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2014 State Legislative Preview
The 2014 legislative sessions
look to be extremely busy and interesting ones. All of the states except four
(Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas) will meet in 2014. As of January 10,
over half of the states have already begun their sessions. With 2014 being an
important election year, states with initiatives will likely see a variety of
pressing and perhaps divisive issues appear on state ballots (such as gun laws)
and other single-issue campaigns could emerge to dominate legislative
conversations. While at the national level, the intense battle for
congressional seats and control of the U.S. Senate is expected to continue the
ongoing partisan gridlock. Sensing that Washington politics has rendered
Congress ineffective, many voters are looking to the states to get things done,
providing legislators a great opportunity in 2014 to demonstrate their ability
to innovate and effectively solve problems. As in previous years, we expect
that higher education issues will see significant action, even given the
competing pressures of health care reform, Medicaid expansion, hydraulic
fracking, and infrastructure issues.
The overall amount of state
funding for higher education is a top issue every year. Last year was an
unusually good tax revenue year, and all but about five states increased state
support for higher education. Institutions in at least nine states agreed to
freeze tuition in exchange for more public dollars. Heading into 2014,
legislators are optimistic but cautious about budgets and the economy. Legislative
fiscal officers report to NCSL that overall, state budgets appear to be
stabilizing and settling into a period of modest growth. However, many
legislators are unsure whether this trend can be sustained, and many are
concerned about how federal budget decisions will continue to impact states. As
legislators make appropriations decisions in 2014, this dynamic budget
environment is coupled with legislators' intense concern about the high cost of
college and how they can protect students from amassing significant student
debt while obtaining their degrees. Even with more modest revenue growth
projected in 2014, we expect many states to maximize higher education
appropriations in an effort to freeze or at least limit tuition increases.
In recent years as competing priorities have placed tremendous pressure on state budgets, many states started to reconsider funding formulas used allocate state funds. Close to 30 states have implemented or are in the process of implementing outcomes-based funding models. We expect interest in these models to continue, especially as states begin to obtain preliminary data about whether these programs are positively impacting student outcomes.
We expect legislatures to continue to consider and enact policies to improve student access, success, and overall education attainment. Many states are thinking about transfer and articulation agreements, competency based learning, developmental education, and the use of technology to lower costs (e.g. MOOCs, online degrees, etc.). To improve overall education attainment, legislators in most states are looking at how to identify adults with some credit but no degree and help support their efforts to finish a degree or credential. Legislators remain intensely interested in jobs - providing more of them, making sure citizens are ready for them, and making sure that colleges and universities are offering the kinds of courses, credentials, certificates and degrees that align with what employers and emerging businesses need. Legislators are also very interested in helping veterans. This includes granting veterans immediate residency for tuition purposes and applying military experience toward college credit.
Finally, as the availability of online resources for students continues to grow, legislators are concerned about quality and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the state and students are protected and well served. The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) is one important effort to establish standards for interstate offerings of postsecondary distance education programs and courses.