent enrollment. Idaho modified the state's 8 in 6 program, which is designed to reduce the total number of years in middle school, high school, and the first two years of college from eight to six years. The bill also allows students to use a mastery program to progress at an accelerated pace if they are able to demonstrate mastery of the course work. Minnesota, Ohio, and Virginia all passed bills related to the work for which students will be able to receive postsecondary credit. Washington revised the state’s dual enrollment funding formula to assist students with transportation and book expenses.

Legislation Related to Dual Enrollment

State

Legislation

Idaho

Senate Bill 1050 modifies the 8 in 6 program to encourage completion of middle school, high school, and the first two years of college or professional-technical preparation in six years instead of eight years. Students can complete the program by taking overload courses in addition to a full course load. The bill also allows students to use the mastery advancement program to work at their own pace and complete classes or years of school at an accelerated pace.

Minnesota

House Bill 1 requires all Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) give full credit to a secondary school student who completes a postsecondary course or program that is associated with a goal area or a transfer curriculum at a MnSCU institution when the student enrolls in a MnSCU institution after leaving secondary school.

Minnesota

Senate Bill 5 requires postsecondary institutions offering courses to conduct a survey related to concurrent enrollment. The bill also requires postsecondary institutions offering courses taught by a secondary teacher to establish a concurrent enrollment advisory board. Board duties include providing strategic advice, recommending and reviewing proposals for course offerings, serving as a coordinating entity between secondary and postsecondary institutions, and increasing the understanding and collaboration among concurrent enrollment partners, stakeholders, the legislature, and the public.

Ohio

House Bill 64 requires the board of trustees of each state institution of higher education to adopt and implement a policy to grant undergraduate course credit to a student who has successfully completed an international baccalaureate diploma program.

Virginia

House Bill 1336 requires State Council of Higher Education for Virginia establish a policy for granting undergraduate course credit to entering freshman students who have taken one or more Advanced Placement, Cambridge Advanced, College-Level Examination Program, or International Baccalaureate examinations.

Washington

House Bill 1546 establishes a new funding model for dual enrollment programs that assists students with transportation and book expenses associated with the program.