As the need for a highly knowledgeable citizenry grows, fewer Americans are accessing training and education beyond high school. The failure to attain postsecondary degrees and workforce certificates is particularly pervasive among low-income and minority populations. An undereducated citizenry leaves the country at a competitive disadvantage, diminishes the middle class, and lowers the standard of living for more and more people. Although the federal government plays an important role in higher education, states bear the primary responsibility for developing their own public higher education systems, including policies for funding and governing higher education and for connecting higher education with public schools.
Findings and Recommendations
Make equity a top priority. The growing gaps in educational opportunity and attainment are one of the most serious issues facing higher education. No state can successfully meet their higher education challenges without creating a level playing field for low-income, minority, and first-generation college students.
Develop political consensus. States must develop political consensus for clear goals related to educational opportunity and attainment, as well as mechanisms to monitor and implement policies to achieve those goals.
Work on all areas of performance simultaneously. Disconnected efforts, such as a singular focus on college completion, are far less effective, compared to working on all higher education performance areas at once, including college preparation and affordability.
Create clear pathways to certificates and degrees. Greater state policy attention is required to ensure that high school students are prepared to academically succeed in postsecondary education, and to provide easy transfer for students from two-year to four-year institutions without losing credits.
Match educational institutions and providers with regional education needs. Failure to provide the right mix of institutions or programs matched to student needs compromises goals for educational attainment.
Focus on building incentives into state budget and linking finance policies. States must develop comprehensive higher education finance policies that offer incentives to institutions to increase institutional productivity, invest in student financial aid, and link tuition to the income of the population to be served.
The Seattle Times, February 27, 2014, State leaders blamed for higher-ed woes
InsideSources, July 27, 2014, Why State Leadership Matters for Improving Access to Higher Education