Higher Education Legislation in 2019

8/14/2019

graduation cap and gown

The 2019 state legislative sessions across the nation resulted in more than 502 enacted bills addressing postsecondary education issues. Of these bills, more than 240—nearly 50%—focused on financial and affordability issues.

Compared with recent legislative sessions, this is a decidedly different emphasis away from overarching themes of workforce development and college preparation. Even when considering that 2019 was a “budget year” for many general assemblies, the change in attention is significant. In addition to providing the usual appropriations to state postsecondary agencies, systems and institutions, many of the bills pertained to financial aid, student loans and tuition and fees. The common theme appears to be ensuring affordability for constituents with an understanding that a postsecondary credential of some kind is essential in this era of rapid economic development and change.

More than 130 enacted bills focused on finance, many of which include biennial appropriations. However, efforts were made to provide incentives to increase postsecondary participation from employers, workers and institutions. Granting tax credits to businesses providing equipment or structuring time and support for employees to participate was notable. Additional tax credits were given in certain circumstances to encourage donations for financial aid endowments. Certain states also sought to provide financial support for efforts to increase postsecondary attainment through better communication and distribution of student financial aid information. Certain bills also focused on community college operations and procedures, which reflect those institutions’ importance in workforce preparation.

Financial aid and affordability emerged as a new category in 2018, yet now appears to be an established priority. In 2019, more than 56 bills were enacted as legislatures seek to broaden eligibility among nontraditional and underserved populations. Additionally, many legislatures sought to provide incentives to increase participation in high-demand vocations as well as deal with challenges in regions within a state. This included improving financial aid communication to potential students and approving limited granting of bachelor degrees to community colleges in high-demand vocations located in specific high-need locations.

Legislation pertaining to governance focused on a desire for postsecondary systems to be efficient, effective and more inclusive in governing board membership. Efforts were made to ensure boards have orientation programs to become better informed of statewide needs as well as student debt trends. Furthermore, better use of data to tie K-12, postsecondary and workforce issues were encouraged.

Related to financial aid and affordability, legislation focused on student loans received an unexpected amount of attention across the states. Many of the bills were concerned with preserving the licenses of individuals who may have loan delinquency issues to remain able to work while challenges were being addressed. Legislation focused on creating state ombudsmen offices and “bills of rights” for students with loans to ensure loan servicers operated in a clear and forthright manner. In addition, bills focused on loan forgiveness or assistance to attract individuals to high-demand vocations, often in high-need locales within a state. 

Campus safety is a broad category receiving a fair amount of attention. A few of the issues receiving attention were free speech in a variety of contexts, the possession of a weapon on university property, funds for legal representation for students in Title IX proceedings, and ensuring institutions maintained and rehearsed crisis and emergency management plans.

Returning to the theme of finance and affordability, tuition and fees received a significant amount of attention. Legislatures focused on providing tuition assistance to children of peace officers, veterans and prisoners of war; in-state residency for family members of active-duty servicemen and servicewomen in the U.S. armed forces; and clearly understandable statements of tuition and fee bills. Also, in keeping with recent trends in some states, monies deposited in prepaid tuition and savings programs were made eligible for primary, middle and secondary programs at private and religious schools.

While the categories above represent the most active classifications, many of the bills cited within the categories could appear in multiple classifications. In fact, the legislative categories throughout this summary indicate an overarching theme of enhancing affordable access to postsecondary programs. Also, a predominate theme can be seen in ensuring that potential students and families receive information on tuition, fees and available financial aid that is clear and understandable.

Finance 

Aware that investing in and supporting postsecondary institutions goes beyond legislative appropriations, many enacted bills provided financial incentives to increase postsecondary participation from employers, workers and institutions. These included innovative tax credits to encourage financial support of institutions and financial aid endowments. A few of the notable bills among the more than 130 enacted include:

Legislation Related to Finance
State Legislation 
Arkansas  SB 226 amends the income tax credit allowed for donations or sales of machinery and equipment to certain educational institutions; allows an income tax credit for cash donations to certain educational institutions for the purchase of machinery and equipment; creates an application process for being granted an income tax credit for a donation or sale to certain educational institutions.
Arizona HB 2750 relates to community college districts; provides that a district may not compensate an employee for work performed on behalf of an elected employee representative organization and may not provide more favorable terms and conditions of employment to any employee because that individual belongs to an elected employee representative organization.
Colorado  HB 1187 concerns increasing completion rates of applications for student financial aid for higher education; provides for appropriations for developing and distributing information to students, families, and school leaders regarding the free application for federal student aid and applications for state student aid; and the benefits of completing the free application for federal student aid and applications for state student aid.
Maryland HB 482 allows a credit against the state income tax for a certain amount of donations to qualified permanent endowment funds at Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University or the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; requires taxpayers to add a deduction back to federal adjusted gross income to determine the state adjusted gross income.
Montana HB 176 revises laws governing the creation of new community college districts; revises laws for electing trustees to a new community college district; provides that the legislature is the sole authority to approve a new community college district.
North Dakota HB 1475 relates to an income tax exclusion for employee education assistance provided by an employer.
   

Financial Aid and Affordability

More than 56 bills were enacted nationwide seeking to broaden postsecondary eligibility and affordability among nontraditional and underserved populations. Many states also sought to create incentives to attract participation in high-demand vocations often located in high-need locales. A few of the notable enacted bills include:

Legislation Related to Financial Aid and Affordability
State Legislation
Colorado SB 231 concerns the creation of the Colorado second chance scholarship in the pursuit of higher education for youth previously committed to the division of youth services; makes an appropriation.
Kentucky SB 98 establishes the Work Ready Scholarship Program; requires the Higher Education Assistance Authority to administer the scholarship; defines eligibility requirements; defines the scholarship award amount; requires the authority to prepare an annual report on the scholarship in collaboration with the Office for Education and Workforce Statistics; creates the Work Ready Scholarship Fund.
Maine HB 121 makes several changes to the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program administered by the Department of Labor; requires that the department's outreach efforts regarding the program be tailored to focus on unemployed and underemployed workers, veterans, immigrants, recipients of benefits under the statewide food supplement program, low-skilled manufacturing workers, and students enrolled in postsecondary education.
Mississippi SB 2524 includes the American Psychiatric Association among the organizations from which the commission shall seek input regarding the implementation of the Rural Physicians Scholarship Program; authorizes the commission to grant an exception for fourth-year medical school students who demonstrate a desire to practice psychiatry in rural Mississippi and who use a practice model and enter the practice of medicine in a rural or underserved area in Mississippi.
North Dakota

SB 2164 establishes required contents of tuition and fee statements; requires statements to include information identifying the average dollar amount of state aid the institution receives per student per semester.

South Dakota SB 43 redirects funding to a collaborative program in rural veterinary medical education and to provide tax revenue for the support of veterinary students.
South Dakota SB 96 establishes the Education Tax Credit Program for any company that is liable to pay the insurance company premium and annuity tax to claim a credit for contributions made to scholarship granting organizations.
Virginia HB 1704 relates to public institutions of higher education; relates to federal financial aid award notifications; provides that any comprehensive financial aid award notification provided to a student by a public institution of higher education or private institution of higher education shall meet the requirements and best practices established by the Council in its Financial Aid Award Letters Policies and Guidance.
Virginia  HB 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.
Wyoming SB 111 relates to postsecondary education; amends authorized academic programs at the community colleges; provides for Community College Commission approval of the baccalaureate degree programs; conforms Hathaway scholarship statutes.
   

Governance

Enacted legislation sought to ensure that campuses are effective and efficient, and that governing boards are aware of state needs and student debt trends. A few representative bills include:

Legislation Related to Governance
State Legislation
Maryland HB 533 alters the membership of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland to include two members appointed by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House and one additional student member; requires the board to make certain meetings available to the public by live and archived video streaming; requires the board to conduct certain activities in open session; establishes a workgroup to study oversight of the University System of Maryland.
Montana HB 754 creates the state university system two-year education restructuring review commission; provides for commission members and duties.
Virginia HB 347 relates to the State Council of Higher Education; relates to longitudinal data; requires the data that the council annually collects and publishes relating to the percentage of graduates of public institutions and certain nonprofit private institutions who are known to be employed in the Commonwealth; requires that the data to include the average salary and the average higher education-related debt for such graduates be by degree program and level; requires links to the data to be provided on websites.
Virginia  HB 2653 relates to public institutions of higher education; relates to institutional partnership performance agreements; permits any public institution of higher education to submit an innovative proposal with clearly defined performance measures relating to college access, affordability, cost predictability, enrollment management, alternative tuition and fee structures and affordable pathways to degree attainment, and internships and work-study opportunities.
Virginia SB 1234 relates to governing boards of public institutions of higher education; relates to educational programs; requires educational programs for the governing boards of public institutions of higher education to include presentations relating to student debt trends.

Student Loans

Many of these bills sought to address consumer protection needs through a “Student Loan Bill of Rights” and provide opportunities for loan forgiveness or debt assistance to those willing to pursue high-demand vocations, often in high-need regions of a state. A few examples include:

Legislation Related to Student Loans
State Legislation 
Arkansas HB 1296 creates the Keep Arkansans Working Act; ensures that default or delinquent student loans or scholarships do not result in the suspension or revocation of a license.
Arkansas  HB 1841 creates the osteopathic rural medical practice student loan and scholarship; creates the osteopathic rural medical practice student loan and scholarship board.
Colorado  SB 2 enacts the Student Loan Servicers Act; requires an entity that services a student education loan to be licensed by the administrator of the Uniform Consumer Credit Code; creates a student loan ombudsperson to provide timely assistance to student loan borrowers.
Kentucky HB 118 prohibits an occupational licensing authority from suspending or revoking a license it issued because the licensee is in default or delinquent on a student loan or work conditional scholarship; encourages a person who is in default or delinquent in the payment of a student loan to contact the appropriate student loan servicer to establish a voluntary pay agreement for the student loan; states the goal of ensuring that individuals keep their occupational licenses while struggling to pay their loans.
Kentucky HB 296 creates a State Department of Veterans Affairs nurse loan repayment program for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses within their employ and grants the State Higher Education Assistance Authority and Department of Veterans Affairs authority to promulgate administrative regulations.
Maryland HB 594 prohibits a student loan servicer from employing any scheme, device, or artifice to mislead a student loan borrower; prohibits a student loan servicer from engaging in any unfair, abusive, or deceptive trade practice toward any person; prohibits a student loan servicer from knowingly or recklessly misapplying or refusing to correct a misapplication of a payment; requires a student loan servicer to respond to an inquiry or complaint in a certain manner.
Mississippi HB 150 provides that awards granted under the William Winter Teacher Forgivable Loan Program shall be available to nontraditional licensed teachers under certain conditions.
Montana HB 211 revises education laws related to recruitment and retention; revises eligibility for the quality educator loan assistance program to better target assistance; allows a quality educator receiving loan repayment assistance to exclude the repayment from adjusted gross income for state income tax purposes; allows impacted schools to provide loan repayment assistance to eligible teachers after completing a fourth year.
New Mexico HB 275 relates to higher education; provides for financial aid for students who want to become teachers; changes the Teacher Loan Repayment Act to more specifically target the types of high-need teachers who qualify for the program; enacts the Teacher Preparation Affordability Act; provides powers and duties; creates a fund; makes appropriations.
New Mexico  SB 21 amends the Health Professional Loan Repayment Act and the Osteopathic Medicine Act; establishes designated health professional loan repayment funding to assist osteopathic primary care physicians working in designated health professional shortage areas; establishes osteopathic physician licensing fees for the program; establishes the Osteopathic Physician Excellence Fund.
West Virginia HB 2674 creates a student loan repayment program for a mental health provider who resides and works in an underserved area of West Virginia for five years; provides for in-state tuition rates to out-of-state medical students who agree to practice for a specific time within West Virginia; establishes the program eligibility requirements.

Campus Safety

Representing a broad category, a few of the issues receiving attention included free speech guarantees, the possession of a weapon on university property, funds for legal representation for students in Title IX proceedings, and ensuring institutions maintained up-to-date crisis and emergency management plans. A few examples include:

Legislation Related to Campus Safety
State Legislation
Arkansas HB 1231 ensures the freedom of expression of a student journalist at a public institution of higher education; provides that a student journalist has the right to engage in protected activities in school-sponsored media.
Arkansas SB 156 establishes the Forming Open and Robust University Minds, or FORUM, Act; protects the free speech right of students in accordance with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits abridging the freedom of speech.
Iowa SB 188 prohibits a governing board of a public college or university from adopting or enforcing any policy or rule that prohibits a person from carrying, transporting, or possessing a dangerous weapon, producing a nonprojectile high voltage pulse designed to immobilize a person, in the buildings or on the grounds of such a college or university.
Maryland SB 396 establishes the Legal Representation Fund for Title IX Proceedings as a special, no lapsing fund; provides that the purpose of the fund is to provide funds for reasonable costs and attorney's fees for students provided counsel under certain provisions of law; requires the Maryland Higher Education Commission to administer the fund; provides for the investment of money in and expenditures from the fund.
Virginia HB 1430 relates to public institutions of higher education; relates to crisis and emergency management plan; requires each public institution of higher education to annually conduct a test or exercise in accordance with the protocols established by the institution's crisis and emergency management plan; requires the institution to certify in writing to the Department of Emergency Management that such a test or exercise was conducted.
Texas HB 1735 relates to sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking at public and private postsecondary educational institutions; provides an administrative penalty.

Tuition and Fees 

In keeping with an overarching theme of finance and affordability, legislatures focused on providing tuition assistance to children of peace officers, veterans and prisoners of war. In-state residency was granted for family members of active-duty servicemen and servicewomen. Additionally, legislators sought to require institutions and financial aid assistance agencies provide clear and understandable statements of tuition and fees. Examples include:

Legislation Related to Tuition and Fees
State Legislation
Colorado SB 174 concerns tuition assistance eligibility for dependent children of certain persons; determines eligibility for dependents of prisoners of war, military personnel missing in action, national guardsmen, law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Maryland  SB 677 renames the Hearing Aid Loan Bank Program in the State Department of Education to be the Hearing Aid and Language and Communication Video Loan Bank Program; requires the Loan Bank to lend and provide videos and downloadable resources to the parents or legal guardians of certain individuals; exempts the parent or legal guardian of a deaf or hard of hearing child from paying tuition for certain courses at a public institution of higher education. 
Mississippi  SB 2049 provides that the spouse or child of an active duty member of the U.S. armed forces stationed in this state shall be deemed an in-state resident for purposes of determining tuition at state institutions of higher learning and community colleges; provides that such spouse or child may continue to be designated as an in-state resident if he or she maintains continuous enrollment in good standing.
North Dakota  SB 2164 establishes required contents of tuition and fee statements; requires statements to include information identifying the average dollar amount of state aid the institution receives per student per semester.
Virginia  HB 2337 relates to governing boards of public institutions of higher education; requires the governing board of each public institution of higher education to approve rates for tuition and mandatory fees for each academic year no later than a specified date of the immediately preceding academic year; requires public comment on the proposed increase at a meeting of a governing board.
West Virginia SB 670 relates to the College Prepaid Tuition and Savings Program; expands eligible educational institutions to include a private or religious primary, middle or secondary school; changes Board of the College Prepaid Tuition and Savings Program membership.

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