Here are states’ top 10 priorities for higher education in 2024

"While campus leaders throughout the country confront these macro-level challenges, their financial outlooks increasingly diverge based on enrollment demand, revenue diversity and institutional resources," the report reads.

Another year, another opportunity for higher education stakeholders to set the agenda for state policy and improve its value.

While 20 states this year are in the middle of their biennial cycle, the remaining states will fight to pass favorable budgets that can alleviate the challenges colleges and universities face today. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) has surveyed its members, comprising university system chancellors and state department higher education directors, to identify which policy issues will take center stage.

In the report, SHEEO identified that the majority of states in question this year are working on healthy budgets thanks to a sturdy national economy and robust reserve funds. However, growing investment needs across state government, coupled with volatile budget surpluses, require higher ed stakeholders to remain incisive with their demands.

Some of the sector’s most pressing issues are defending its relevancy and value for attractive employment opportunities, staving off precarious federal funding distribution due to a shaky FAFSA rollout and changes to Title IX funding and addressing campus climate and free speech. Many institutions are balancing these issues with internal shortcomings deriving from strained budgets.

“While campus leaders throughout the country confront these macro-level challenges, their financial outlooks increasingly diverge based on enrollment demand, revenue diversity and institutional resources,” the report reads.

Of the 25 policy issues SHEEO identified as top-of-mind, they described the specifics of the top 10 in detail.

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  1. Economic and workforce development: Increased retirement rates, lower birth rates and a pandemic-era slowdown have created a severe workforce shortage, an economic strain that prompted SHEEO to rank this as the most critical issue for the second straight year. Colleges and universities must develop academic programs that are more effective in filling in-demand jobs in their states.
  2. State operating support for public colleges and universities. State support for higher education decreased in more than half of all states between 2020-22 when adjusted for inflation, destroying momentum built over the last two decades. Increased state funding is necessary to offset current inflation rates, eating into employee wages and boosting tuition prices.
  3. Higher education’s value proposition: Students, parents and the overall community are increasingly unconvinced about how higher education is conducive to learners’ overall financial success.
  4. College affordability: Colleges want to better coordinate efforts between operating appropriations, student financial aid programs and policies to set tuition rates that better reflect their communities.
  5. State funding for financial aid programs: States with lower-performing need-based financial aid programs, as well as those looking to expand them, tended to rank this initiative as very important.
  6. Public perception of higher education: It’s increasingly becoming divided by partisanship. Republicans have become vocal over its “liberal indoctrination,” which has led some states to propose measures against diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
  7. College completion/student success: Recent data identified by SHEEO found that at least 62% of borrowers who have defaulted on their federal loans did not earn a credential.
  8. Enrollment declines: Institutions depending on enrollment for a significant portion of their revenue have had to undergo dramatic operational cuts to adjust.
  9. K12 teacher workforce: School districts’ inability to retain teachers can cause significant setbacks to learners’ education, furthering states from their attainment goals and intention to close historical equity gaps.
  10. Adult/nontraditional student success: This cohort makes up approximately three-quarters of total undergraduate enrollment but requires an entirely different toolbox to succeed.
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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