Higher Education Legislation in 2016



Higher education legislation enacted in 2016 followed familiar themes that have emerged in recent years. College affordability remained a top issue as states took actions such as freezing—or even reducing—tuition, capping student fees, encouraging the utilization of open resources and focusing on students unable to afford food on a regular basis.

Financial aid continued to be a top focus of legislatures. In 2016 states modified their free community college programs, shifted income calculations for need-based aid to use two years prior income, encouraged on-time completion by awarding larger aid amounts for students completing 30 credit hours during an academic year, and created a state-wide emergency grant program.

While the category of student success could encompass many of the bills included in this summary, this category highlights a few states that took specific actions designed to help students graduate. Missouri passed a comprehensive bill that incorporates several evidence-based solutions to improving graduation rates. 

Workforce development remained a hot topic as states work to create an educated workforce that is responsive to a rapidly changing modern economy. This year states took a number of actions to help meet workforce demands including a focus on apprenticeships, internships and coordinating educational opportunities with local industries.

This marks the second consecutive year student debt has been identified as a major category of legislation. States created tax credits, studied refinancing options, created a counseling program for delinquent borrowers and required the reporting of more information to help students understand how much they are borrowing.

As states seek to help students earn affordable credentials in a timely manner, dual enrollment has become a consistent legislative priority in recent years. This year states created scholarships for student currently enrolled in dual credit programs and as an incentive for students to continue their studies after completing high school with postsecondary credits.

While governance is frequently a topic of focus, 2016 saw several important bills passed in this area. Illinois and Kentucky joined a growing number of states now requiring governing board appointees to receive purposeful training related to their duties as board members. Tennessee radically changed the state’s governance structure by allowing certain universities their own governing boards, and Nebraska took action to require more transparency in the hiring process of certain high-level positions. 


College affordability is nearly always at the top of legislative agendas and is one of the primary concerns of students and their families. This year, several states took action to make college more affordable. For example, North Carolina reduced tuition to $500 at three institutions, capped annual fee increases at 3 percent, and started a fixed tuition program. Many states have frozen tuition in recent years, but few have formalized the freeze through legislation. South Dakota broke this trend with House Bill 1203. California and Florida both passed bills that focus on reducing textbook costs. California also passed a bill that is designed to help provide food assistance for certain students. 

Legislation Related to College Affordability
California Assembly Bill 1747 establishes the Public Higher Education Pantry Assistance Program Account in the Emergency Food Assistance Program Fund, and requires that moneys in the account, upon appropriation by the Legislature, be allocated to food banks that support on-campus pantry and hunger relief efforts serving low-income students.
California Senate Bill 1359 requires each campus of the California Community Colleges and the California State University, and requests that each campus of the University of California, identify in the online course schedule the courses that exclusively use digital course materials, and communicate to students that the course materials for these courses are free of charge. 
Florida House Bill 7019 requires the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education to annually identify strategies to promote college affordability and annually submit reports on college affordability. The bill also focuses on textbook affordability and requires higher education institutions to review the textbook prices among sections of general education courses. The sections with wide variations in textbook prices will be reviewed by the appropriate academic department chair. The board of trustees for each institution is authorized to adopt policies in consultation with providers, which allow for the use of innovative pricing techniques and payment options for textbooks and instructional materials. 
North Carolina House Bill 1030 includes three affordability provisions. First, the bill mandated tuition at three institutions be set at $500 per semester for North Carolina residents and $2,500 for nonresidents. The state will “buy down” tuition to these levels by reimbursing the institutions for any forgone revenue. The total buy down is capped at $40 million each year. Second, the bill caps the cumulative total increase in all undergraduate student fees (approved by the governing entities in the state) at no more than 3 percent per year. Third, the bill establishes a fixed tuition program that guarantees students pay the same tuition rate for eight consecutive semesters. 
South Dakota House Bill 1203 freezes tuition at all higher education institutions in the state. While many tuition freezes are not formalized in legislation, this freeze was made possible by the early repayment of certain bonds. The savings from no longer having the bond obligations was used to “buy down” tuition. 
Washington Senate Bill 6601 creates the Washington College Savings Program, a tax-advantaged 529 plan that allows families to save for future college expenses. Prior to this bill, Washington was one of only two states that did not offer a college savings plan; however, the state did offer and continues to offer a prepaid tuition plan. 


Financial Aid

As states face tight budget constraints and competing priorities, they are utilizing financial aid programs to target resources in a ways that help meet state higher education goals. In 2016, Oregon and Tennessee tweaked their free community college programs based on experience in the initial year of implementation. Connecticut became the first state to bring the state financial aid program in line with current federal policy of using income data from two years prior to determine aid eligibility. Wisconsin became the first state to create a state-wide emergency grant program to help students remain enrolled while dealing with unexpected financial difficulties. 

Legislation Related to Financial Aid
Connecticut House Bill 5332 renames the Governor's Scholarship program the Roberta B. Willis Scholarship, and brings the need-based test for eligibility in-line with the federal government’s new policy of using income data from two years prior to the grant year. Sometimes known as “prior prior year,” this policy enables students and their families to submit financial aid applications prior filing their tax return. 
Indiana House Bill 1248 amends the definition of accelerated progress for purposes of additional awards for state financial aid. Specifically, this bill codifies the provision that students completing 30 or more credit hours will be eligible for larger financial aid awards. The bill also allows dual credit—credits earned in high school—to count in the 30 hour credit accumulation count.  
Oregon House Bill 4076 modifies the Oregon Promise Program in several ways. First, recipients are required to complete first year experience as identified by the community college. Second, the minimum GPA requirement was changed from 2.5 to allowing the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission to set the minimum threshold. Third, students graduating from a private high school in the state are eligible for the scholarship. The bill also includes a section that requires the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to distribute grants to every community college for the purpose of providing support services for persons who enroll in courses offered at a community college in this state.
Tennessee House Bill 2117 broadens eligibility for the Tennessee Reconnect Scholarship by removing the requirement recipients pursue an associate of applied sciences degree. 
Wisconsin Assembly Bill 741 establishes an emergency financial aid program for students attending technical colleges. Students incurring a financial emergency, an unplanned event causing an unanticipated expense, such as charges for medical treatment or vehicle repair that would cause an eligible student to not complete that term if a grant were not available to cover the expense, are eligible to receive up to $500 in aid.


Student Success

Improving the success of students has become a top priority in many states. Missouri passed a comprehensive bill that is designed to help students accumulate credits quicker and more efficiently. Kentucky and Rhode Island passed bills that will move the state’s funding system to incorporate student success components. California passed several bills related to improving student success, and one bill focused primarily on homeless students, a population of students that heretofore has received very little attention. 

Legislation Related to Student Success
California California Assembly Bill 1741 establishes the College Promise Innovation Grant Program and requires the Office of the Chancellor of California Community Colleges to distribute grants to the governing boards of community college districts to support the establishment of regional programs with the goals of increasing college preparation, college access, and college success. 
California 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 with the goal of developing seamless pathways from high school to community college for career technical education or preparation for transfer, improving high school graduation rates, or helping high school pupils achieve college and career readiness. 
California California Assembly Bill 801, known as the Success for Homeless Youth in Higher Education Act. The bill extends priority registration for foster youth and makes homeless students eligible for the priority registration at public higher education institutions. The bill also requires qualifying institutions to designate a staff member within the financial aid office or department to serve as a Homeless and Foster Student Liaison. Additionally, the bill places homeless students within the scope of financial aid programs. 
Maine Maine Senate Bill 84 directs Jobs for Maine's Graduates, a state-authorized nonprofit corporation, to provide mentoring and counseling services, course guidance and graduation planning, peer support services and financial guidance to students and postsecondary institutions in the state for the purpose of significantly increasing the percentage of eligible students who obtain a postsecondary degree. 
Maryland Maryland Senate Bill 676 in addition to establishing a grant program for part-time students, this bill prohibits public institutions of higher education from referring certain delinquent student accounts or debts to the Central Collection Unit and requires those institutions to allow students with unpaid balances of $250 or less to enroll and enter a payment plan. This bill provides students with small unpaid balances an opportunity to remain enrolled and is designed to address the concern that some students stop attending an institution when the institution requires they pay all balances due prior to enrolling for a subsequent term. 
Missouri Missouri Senate Bill 997 is a significant higher education bill that addresses many aspects of improving student success. This bill creates a dual-credit scholarship to help low-income students enroll in dual-credit courses, promotes on-time completion through financial incentives, a 15 to Finish campaign, and other means, requires the development of a guided pathways to success pilot program, and establishes a standard core curriculum and common course numbering system to facilitate transfer. 
Kentucky Kentucky House Bill 303 establishes a working group to develop a performance funding system for higher education institutions in the state. The funding model is expected to incorporate elements of campus performance, mission, and enrollment, as well as any other components as determined through the work group’s review process. The model is required to include metrics that align with the goals of the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 with appropriate differentiation that reflects the different missions of research universities, comprehensive regional universities, and community and technical colleges.
Rhode Island Rhode Island Senate Bill 2392 adds a performance-based component to the state funding formulas for higher education institutions. The bill directs the commissioner of postsecondary education, along with the council on postsecondary education, to create a performance formula. If an institution does not meet the performance objective, the funding associated with that objective is still awarded to the institution, but the institution must use the funding to take corrective action. 


Workforce Development

Developing and maintaining a workforce that meets the demands of the local economy have become increasingly important priorities in many states. Finding ways for education institutions to partner with local industries was a common theme in a number of bills this year. Alabama created a tax credit to incent employers to utilize apprentices, Idaho created an Industry Partner Fund to help finance collaborations, and Maryland allowed for the creation of special P-TECH schools that partner with local industries and higher education institutions. 

Legislation Related to Workforce Development
Alabama Senate Bill 90 known as the Apprentice Tax Credit Act of 2016, creates a nonrefundable tax credit for employers that employ an apprentice. Employers are eligible to receive a credit of up to $1,000 for each apprentice employed up to five apprentices. The bill also limits cumulative tax credits to no more than $3 million annually. 
Connecticut House Bill 5072 requires the Board of Regents for Higher Education, in collaboration with the Office of Higher Education, to develop a written definition for all sub-baccalaureate certificates earned on a for-credit or noncredit basis and awarded by an institution of higher education or private occupational school in the state. The purpose of the bill is to create consistency among the various sub-baccalaureate certificate programs.
Idaho Senate Bill 1332 establishes the Industry Partner Fund to help respond to workforce demands in a timely manner. Professional-technical colleges working with regional industry partners to provide a rapid response to gaps in skills and abilities will be able to use money from the fund. The professional-technical colleges seeking to use money from the fund must submit a proposal documenting established needs. The Technical College Leadership Council will consider the proposals in light of regional demand, labor market information, wage thresholds, impact potential and degree of employer commitment. Preference will be given to proposals with multiple employers, number of impacted workers and demonstrated commitment. 
Indiana Senate Bill 301 requires state agencies to annually prepare a report with information from each high school that includes career and technical education courses available at the high school, the number of students enrolled in each course, the number of students successfully completing each course and the number of students successfully completing a course sequence. The bill also requires the state’s higher education commission to develop and recommend funding amounts and performance metrics that reward workforce training programs that are not currently included in the postsecondary performance funding formula.
Maryland Senate Bill 376 establishes a certain number of state-funded Pathways in Technology Early College High (P-TECH) schools in the state and authorizes planning grants for six P-TECH schools. P-TECH schools partner with a postsecondary institution to provide a curriculum that leads to an associate degree or certificate when a student completes high school. P-TECH schools also enter agreements with industry partners to provide mentoring and internship opportunities for students that also lead to priority employment upon graduation. 
Oklahoma Senate Bill 1269 directs the State Board of Education, in collaboration with the State Board of Career and Technology Education and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, to develop college and career endorsements that will provide distinction and direct student coursework toward clear career pathways. The bill establishes the categories in which a student may earn the college and career endorsement including STEM education, business and industry, public services, multidisciplinary studies, and arts and humanities.
Wisconsin Assembly Bill 742 requires the Department of Workforce Development to provide student internship coordination to increase the number of students who are placed with employers for internships. The department is required to submit an annual report that provides information on the number of student interns who are placed with employers as a result of the coordination activities.  


Student Debt

Student loan debt has received greater interest from state legislatures in recent years. As states grapple with their role in this area, states have taken a few common actions in 2016. California became the second state—joining Connecticut—to regulate student loan servicers. Maryland created a tax credit to help borrowers manage their debt burdens. Maryland and Oregon are studying the concept of refinancing student loans at the state level. Nebraska joined Indiana to require institutions to annually disclose certain information to borrowers while they are enrolled. Michigan created a pilot counseling program to help delinquent borrowers. 

Legislation Related to Student Debt
California Assembly Bill 2251, known as the Student Loan Borrower's Servicing Act, establishes the framework for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of student loan servicers. The bill prohibits a person from acting as a student loan servicer without a state license. 
Maryland Senate Bill 676 creates a refundable tax credit for Maryland residents who incurred at least $20,000 in debt while earning an undergraduate degree and still have at least $5,000 of outstanding debt. The maximum credit is $5,000 and priority will be given to borrowers with higher debt-to-income ratios and graduates of public institutions in Maryland. 
Maryland House Bill 1015 requires the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Maryland Health and Higher Educational Facilities Authority, in consultation with the Department of Legislative Services and any other appropriate agencies, to study the expansion or creation of a bonding authority for the refinancing of student loans, whether such entities with bonding authority currently exist and have the capacity and capability to offer a refinancing program, eligibility requirements, program characteristics, start-up and operational costs, and the role of governing bodies. 
Maryland House Bill 1079 authorizes Montgomery County to create the County Student Loan Refinancing Authority. The bill requires the county take certain actions, such as perform a feasibility study, before establishing the authority. Once the authority is established, it will be able to refinance student loans for eligible borrowers. 
Michigan House Bill 5294 establishes a student loan delinquency counseling pilot program. The state will request competitive proposals from counseling providers. The pilot program will focus on borrowers currently delinquent on their payments and provide one-on-one counseling. The counseling is intended to ensure that more individuals know about their student loan payment options and that borrowers have access to budgeting assistance and comprehensive debt management programs. 
Nebraska Legislative Bill 726 requires publicly funded postsecondary educational institutions to provide information to students relating to federal student loans including: a) an estimate of the potential total payoff amount, b) monthly repayment amounts, including principal and interest, c) the number of years used in determining the potential total payoff amount, and d) information on how the student can access online repayment calculators.
New Jersey  Senate Bill 743 directs the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to forgive certain student loans and payment of interest in the event of the student borrower's death or total and permanent disability and grant deferment for temporary total disability. The bill also provides guidance for discharge of the debt of the student borrower and a parent or guardian who cosigned the loan.
Oregon House Bill 4021 Requires State Treasurer and Higher Education Coordinating Commission to study approaches for lowering interest rates on student loans for students. Such options include: investments and bonds that could be used to refinance student loans and identifying funding approaches that have historically lower interest rates than current federal or private student loans.
Rhode Island  Senate Bill 2453 empowers the State Student Loan Authority to refinance and consolidate existing eligible loans, authorizes the authority to purchase and invest in its own bonds and notes. 


Dual Enrollment

States continue to utilize dual enrollment programs to encourage postsecondary credit accumulation while enrolled in high school. These credits can help student complete postsecondary programs in a timely and more cost-effective manner. In 2016 Idaho and Missouri both created new scholarship programs to reward dual credit accumulation in Idaho and encourage wider participation in Missouri. Illinois also took action to reduce financial barriers with the creation of a pilot program that will allow certain high school student the opportunity to enroll in community college courses tuition free. 

Legislation Related to Dual Enrollment
California Assembly Bill 1985 requires each community college district to implement a uniform policy to award course credit to a student who passes an Advanced Placement examination in a course with subject matter similar to that of the Advanced Placement examination. The bill would require each community college campus to make the most recent policy publically available on its website.
Idaho House Bill 477 creates the Postsecondary Credit Scholarship. Students completing 10 postsecondary credit hours at the time of high school graduation will be eligible for a $2,000 scholarship, students graduating with 20 postsecondary credit hours will be eligible for a $4,000 scholarship, and students graduating from high school with an associate degree will be eligible for an $8,000 scholarship.  
Illinois House Bill 5561 creates the Accelerate College pilot program. Under the pilot program, community colleges are allowed to enter partnership agreements with any school district within the community college district's jurisdiction. These agreements will allow high school students to take community college courses without paying tuition. The bill limits the number of students able to take the tuition-free courses to 45 in the first year of implementation and 90 in the ensuing years.  
Indiana House Bill 1370 Requires the Commission For Higher Education to study methods to ensure opportunities for secondary school students to earn college credits while enrolled in high school and to provide incentives for a high school teacher to obtain a master's degree with at least 18 hours of graduate course work in the subject matter the teacher is teaching or wishes to teach as part of a dual credit course. 
Maryland Senate Bill 376 Establishes a certain number of State-funded Pathways in Technology Early College High (P-TECH) schools in the state and authorized planning grants for six P-TECH schools. P-TECH school partner with a postsecondary institution to provide a curriculum that leads to an associate degree or certificate when a student completes high school. P-TECH schools also enter agreements with industry partners to provide mentoring and internship opportunities for students that also lead to priority employment upon graduation. 
Missouri Senate Bill 997 creates the Dual Credit Scholarship program. The scholarship is designed to cover half of the tuition price associated with dual enrollment courses. High school students must meet certain GPA and financial need requirements. 



Illinois and Kentucky joined a growing list of states requiring professional development training for appointed members of governing boards. Efforts in these states are intended to improve the effectiveness of appointed boards by ensuring the appointees have the opportunity to attend training sessions related to the duties of their position. Tennessee changed the state’s governance structure by allowing regional universities to create their own governing boards. Nebraska now requires greater transparency during the appointment process of certain positions, and the North Carolina legislature will have greater control over governing board appointments in the future.

Legislation Related to Higher Education Governance
Illinois Senate Bill 2157 requires leadership training for community college trustees. Each voting member of a community college board of trustees must complete four hours of professional development leadership training covering topics that shall include, but are not limited to, open meetings law, community college and labor law, freedom of information law, contract law, ethics, sexual violence on campus, financial oversight and accountability, audits, and fiduciary responsibilities of a community college trustee. 
Illinois Senate Bill 2147 requires leadership training for members of university governing boards. Every voting member of a public university governing board of appointed after Jan. 1, 2016 must complete a minimum of four hours of professional development leadership training covering topics that shall include, but are not limited to, public university and labor law, contract law, ethics, sexual violence on campus, financial oversight and accountability, audits, and fiduciary responsibilities of a member of a governing board.  
Kentucky House Bill 15 requires new appointees to the Council on Postsecondary Education to complete an orientation and education program to be eligible for a second term. The bill directs the council to develop an orientation and education program for new governing board members of the council, public universities, and the Community and Technical College System. The program is expected to be at least six hours long and include information concerning the roles of the council and governing board members, the strategic agenda and the strategic implementation plan, and the respective institution's mission, budget and finances, strategic plans and priorities, institutional policies and procedures, board fiduciary responsibilities, legal considerations including open records and open meetings requirements, and ethical considerations arising from board membership.
Nebraska Legislative Bill 1109 amends public records provisions to provide for an enhanced public scrutiny process for priority appointee candidates at the University of Nebraska campuses. Priority appointee candidates must attend a public forum where students, faculty, the pubic, and the media have an opportunity to ask questions and provide input regarding the candidate. 
North Carolina House Bill modifies the appointment process for the Boards of Trustees for each university. Each board is comprised of 13 appointees. The President Pro Tem of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives replace the governor as the primary person responsible for appointee four trustees—two trustees are appointed by the President Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. 
Tennessee House Bill 2578 modifies the governance structure for regional universities and community colleges so that these institutions will no longer be governed by one board. The Board of Regents will govern the state’s community and technical colleges while the universities that were under the control of the Board of Regents will each be governed by their own newly created boards. 

NCSL Higher Education Legislative Summaries