Plunging enrollment, providing equitable education, and a dwindling K12 teacher workforce. This is but a mere sample of concerns that must be addressed at the state level. And with a new year comes new opportunities.
Since the pandemic, colleges and universities have struggled to alleviate stressors that existed even prior to the pandemic, such as affordable college and higher ed’ value proposition. Unfortunately, the past two years exacerbated those effects, not only across postsecondary institutions but in the K12 sphere as well, and those two worlds work hand-in-hand with one another.
The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO), an organization that serves to support statewide governing, policy and coordinating boards of postsecondary education staff, recently published a report outlining 10 state priorities for higher education in 2023.
Let’s first take a look at the top three, starting with the national teacher shortage which was tied for the number one priority in 2023.
K12 teacher workforce
As school districts continue to face challenges in recruiting and retaining their teaching staff, leaders in higher education fear how it will impact students’ success in college.
“The shortages, which were exacerbated by the pandemic, vary across districts, regions, states, and teacher specialties, and have left schools increasingly dependent on emergency certifications to fill key positions,” the report reads. “In the survey, SHEEOs noted that student success in higher education is built upon a foundation in K12 education and the central role of high-quality K12 teachers in contributing to students’ successful educational journeys.
“SHEEOs also noted that the teacher shortage is a multifaceted issue that requires the attention of the higher education community, but also an examination of other factors, including poor teacher pay, a lack of respect for the profession, and political agendas aimed at teachers.”
Economic and workforce development
Tied with the K12 teacher workforce, economic and workforce development is the number one public policy issue for SHEEOs entering 2023. Although the issue existed for years prior to the pandemic, the pandemic created even more complex disruptions to the labor market that may trouble states for years to come.
“State higher education leaders advance economic and workforce development objectives by collaborating with employers to identify needs and developing programs and partnerships aligned to their needs,” the report reads. “In the survey, SHEEOs noted significant unmet labor market demands in their states, its centrality as a state policy priority, and the need for public higher education to demonstrate its value to stakeholders by meeting state workforce needs. They also noted that higher education itself needs to be seen for its contributions beyond economic and workforce development.”
State funding for financial aid programs
Despite seeing little overall state support, financial aid programs were the third most important issue as indicated by survey respondents.
“SHEEOs described financial aid programs as an important priority for states that currently rank low in need-based aid and seek to expand and fund new programs, as well as states with large preexisting investments in financial aid that seek to maintain or grow their programs despite the looming threat of an economic recession.
The upcoming legislative session serves as an opportunity for policymakers to make “historic investments” in public postsecondary education, the report highlights.
“Higher education can be a key partner for states as they seek to navigate the complex, multifaceted challenges of the post-pandemic era and work to build a durable economic foundation for the years ahead. Because of this unique opportunity, the decisions made this year will affect both higher education and states for years to come.”
Additional state priorities among the top 10 list
4. State operating support for public colleges and universities
5. Higher education’s value proposition
6. Enrollment decline
6 (tie). College affordability
8. Public perception of higher education
9. Addressing equity gaps
10. College completion/student success