Higher Education Legislation in 2020

12/2/2020

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In the 2020 state legislative sessions, NCSL tracked over 1,600 introduced bills relating to higher education in our Postsecondary Bill Tracking Database. This year, a much smaller number of bills were successfully enacted into law. As of December, nearly 300 bills were passed and signed by governors in the 2020 sessions (compared to over 640 enacted bills in 2019).

Common Areas of Enacted Legislation

Financial Aid and Affordability

Bills that address the financial aid and affordability of postsecondary education remained a popular area of legislative action in 2020, despite significant disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Notable financial aid and affordability bills include:

  • Tennessee SB 2097—The ‘Financial Aid Simplification for Tennesseans (FAST) Act’ makes numerous changes to the state’s postsecondary scholarship programs including modifications to existing eligibility rules, elimination of redundant student loan programs, and streamlining of the HOPE Lottery Scholarship for nontraditional students.   
  • Utah HB 256—Requires the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible for certain state financial aid for higher education. Includes provisions for parents to opt-out of the requirement.
  • Maryland SB 307—Requires the Higher Education Commission to contact high school counselors with information regarding the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship. Also requires that scholarship information is published on the Commission's website.
  • Washington SB 6141—Creates various new initiatives to promote financial aid application completion, including: a standardized template for financial aid award packages, a financial aid advising day for high school students, and a centralized online tool for students to calculate the cost of attendance.

Student Loans

States continued to pass legislation related to the $1.6 trillion student loan debt owed by more than 44 million Americans. In 2020, 11 states passed 18 bills related to student loans including legislation related to loan forgiveness, oversight, and default consequences.  

  • Florida HB 115—Prohibits a state authority from suspending or revoking a person's professional license, certificate, registration, or permit solely on the basis of a delinquency or default in the payment of his or her student loan.
  • Louisiana HB 676—Allows public postsecondary education management boards to prohibit institutions from withholding student transcripts and other records due to outstanding debt or defaulting on a loan.
  • Tennessee SB 2503—Enacts the Responsible Borrowing Initiative Act, requires public institutions of higher education to provide certain information to a student about available financial aid to the student, including loans and work study funds, to enable the student to better assess the impact of borrowing.
  • Virginia HB 10—Establishes licensing requirements for qualified education loan servicers, requires a loan servicer to obtain a license from the State Corporation Commission.
  • Washington SB 6561—Creates the Undocumented Student Support Loan Program to provide low-interest student loans that are competitive with federal student loan programs to individuals who do not qualify for federally funded student financial aid because of their citizenship status.

Admissions

Amid widespread disruption in testing due to COVID-19 and the continued fallout from the Varsity Blues scandal, several states addressed admissions requirements and programs at public institutions. States considered numerous proposals but only five states enacted five bills on this topic.

  • Colorado HB 1407—Temporarily allows institutions of higher education to forego a national assessment test score as an eligibility criterion of admission standards for first-time resident freshman students.
  • Tennessee SB 1641—Prohibits public institutions of higher education from requiring a student to submit a high school transcript or General Educational Development, if the student has completed an associate degree at a regionally accredited institution.

Campus Safety (Sexual Assault)

As colleges and universities work to implement new Title IX rules from the Department of Education, states continued to address issues around sexual violence on campuses. In 2020, 10 states passed bills addressing sexual assault and Title IX issues on campus.  

  • Indiana SB 146—Provides rights to sexual assault victims, including the right to have a sexual assault counselor present before a forensic medical exam or during the course of an investigation.
  • Maryland HB 325—Provides for the application of sexual harassment prevention training requirements, repeals the requirement that a representative designated by a unit of the University System of Maryland to coordinate certain sexual harassment prevention training be the unit's Title IX Coordinator.
  • Nebraska LB 534—Requires public postsecondary institutions to submit reports regarding sexual harassment, requires public hearings as prescribed, defines terms
  • New Hampshire HB 705—Relates to sexual assault and sexual misconduct in institutions of higher education, and the rights of victims of crime, increases the cap on assistance for victims of crime, establishes a committee to study the needs of crime victims and enforcement of statutes governing crime victims’ rights, allows an action based on sexual assault or incest to be commenced at any time.
  • Virginia HB 103—Requires each institution of higher education that is required by law to include a prominent notation on the academic transcript of each student who has been suspended for, has been permanently dismissed for, or withdraws from the institution while under investigation for an offense involving sexual violence under the institution's code, rules, or set of standards governing student conduct, to adopt a policy for expungement of such notation.
  • Washington HB 2327—Requires public four-year institutions of higher education to report specified information regarding sexual misconduct on campuses.

Veterans

As states work to meet postsecondary attainment goals, efforts continue to promote higher education for U.S. military veterans. In 2020, 13 states passed 21 bills addressing veterans’ issues in postsecondary education including expanding access and creating processes for awarding credit for prior learning.

  • Florida HB 171—Requires the Board of Governors and State Board of Education to create a uniform system for the award of postsecondary credit to certain servicemembers and veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
  • Maryland HB 362—Increases the percentage of tuition that may be reimbursed of the cost of in-state tuition for courses for any active National Guard member attending certain institutions, expands the definition of member as it relates to who can receive tuition reimbursement to include any individual who holds a commission in the National Guard.
  • South Dakota HB 1069—Authorizes certain veterans to attend courses offered at postsecondary technical institutes without payment of tuition.

Governance and Finance

States continued an active role in oversight and governance of state postsecondary institutions and higher education agencies. In 2020, states passed 25 bills relating to governance in addition to 83 bills relating to appropriations and finance.

  • Colorado HB 1260—Authorizes the Department of Higher Education to collect the data necessary to calculate return on investment metrics related to student outcomes.
  • Colorado HB 1366—Establishes a new higher education funding allocation model beginning in FY 2021-22. The new model includes factors such as underrepresented minority student population share, Pell-eligible student population share, first-generation student population share & retention and completion rates.
  • Pennsylvania HB 2171—Provides the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Board expanded authority to implement mergers and consolidations without the approval of the legislature. Provides an exemption for institutions with over 10,000 students.
  • Virginia HB 1529—Requires that public institutions of higher education shall establish a policy for the acceptance of terms and conditions associated with any donation, gift, or other private philanthropic support.
  • West Virginia SB 839—Creates the State Advisory Council on Postsecondary Attainment Goals to ensure that students are provided opportunities to learn and earn the most relevant industry demanded knowledge, skills, and credentials to prepare students for the challenges of college, careers, and life.

Workforce Development

A majority of states considered bills addressing the intersection of postsecondary education and workforce development in 2020. Sixteen bills were enacted into law relating to workforce development and higher education.

  • Kentucky HB 419—Requires the Council on Postsecondary Education to compile most in-demand jobs in the state along with salary information. Also requires the collection and publication of data from postsecondary institutions including cost of attendance, graduation rates and starting salaries for graduates.
  • Louisiana SB 79—Creates the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative Fund for the purpose of funding degree and certificate programs in cybersecurity fields.
  • Virginia HB 1276—Requires each school board to include information in a career plan for career and technical education including: a list of the top professions in the commonwealth by median pay and the education, training, and skills required for each such profession and the top degree programs at institutions of higher education in the commonwealth by median pay of program graduates.

Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted higher education in the spring, legislators in several states moved to introduce legislation addressing the multitude of challenges created by the outbreak. 

  • Colorado HB 1407—Temporarily allows institutions of higher education to forego a national assessment test score (SAT/ACT) as an eligibility criterion of admission standards for first-time resident freshman students.
  • Louisiana HB 870—Waives or modifies certain eligibility provisions for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, in response to circumstances related to the Coronavirus public health emergency.
  • Maryland SB 329—Requires public institutions of higher education to submit an outbreak response plan. The plans must include processes to expediently notify students, families, faculty and staff of an outbreak and report contagious diseases to local and state health providers.
  • North Carolina SB 208—Provides immunity for institutions of higher education for claims related to coronavirus closures for spring 2020.

A complete list of bills related to the COVID-19 pandemic is available in the NCSL Education COVID-19 Bill Tracking Database.

State Ballot Measures 

  • California Proposition 16—Would overturn the state’s 1996 ban on the use of affirmative action in college admissions. FAILED. 
  • North Dakota Ballot Measure 1—Would expand the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education from eight members to 15. FAILED. 
  • New Mexico Bond Measure C—Would allow the state to release $156.4 million for facility upgrades, renovations and other projects at the state’s 33 higher education institutions, special schools and tribal schools. PASSED. 
  • Nevada Ballot Question 1—Would remove the Board of Regents from the Nevada Constitution and its control over the state's college and university system, opening the board to more control from the legislature. FAILED. 

Additional Resources 

Previous NCSL Higher Education Legislative Summaries