students in protective face masks mingle outside Bolton Dining Commons at the University of Georgia

Students mingle outside Bolton Dining Commons at the University of Georgia in August. The pandemic contributed significantly to the decline in the volume of postsecondary-education bills passed in 2020 sessions.

Session Review: Postsecondary Education Bills Passed in 2020

By Andrew Smalley | Dec. 10, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

State lawmakers passed nearly 300 bills relating to postsecondary education in 2020, but that was a marked decline from the more than 600 passed in 2019. The coronavirus pandemic contributed significantly to the decline in the volume of bills and radically altered state plans for program expansions and funding increases to support institutions and students.

Legislators were forced to consider measures to address the immediate challenges created by the pandemic. Among these obstacles were modifications to state financial aid programs, liability protections for institutions and outbreak response plans on campuses.

States also continued to address ongoing issues, including financial aid and affordability, more broadly. Tennessee lawmakers passed the Financial Aid Simplification for Tennesseans (FAST) Act, which is a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s postsecondary scholarship programs and includes provisions to support nontraditional students. Washington passed SB 6241, creating various initiatives to promote the completion of college financial aid applications, 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 use in calculating the cost of attendance.

Student Loans

Student loans remained an important focus for state legislators even as the federal CARES Act provided temporary relief for borrowers. Virginia HB 10 establishes new licensure requirements for student loan servicers, and Louisiana HB 676 allows the state to prohibit institutions from withholding student transcripts due to an outstanding student loan debt.

As in previous years, governance and finance issues remained prominent. Colorado HB 1366 creates a higher education funding allocation model that includes factors shared by underrepresented minority student population, including Pell-eligible student population, first-generation student population, and retention and completion rates. With potential budget cuts looming, Pennsylvania lawmakers enacted HB 2171, providing the state’s higher education board with expanded authority to implement mergers and consolidations at smaller institutions.

Campus Safety

With the passage of HB 705, New Hampshire was one of nine states to specifically address sexual violence on campus. The legislation will require institutions to work more closely with local law enforcement and provide more resources and counseling services.

In a year of economic uncertainty, legislators worked to strengthen connections between higher education and workforce development. Kentucky HB 419 requires the Council on Postsecondary Education to compile the state’s most in-demand jobs along with salary information, and Virginia HB 1276 requires each school board to include information on professional and technical education options in career plans.

 Andrew Smalley is a research analyst in NCSL’s Education Program.

Additional Resources