Budget cuts—and 9 more state policy issues that aren't going away

State appropriations rebound unlikely

Kristin Tyndall, editorKristin Tyndall, editor

The state policy outlook for 2017 can be summed up in four words: more of the same.

"Political dynamics in most states will remain similar to 2016," reads a recent report on the outlook for 2017 by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).

State funding will continue to be scarce, as higher education funding is an easy target for state governments looking to make up falling tax revenue, according to the AASCU. At the same time, state governments will likely continue looking to colleges and universities to produce skilled workers and revitalize local economies.

Here are the top 10 policy issues the AASCU predicts will shape higher education in 2017.

1. Higher education funding

Budget revenue for 2016 was lower than forecasted in 25 states, according to a report by the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Political conservatives are more likely to use budget cuts than tax hikes as a solution, the AASCU report notes, and state governments in 2017 are dominated by political conservatives. Republicans have been riding a surge in power at the state level that they haven't seen for a century, according to AASCU. 

200 sources of alternative revenue

2. Tuition

Student debt continues to be a major concern for students and lawmakers alike, but state appropriations cuts may lead colleges and universities to raise tuition, the AASCU predicts.

The Trump administration is unlikely to advance "free college" plans at the federal level, but the governors of both New York and Rhode Island have announced their own initiatives at the state level.

How free tuition initiatives affected colleges in three states

3. Workforce development

The most in-demand jobs of 2017 will require soft skills and college degrees.

The AASCU predicts lawmakers will continue turning to colleges to solve labor shortages, tackle the skills gap, and partner with industry for research and workforce pipelines.

Help students learn the soft skills that will get them hired

4. Undocumented students

President Trump has proposed repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and has criticized immigration policy under the Obama administration. In the wake of Trump's election last November, more than 100 college presidents signed a letter in support of DACA, while students nationwide demanded their campuses become sanctuaries for undocumented students.

The AASCU recommends keeping an eye on this issue not only at the federal level, but also at the state level. Lawmakers in some states have proposed legislation that would, for example, deny in-state tuition to undocumented and DACA students. 

How colleges are responding to sanctuary campus demands

5. Sexual violence on campus

Some experts predict the Trump administration will scale back federal enforcement of Title IX on college campuses, but the AASCU suggests that state lawmakers may take their own action. In 2016, nearly two dozen states introduced or enacted laws related to the issue.

Three ways to improve sexual misconduct reporting

6. Campus carry

Last year, two states forced colleges to permit concealed carry on campus—similar legislation was considered by lawmakers in 14 other states but ultimately failed in each of them. But the AASCU predicts that the gun lobby will only redouble efforts to overturn campus gun restrictions in 2017. 

Guns are changing classroom climates

7. Student success

Graduation rates have gotten more and more attention since 2009, when President Obama challenged America to have "the highest proportion of college graduates in the world" by 2020. In 2017, we've made progress, but we're still far behind Obama's goal, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

Given the state budget situation, many lawmakers may grow even more interested in performance-based funding. Around 35 states already use this funding model or are working to implement it. The jury's out on whether performance-based funding actually improves completion rates, the AASCU notes, but the group expects to see more research on this topic in the coming year.

Student success doesn't mean what it did a few decades ago

8. Civil rights

In 2016, discussions about diversity and freedom of speech on campus made headlines. Because state governments are now strongly conservative, the AASCU predicts "more conflicts and arguments over bias in the academy in 2017."

Step-by-step guide to building a diversity plan

9. The cost of college

In recent years, colleges have faced rising scrutiny over student debt and tuition costs. Several states considered legislation related to student debt in 2016—and the AASCU expects at least one to consider similar legislation in 2017. 

What students really think about affordability

10. Dual enrollment

Dual enrollment is booming, but logistical issues plague programs in some states. Not all dual-enrollment credits transfer easily to all postsecondary institutions, but students may not find out if a certain course is eligible until they've already completed it.

According to the AASCU, several state legislatures passed bills in 2016 to improve access to dual enrollment and more will consider similar legislation in 2017 (AASCU report, accessed 1/23; Fry, "Fact Tank," Pew Research Center, 1/18). 

Turn high school partnerships into college enrollments


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