Higher Education Legislation in 2021

12/20/2021

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During the 2021 state legislative session, NCSL tracked more than 2,100 introduced bills relating to higher education in its Postsecondary Bill Tracking Database. As of December, more than 540 bills were passed and signed by governors in the 2021 session (compared to just under 300 enacted bills in 2020).

Common Areas of Enacted Legislation 

Financial Aid and Affordability 

Nearly 400 bills related to financial aid and affordability were introduced in 2021. Legislation addressed developing new financial aid programs, creating strategies to increase financial aid completion, and requiring new disclosures for fees at institutions.

Financial Aid Programs and Scholarships 
  • TN HB 6: Creates a pilot program for completion grants for Tennessee Promise students with financial hardships.
  • KS HB 2064: Creates the State Promise Scholarship Act and the State promise scholarship fund, provides postsecondary educational scholarships for certain two-year associate degree programs, career and technical education certificates and other stand-alone programs.
  • LA SB 148: Establishes the M.J. Foster Promise Program for students attending public two-year institutions.
FAFSA Completion Requirements and Promotion
  • CA AB 132: Postsecondary education trailer bill. Includes provisions to require local education agencies to confirm that high school seniors have completed their FAFSA form or California Dream Act application.
  • CO HB 1330: Creates a working group to study strategies to increase financial aid form completion and creates the Student Aid Applications Completion Grant Program to support local districts that require FAFSA completion for graduation.

Six states (Louisiana, Texas, Illinois, California, Alabama and Colorado) now have statewide policies addressing FAFSA completion for high school students. Two of these policies were enacted by legislatures this year.

Student Fee Disclosures 
  • OR HB 2542: Requires each public university and community college to prominently display mandatory fees charged.
  • MD SB 895: Requires that a student committee is presented with any proposed fees for their review, requires the amount of the fee, the students who will be charged the fee, and the proposed use of the revenues generated to be provided to the student committee, requires certain revenues to be retained by a certain campus unit or department unless the student committee approves an exception to the use of the fee.

Student Loans 

As federal loan payments remained paused and changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program were announced, state legislators continued to address student loan debt owed by borrowers in their states. In 2021, 19 states passed 27 bills related to student loans.

  • OK SB 261: Creates the Oklahoma Student Borrower's Bill of Rights Act, defines terms, directs the attorney general to prepare certain statement and make available to public, prohibits certain actions by student loan servicers, provides for codification and provides an effective date.
  • IL HB 2746: Creates the Know before You Owe Private Education Loan Act. Requires private education lenders to obtain certification from higher education institutions before issuing a loan to an individual. Institutions must inform student borrowers if they are eligible for available federal financial aid including federal student loans before certification. Requires private lenders to provide borrowers with a loan statement every three months and requires private education lenders to file reports with the student loan ombudsman.

Seventeen states have now passed legislation relating to student loan servicer requirements and student loan ombudsmen since 2015. All state legislation related to student loan debt is available in the NCSL Student Loan Bill Tracking Database.

Admissions 

State lawmakers continued to review concerns over admissions equity and the role of standardized tests in the college admissions process. Colorado became the first state to ban legacy admissions at public colleges. Illinois passed legislation requiring all public colleges and universities to become test-optional by next year.

  • CA AB 251: Prohibits certain senior administrators from being one of the three senior administrators tasked with approving students' admission by exception applications to a campus within the California State University (CSU) and if adopted by the University of California (UC) Board of Regents, the UC system.
  • CO HB 1173: Prohibits a state-supported institution of higher education from giving admissions preference to an applicant because they are related to alumni of the institution. Institutions may ask questions regarding familial relationships to alumni in order to collect data.
  • IL HB 226: Creates the Higher Education Fair Admissions Act, provides that a public institution of higher education may not require applicants who are residents to submit standardized college admissions test scores to the institution as a part of the admissions process, provides that the submission of standardized test scores to the institution shall be at the option of the applicant, requires the adoption of a policy.

Adult Learners 

Students older than 25 comprise nearly 40% of the postsecondary education student body. Legislators continued to develop and expand strategies to promote degree and credential attainment for older learners.  

  • DE SB 12: Expands the Delaware Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) program to adult residents who are not recent high school graduates.
  • UT HB 328: Creates the Adult Learners Grant Program, provides financial assistance to adult students pursuing online education.
  • NCSL LegisBrief: State Higher Education Efforts Aimed at Adult Learners

Campus Safety 

As more students returned to campus, legislators passed legislation addressing guns on campus, hazing and sex trafficking concerns. Several states also enacted bills related to sexual assault and misconduct on campus.

  • MT HB 102: Prohibits the state university system and Board of Regents from regulating guns on campus.
  • OH SB 126: Enacts Collin's Law, the Ohio Anti-Hazing Act, regards hazing policies at colleges and criminal prohibitions against hazing. Increases the legal penalties for hazing to a felony, creates a new statewide curriculum for college students about hazing and requires more transparency at the university level to report instances of hazing.
  • OK HB 2396: Directs the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to allow a series of prevention and education programs regarding sex trafficking and exploitation to all freshman students enrolled in institutions within the Oklahoma state system of higher education. Directs institutions to provide all freshmen the opportunity to attend one of three on-campus, voluntary sex trafficking and exploitation prevention and education programs.
Campus Safety (Sexual Assault & Title IX) 
  • IL SB 1610: Requires each higher education institution to annually conduct a sexual misconduct climate survey of all students at the institution, and creates the Task Force on Campus Sexual Misconduct Climate Surveys.
  • NV SB 347: Creates the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct at Institutions of Higher Education, requires the Task Force to develop a climate survey on sexual misconduct, authorizes the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada to require the institutions within the Nevada system of higher education to administer the climate survey to students, authorizes the imposition of additional requirements for the grievance.

Governance and Finance

State legislation continued to review governance systems that oversee public colleges and universities. Several states added or expanded the powers of student members of state boards and Arizona became the 24th state to allow community colleges to offer bachelor's degree programs.

  • AZ SB 1453: Allows state community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees beginning in fall 2023.   
  • CA AB 337: Eliminates the prohibition against a student member of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges voting at a board meeting during the student member's first year on the board.
  • OR SB 712: Modifies the membership of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to include a graduate student from a public university.
  • TN HB 1351: Requires each institution governed by the board of regents or a state university board to make the grievance procedure for its support staff employees available on its website.

Student Supports 

Despite large infusions of federal relief from the CARES Act, surveys show many students are still struggling to meet basic needs such as hunger, housing, child care and transportation. States continued to explore programs and strategies to support students facing these obstacles.

  • AR HB 1462: Allows a state-supported two-year or four-year institution of higher education to designate from amongst current staff members of the institution of higher education a homeless and foster student liaison.
  • DE HB 240: Creates the Korey Thompson Student Emergency Housing Assistance Fund for the benefit of housing insecure undergraduate students at any college or university in Delaware and appropriates $90,000 to the fund for FY 2022.
  • MD HB 891: Establishes the Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program to address student hunger and basic food needs on campus, requires the Maryland Higher Education Commission to administer the program, develop a certain form, and designate certain campuses as hunger-free campuses, authorizes certain public institutions of higher education to develop certain procedures and make certain information publicly available.
  • OR HB 2835: Requires each community college and public university to hire a benefits navigator to assist students in determining eligibility and applying for federal, state and local benefits programs, requires community colleges and public universities to establish statewide consortium to enable benefits navigators to coordinate with benefits navigators at other institutions and to develop best practices, provides for student feedback, declares emergency.

Veterans 

Legislation continued to support credit for prior learning for military or veteran students. Since 2016, at least 20 states have passed legislation relating to credit for prior learning.

  • LA SB 27: Expands veteran-friendly campus designation policies to nonpublic higher education institutions. Requires the Statewide Articulation and Transfer Council to use nationally recognized standards for evaluating educational experiences in the U.S. Armed Forces. Also requires public post-secondary education institutions to evaluate the transcript of veterans or their spouses upon the disclosure of military status on the application for enrollment.
  • NE LB 669: Requires public postsecondary institutions to automatically accept eligible military students or veteran students, who graduated from Nebraska high schools on or after 2002 and meet admissions requirements.

Workforce Development 

States continued to develop workforce connections and programs including apprenticeships and vocational training programs. 

  • CO HB 1007: Creates the State Apprenticeship Agency and the State Apprenticeship Council in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
  • NY SB 874: Establishes the state university of New York educational opportunity centers which provide an integrated system of education, vocational training and student support services targeted to higher education access and the development of a quality workforce which supports the economic development of New York's distressed communities.

Additional Resources 

Previous NCSL Higher Education Legislative Summaries