Recapping 2014 Legislative Activity and Trends in the West

Carl Krueger, Project Coordinator, Policy Analysis & Research, WICHE
Nov 12, 2014 12:25:10 PM

As was the case in 2013, higher education received significant attention during the 2014 legislative sessions in the West. Affordability emerged as the primary theme, as policymakers across the region passed bills freezing or limiting tuition increases and created new scholarships and other financial aid opportunities for students. Many Western states also increasingly looked to higher education as the driver of economic growth, as their legislatures focused more on community colleges and career and technical education, while others sought to encourage partnerships between business and postsecondary institutions. Other issues to watch in future sessions include undocumented students, guns on campus, military and veterans education, and the ongoing implementation of common academic standards that prepare students for college and careers.  

Specific and notable examples of state approaches to the key themes that dominated legislative sessions in the West in 2014 include the following examples:

Tuition and Fees:

  • After appropriating an additional $100 million to higher education, Colorado lawmakers sought to "ensure the affordable, quality education that is fundamental to Colorado?s economic development" with the passage of SB 1, more commonly known as Colorado's College Affordability Act. Under the measure, annual tuition increases at public institutions (excluding the Colorado School of Mines) are capped at 6 percent, down from 9 percent the previous year.
  • Similarly, after the Oregon Legislature provided an additional $40 million in funding to higher education with the passage of HB 3472 during the 2013 session, the State Board of Higher Education in 2014 froze tuition rates for the upcoming 2014-15 academic year at state institutions for the first time since 2001.

State Financial Aid:

  • HB 1384, passed in Colorado in 2014, establishes a Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative to award financial aid to state residents based on academic rigor. The law further develops criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of the initiative in improving higher education outcomes in the state, including reduced remediation rates, increased retention and graduation rates, and "improvements in tuition affordability."
  • In Washington, the passage of SB 6358 increases financial aid transparency and awareness for all students in the state, particularly disadvantaged students who often lack understanding of all the aid options available to them. Under the law, admitted and prospective students will receive information regarding financial aid opportunities and deadlines in their college acceptance letters. The law further encourages postsecondary institutions to make this information clearly available on their websites.

Accelerated Learning Options:

  • With the passage of HB 278, Alaska now offers dual credit to high school students who complete a vocational education course, with the goal that they will go on to complete a postsecondary certificate program.
  • Idaho devoted significant resources to the expansion of dual credit opportunities in the state with the passage SB 1233. Also known as the Advanced Opportunities Bill, the legislation covers 75 percent of the costs associated with dual credit courses and examinations by awarding all high school seniors a maximum of $400 and juniors a maximum of $200 to pursue dual enrollment opportunities.

Economic Development:

  • Passed by the Colorado General Assembly in 2014, SB 4 allows the state?s community colleges to offer four-year degrees in technical fields with high workforce and student demand. The degree must be "sufficiently distinguishable" from existing degree programs offered at four-year institutions in the geographic region of a community college.
  • In California, SB 850 also allows certain two-year institutions to award four-year degrees in specialized, high-demand fields in the state and fill workforce gaps. Specifically, 15 community colleges in the state will be able to start offering baccalaureate degrees beginning in 2017-18, provided they address a documented workforce need and are not already available at University of California or California State University campuses.

Outcomes-Based Funding:

  • With the passage of HB 1, Wyoming will now distribute $14.3 million from the general fund to the state?s community colleges over a two-year period (2014-16) based on the total number of course completions among all system colleges from the prior school year.

Undocumented Students:

  • After passing HB 1817, Washington now offers state financial aid to undocumented students after a similar measure failed to pass last year. To receive aid, a student must have lived in the state for at least three years and graduated from a Washington high school. The state had already extended in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students in 2003.

Guns on Campus:

  • In 2014, Idaho passed SB 1254, making it legal for anyone with an Idaho concealed weapons permit or retired law enforcement officers to carry a gun on all Idaho public campuses. The only exceptions are at venues that seat 1,000 or more people and dormitories.

Veterans Education:

  • With the passage of SB 16 in 2014, Utah created a Veterans Tuition Gap Program that provides additional grants to students who have maximized their federal Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance benefits. Additionally, with the passage of HB 45, Utah now extends in-state tuition benefits to military service members and veterans.

For a more complete and detailed description of activity from the 2014 Western legislative sessions, please read WICHE's Affordability and Student Success: Recapping 2014 Higher Education Legislative Activity in The West.