Statehouse Test is a weekly analysis of governors' inaugural and state-of-the-state addresses, and budgets, related to postsecondary education.

Search Blogs

  • Keyword Search

  • Filter by:

  • Filter by:

Statehouse Test

Statehouse Test is a weekly analysis of governors' inaugural and state-of-the-state addresses, and budgets, related to postsecondary education.

By Kristin Conklin March 1, 2011 6:28 pm UTC

The message from governors during the National Governors Association meeting this week is abundantly clear: any additional budget cuts at the federal level represent economic Jenga at the state level. Economic recovery at the state level is precarious. States continuing to bear the brunt of high unemployment and anemic job growth simply cannot endure any further burden or upset wrought by their federal partners.

“We are fragile, so anything Congress does, whether it’s a shutdown or cuts, that will directly impact the states can be of considerable concern to us because we don’t need a hiccup right now in our recovery,” said NGA Chairman and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.

The governors’ angst reflects a roiling frustration with the economic outlook in the populace, which has profound implications for the college completion agenda. A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University poll of attitudes in the aftermath of the economic downturn found the epicenter of financial stress and frustration is among whites without college degrees. A mere 10 percent say they are satisfied with the nation's current economic situation. Most -- 56 percent -- say the country's best days are past, and more -- 61 percent -- say it will be a long time before the economy begins to recover.

Interestingly, African Americans and Hispanics -- the fastest growing segments of our population -- are more optimistic, despite being more adversely impacted by the economic downturn. Two-thirds of Hispanics believe hard work will pay off for them and expect their financial status to improve in the coming year. More than half of African Americans feel they are better off than their parents were, and 60 percent believe their children will be better off than they are today.

It’s probably not a coincidence that African Americans and Hispanics also report higher aspirations for college -- recognizing college as a gateway to upward economic mobility. According to a Pew Hispanic Center poll, nearly nine in 10 Hispanics say it's "necessary" to get a college education to get ahead in life -- more than any other ethnic or racial group.

To make these aspirations a reality, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) announced an ambitious initiative. The Generation 1st Degree program aims to help at least one person in every Hispanic household earn a college degree so that the degree-holder can then help others in the family achieve the goal as well. The initiative seeks to move the U.S. Latino degree attainment rate from 19 percent to 60 percent by 2025.

Increasing college attainment levels among unemployed, low-income and minority students will exponentially improve economic prospects. HSF estimates lifetime earnings would increase by more than $20 trillion for Hispanics alone if the 60 percent attainment goal is reached.

This is the kind of economic growth that makes the deep federal budget cuts governors fear less disconcerting. The New York Times’ David Leonhardt analyzed an Urban Institute and Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center report and concludes that if the economy grew one half of a percentage point faster than forecast each year over the next two decades -- no easy feat -- the federal government would have to do roughly 40 to 50 percent less deficit-cutting.

That would mean far fewer painful choices, be they tax increases or Medicaid cuts.

This year marks the first year that the oldest members of the baby boomer generation turn 65. Boomers represent nearly 80 million people in America, or about one-fourth of the entire U.S. population. Our nation’s ability to pay social security benefits will be severely limited if young adults -- the majority of which will be the African American and Hispanic populations least well-served by our higher education system today -- are unprepared and unproductive in the work force.

As this blog series has illuminated, more and more governors understand that regaining our position as a global leader in college completion hinges on embracing our demographic future and its college completion imperative.

Governor Mike Beebe of Arkansas is seeking more accountability and results:

"I want to tie funding for higher-education institutions more closely to coursework completion and graduation rates, not simply to enrollment. These tax dollars must produce college graduates, not just fill up seats. We can and must double the number of college graduates in Arkansas by 2025 if we are to stay competitive.”

Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland echoed:

“Innovation. Education. College completion. At the end of the day, it’s all about job creation and job retention. No family can make real progress without a job…. To create more jobs, we must leverage the power of our diversity.”

Nevada’s Governor Brian Sandoval said:

“Universities and community colleges must develop a more strategic focus that connects degree programs and the state’s economic development efforts. I would also ask that at least 15 percent of any increased tuition be reserved to ensure access for those who need financial aid. As we increase autonomy, we will also increase performance indicators so that graduation rates, completion times, and access are measures of success.”

America is demographically blessed -- surrounded by growth and diversity -- on the way to being a majority minority nation by 2050. These demographic riches give us a distinct advantage.

Competitors like Japan, Britain and Germany are either growing slowly or declining, struggling to both maintain a productive work force and paying for baby boomer generations. Rising nations like China remain relatively homogeneous.

Governors are in a position to use their bully pulpits and policy agendas to declare unequivocally that we need 16 million more graduates by 2025 than we currently produce – and that this will require an unprecedented attention to closing longstanding gaps in access and success for low-income, adult, first-generation and students of color. The higher education system that served the nation’s governors is no longer sufficient to serve today’s and tomorrow’s students. Public policies must make productivity, quality, and innovation central objectives, all tracking toward the attainment of statewide and campus completion goals.

As a first-generation college graduate and benefactor of policies advancing postsecondary education for low-income students, it has been a personal and professional pleasure for me to highlight state leaders advancing a college completion agenda in this blog series. As today’s title indicates, we are facing an enormous test of economic resilience and our national commitment to ensuring all Americans have opportunities to achieve their full potential and succeed. With the right mix of public and political will, it’s a test I know we can pass.

By Kristin Conklin February 21, 2011 9:40 pm UTC

Governors' state of the state addresses inevitably feature soaring rhetoric, tough talk, and bold promises. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels's recent State of the State address to the General Assembly invokes the evergreen sports imagery to suggest his state is positioned for a unique moment in history. He said:

“For us sports fans, recent times have brought a frustrating string of 'almosts.' At 60, Tom Watson almost won the British Open. The Colts almost won the Super Bowl. Little Butler almost won a national basketball championship. Besides the disappointment of coming so close, the bad thing about 'almosts' is knowing that you may never get that close to victory, and history, again.

This cannot be the 'almost' General Assembly. We are on the 18th hole, in the red zone, on the final possession of a chance for historic greatness. Indiana has waited long enough for … an education system known for excellence … [to] deliver the results our kids deserve.… We cannot 'almost' end the waiting.

One thing is certain. The rest of the world will not wait on us.... Now comes the chance to lead….

Our children are waiting. Our fellow citizens are waiting. History is waiting…. You’re going to do great things. I can’t wait.”

Indiana is not alone. Many states are poised to enact historic legislation and implement policy to advance education attainment and the completion agenda. However, crossing the goal line will require a cadre of competent bureaucrats -- the real Cinderellas of the statehouse balls.

Yes, the “b” word is certainly unfashionable. No child ever says they want to grow up to be a bureaucrat. But that’s only because the term is just misunderstood and unappreciated. A state’s bureaucratic infrastructure is akin to research and development at Apple -- imperative for generating new sources of revenue and staying competitive.

Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal is learning that. Last year, his state passed an innovative bill that would grant higher education institutions the authority to raise tuition when they meet ambitious targets for increasing graduation rates. The new law could go a long way to keep the state’s focus on more effectively serving students and the state’s work force. But making the law work as intended requires valid analysis and reporting to determine which institutions are meeting targets and which are not, and by how much.

Enter the bureaucrats. Further analysis could help pinpoint trends in enrollment and completion to help colleges and universities improve their completion/graduation rates.

Louisiana and other states might look to Tennessee for pointers. This month, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) issued a report on the degree programs in the state that are most effective in generating graduates and those that aren’t. The report is one of many THEC produces to guide effective policy. The data is gold in making a higher education productivity agenda work. Given this valuable support from state bureaucracy, it’s easy to see why Tennessee has the longest-standing performance funding formula legislation in the country, and the first legislation of its kind focused on college completion and productivity.

It’s not coincidental that Tennessee’s new Governor Bill Haslam appears to fully embrace the state’s college completion agenda, even though it started under a governor of a different party. Incoming governors, like Haslam, are able to review the data generated by the state’s bureaucratic infrastructure to quickly see why and how higher education reform can lead to a stronger economy and workforce, not to mention making better use of students’ tuition money.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will need this kind of analysis. In legislation introduced this year, McDonnell set a goal to produce 100,000 more degrees in the state over the next 15 years, with a focus on science. A goal this ambitious should represent a full employment effort for state’s bureaucrats. Achieving the goal will require designing and validating metrics and reporting on progress. The state will need to know which institutions and degree programs are helping the effort; which students are dropping out, when and why; and the number and types of jobs projected for the skills and degrees in the pipeline – the blessed work of a bureaucrat.


No state’s higher education system has suffered more than California. Serial cutbacks have decimated the state’s bureaucratic infrastructure. Recognizing the key role goal setting, analysis and data play in engineering a recovery, former state bureaucrat and U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Education Robert Shireman now leads the nonprofit Higher Education & the California Economy. That organization and another, the California College Access Foundation, are committed to strengthening policy decisions with grounding in sound data and analysis.
Shireman knows this vital function – performed by… bureaucrats -- is key to engaging the public as well as state business leaders in achieving more higher education opportunities for California students.

An analysis conducted by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) reveals that states with double digit state funding increases are the result of strong higher education policy agendas guided by continuous analysis. These are not states with the richest tax base, or the highest proportion of college enrollment. They are states, like Kentucky and Maryland, whose commitment to higher education reform is backed by an internal capacity to analyze, uncover trends and act on them to improve service to students.

Those embedded in the state’s bureaucratic infrastructure can also be excellent inertia busters. When the going gets tough, these bureaucrats get going. Fully versed with the latest statistics and analysis, these are the “go to” trusted sources of information for governors’ offices, legislators, businesses, K-12 and others. These low-profile work horses are the unsung heroes behind every successfully implemented piece of legislation. It’s time they get a shout out.

By Kristin Conklin February 15, 2011 7:03 pm UTC

Last week we observed the prevalence of the term “innovation” in political speech and what it will take to make the alluring rhetoric a reality in our nation’s education, economy and way of life. This week we examine another equally popular term – “college and career ready.” Everyone wants it. No one opposes it. But how do we get it? The answer: gubernatorial leadership.

Governors have the power through their bully pulpit, budgets, and appointments to statewide and institutional governing boards to make the promise of the Common Core Standards a reality in classrooms, college placement decisions, and first-year college courses. They are best positioned to galvanize highly decentralized, unique, higher education institutions in the common cause of college readiness. Without strong, coordinated consensus and effort across institutions, incrementalism will continue to rule the day. Readiness has inched up 3 percentage points over the last five years; today 24 percent of ACT test takers meet all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks.

While 40 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core Standards, a report from the Center on Education Policy shows states have taken limited steps to connect the high school standards to college curriculums or higher education admissions requirements. In the survey conducted in October and November, the center found that only seven states plan to align first-year college courses with the K-12 Common Core standards and most will not align with admissions.

Two consortiums (the SMARTER Balance Assessment and PARCC Consortium) are applying the great forces of research, leading expertise and decades of teaching and learning experience to develop common assessments. Governors and higher education leaders should be pushing and pulling higher education to the table to vet, validate, and use those assessments.

Governors state the “what”: all students prepared for college and career success. Colleges define the “how”: what students need to know and be able to do in college. The California State University System’s use of the Early Assessment Program (EAP) is an excellent model.

Eight years ago, the Cal State system developed a test in math and English as an early alert system for high school juniors, letting them know whether they are on track to attend one of their campuses. California high school students use the results in deciding whether to seek extra math and English help in their senior year.

Chancellor Charles Reed’s leadership marshaled all 23 CSU campuses to embrace the EAP as a solid measure of college readiness to promote with prospective students. This feat signaled an important united front that colleges and universities will actively work with K-12 schools to prepare students for graduation -- not simply remediate them once they show up as freshmen.

California went even further than making EAP the default placement exams for college, they used test result data to create curriculum modules and training to address commonly identified skills gaps, and partnered with state agencies and districts to create curricular frameworks that give teachers practical classroom tools. Colleges of education reorganized teacher preparation around the curriculum. They took responsibility for prospective students success, because they realized how much more productive higher education can be with college-ready students.

So where are governors in pushing/pulling higher ed to the common core standards/assessment table? So far, no governor has said that higher education has to participate and use the tests currently in development, but several certainly articulate a powerful imperative:

“…the brute facts persist: only one in three of our children can pass the national math or reading exam. We trail far behind most states and even more foreign countries on measures like excellence in math: at the recent rate of improvement, it would take twenty-one years for us to catch Slovenia, and that’s if Slovenia stands still. That’s too long to wait. That's too many futures to lose.”
~ Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels

“It’s as though kids in Delaware and across the country have essentially been practicing basketball on an 8-foot high rim. But kids around the world have been practicing on a hoop 10 feet high. Our kids may be good at hitting those 8-foot shots -- but the game is played at a higher level. So when we tell our kids they are proficient based on an assessment that is used only within our borders, but then they must compete with students outside of our borders used to making the harder shot, then we’re not being very honest with them."
--Delaware Gov. Jack Markell

“We need to do a much better job with connecting our workforce development efforts with our community colleges and economic development organizations. Instead of simply putting people in training courses, we will focus on looking at future employment trends and developing clear paths for people in need to get the skills they need to find and be successful in real jobs.”
~ Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

Past is prologue. Governors can’t assume that 6,900 higher education institutions will take the initiative to implement the Common Core Standards. Gubernatorial leadership is the only force strong enough to create a gravitational pull that unites higher education’s splintered enterprise, with its own governing board, own tuition-setting powers, and marketing that emphasizes distinctions.

A recent report issued by Achieve, SHEEO, and the American Council on Education provides astute guidance for higher education in implementing the CCS. If governors can keep higher ed provosts, deans and faculty at the table reviewing and validating the assessments, they will do for the nation, what California did with its assessments aligned to college expectations. They will inspire confidence in the standards, sustain focus on achieving college-ready students, and reshape how teachers and principals are trained.

We must face the cold facts. College readiness is stuck. New York State education officials released statistics that show fewer than half of students in the state are leaving high school prepared for college and well-paying careers. Only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009. Those are futures we can’t afford to lose. Let’s get to work.

By Kristin Conklin February 7, 2011 8:26 pm UTC

Dallas may have been the center of the sports world on Sunday during the Super Bowl. But Texas aims to be the center for innovation when it comes to producing thousands more graduates who are prepared for higher education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The state’s T-STEM initiative is leveraging public and private support to turn out more than 3,000 new graduates each year who are ready for college and careers in STEM-related fields; recruit and train teachers in STEM subject areas; and foster a statewide network of best practices.

Innovation is an increasingly popular term taking center stage in federal and state policy discussions. It was a key component of President Obama’s State of the Union address and his call to action for America to “win the future.” He referenced innovation 10 times, in fact, and said, "innovation doesn't just change our lives, it's how we make a living."

“Innovation” has also been a hallmark of governors’ inaugural and state of the state addresses. A majority of the 39 governors who delivered their agenda-setting speeches cite the importance of innovation and fostering advances in education performance and economic growth.

For example, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada said, “Our future lies in business sectors like technology commercialization, bioscience, renewable energy asset development, and defense sector expansion. Innovation will drive tomorrow’s economy, and so it must drive our decision-making as we rebuild our economic development infrastructure.” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon tied innovation to his support for financial aid and community colleges.

But is all the talk about innovation among our elected officials just rhetoric? How exactly do we make a living from innovation?

It starts at the top but it happens in our schools, universities, and businesses.

Governors and our education systems must do their part in developing the next generation of big thinkers, problem solvers, and inventors. So, are states leaders or laggards when it comes to innovation, particularly in the vital STEM fields?

Many states are making innovation a priority, realizing there’s no time to waste.

Innovation in science produced approximately half of our economic growth over the last 50 years, and is expected to grow at twice the rate of our economy between now and 2018, according to the National Science Foundation and Anthony Carnevale of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. More than two-thirds of STEM jobs in the coming years will require a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Are our states and our education system equipped to meet this challenge?

With all the data and all the talk in recent years about the need to increase the number of students earning STEM degrees, we should be seeing a spike in degrees, right? Not so much. The number of STEM bachelor’s degrees is actually growing at a slower pace than other degrees like business, social sciences, and visual and performing arts. Additionally, the United States ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering.

With less than half of U.S. students taking math beyond two years of algebra and one year of geometry, it’s no wonder that China now produces eight times more scientists and engineers than the U.S. and India produces three times as many.

West Virginia understands the need for a dual focus on completion of STEM degrees and incubating new industries. Thanks to the leadership of state officials, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and former Gov. Joe Manchin, a former Union Carbide facility is being transformed into a new research campus, the West Virginia Education, Research and Technology Park. With one of the few states with a surplus this budget year, the state would be wise to target funding toward a completion-focused performance funding model and the new innovation park that can prosper with a new generation of STEM graduates.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it clear that partnering with the State University of New York (SUNY) is vital to revitalizing the state’s economy.

Gov. Cuomo calls for new regional councils, led by a SUNY institution, to compete against each other “for up to $200 million in funding. Competition works. Let them come up with their best plans, compete against the other regions and we will fund the most creative plans,” he said.

In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell is trying to deliver on his campaign pledge to ensure that 100,000 more degrees are awarded in the state over the next 15 years, with a focus on science. “These new degrees will make Virginia one of the most highly educated states in the world,” McDonnell said in his state of the state address.

The governor backed up his rhetoric with funding proposals, including $25 million for the Virginia Research and Technology Innovation Program and $5 million to support small business growth through the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority.

Governors may set expectations and provide seed capital for innovation, but colleges and universities must create an environment for innovation to flourish and spread. The Oscar-nominated movie, “The Social Network,” demonstrates how an innovation like Facebook can be sparked on a college campus – and then can quickly outrun its network, its culture, and its hallowed traditions. Innovation at its best improves and advances by engaging more and more minds and users. In the book, Where Good Ideas Come From, the author Steven Johnson urges an open-sourced approach to invention and problem solving. He says innovation is most likely to occur when ideas from different people, and even different fields, are “rapidly banging against one another.”

Unleashing innovation is how we will make a living. And it will define our way of life for decades to come.

By Kristin Conklin February 1, 2011 3:56 am UTC

From an early age we drill into children’s heads that they need to work hard to go to college so they can prepare for a successful life. Many students and their families take out loans and drain savings to pay for college. And for what? Are they getting what they pay for?

This month, we learned that nearly half the nation’s undergraduates learned little in their first two years of college. According to a study included in Richard Arum’s and Josipa Roksa’s new book, Academically Adrift, many students graduate without the competencies they will need to participate fully in American society.

These findings and a growing fear of debt and confusion about the cost of college give dangerous credence to arguments that maybe college isn’t really for everyone,. It’s a crisis of confidence that threatens our economy, democracy, national security, and yes, even our happiness.

How do we regain national confidence in the value of higher education? The answer: Make it more valuable. In addition to making higher education more productive—the topic of prior posts this month, this value proposition will require a logical progression to competency-based higher education.

With the encouragement of Complete College America’s Alliance of States and the National Governors Association (NGA), governors are leading the charge by setting completion goals, with public reporting and increased accountability for common completion metrics. Declaring that higher education success leads to economic success, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert called for 66 percent of Utahans ages 20 to 64 to have a postsecondary degree or professional certification by 2020. In his first state of the state address, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie endorsed the University of Hawaii’s “Graduation Initiative” and its ambitious goal to increase the number of college graduates by 25 percent by 2015.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper asked his state to be ready for difficult choices for the state’s colleges and universities. He also stressed: “In the end, we believe we’ll need to engage all of Colorado in a serious conversation about the value of higher education.”

It is high time for the kind of competency-based higher education that galvanizes state leaders, colleges and universities, faculty and even students in defining and measuring the kind of education that prepares students to think critically, problem solve, invent, and advance on the job. Students and their families and taxpayers have every right to demand that investments in higher education will lead to skills and preparation for success.

In the first wave of governors’ educational leadership, learning outcomes were squarely on the state policy agenda. Goals 2000 – a landmark gubernatorial initiative of the 1990s – explicitly included learning goals at each K-12 grade level. Now in 2011, this largest crop of new governors in history has the opportunity to usher in an era of innovation in cost-effective higher education founded upon outcomes – essentially, competency-based models that put learning as the bottom line, not the level of funding or how resources are allocated.

There are some great places to start. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) VALUE project engaged businesses and campuses in measuring and monitoring what it means to earn a higher education degree. Simply put: What gets measured, gets improved. The 325 colleges engaged in the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) understand this. They publicly report undergraduate results on such norm-referenced tests as the Collegiate Learning Assessment and the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency, and their faculty enliven student learning outcomes workshops.

The Lumina Degree Qualifications Profile, which defines the knowledge and skills students should acquire before earning an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree, will soon be put to the test. A small group of accreditors and academic associations have agreed to apply the definitions at individual schools. This approach has the potential to end the input-driven accounting of what degrees stand for. Bottom line: It can't be about a single standardized test or number of course hours. Degrees must reflect skills and learning and preparation for tomorrow's world. It’s a powerful idea for improving and proving the value of higher education for students, employers, and taxpayers.

In 2007, I witnessed first-hand the vociferous objections from Congress and the higher education community to the Spellings Commission’s recommendations to increase transparency and accountability for higher education outcomes. What once was heresy is now palatable. The new NGA college completion metrics, the U.S. Department of Education’s gainful employment regulations, and organizations’ willingness to voluntarily try the Lumina Degree Profile are all signs of an emerging consensus that neither dollars spent nor institutional ranking define value for students, employers, or taxpayers.

Family budgets are tight. Competition for state and federal dollars is intense. It’s no surprise that the on-line, competency-based, flexible Western Governors University and its first state brand, WGU Indiana, are capturing attention after 10 years of incubation. It is not just because tuition has remained flat for three years. Or that costs per degree are up to one-fourth what an average public bachelor’s degrees cost. This outcomes-based model puts competencies and cost-effectiveness at the center of its academic and business models. And so goes the future of American higher education.

By Kristin Conklin January 25, 2011 2:34 am UTC

“After decades of funding our eleven campuses on the basis of past appropriations and past expenditures, we have lost track of the rationale for each campus’s funding level. We must begin a new approach to funding higher education where we ask the board of higher education to develop a funding methodology that is based on the outcomes that education leaders and citizens would like to see from their college campuses.”
-- North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s Jan. 4 state of the state address.


Faced with a 5 percent tuition rise and the likelihood of future increases, students at the City University of New York filed a lawsuit against the school protesting the tuition hike. Could we be on the verge of a student movement like that recently under way in England, where rioters incensed over tuition increases have thrown Molotov cocktails, smashed windows, and even attacked Prince Charles’s car?

CUNY’s was a modest hike, with average prices remaining well below the national average. CUNY takes pride in its history of serving low-income and first-generation students with a high-quality, affordable education.. But CUNY, like many public institutions in the U.S., is doing what led to student revolts in England: shifting the burden of paying for higher education from taxpayers to students. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers association, tuition in the U.S. increased from 25 percent of all educational revenue to 37 percent from 1984 to 2009, even as total spending per student remained about the same.

The fact that the U.S. has made the shift incrementally, institution by institution, state by state, rather than as a matter of national public policy, may have spared us from the European-style riots. But it has prevented us from coming up with a clear alternative to universal education subsidies, as England has done with its need-based aid and conditional loan repayment schemes. Instead, states and institutions have been left to come up with their own scattershot aid policies, which are often well-intentioned but inefficient and inadequate.

Fear of debt and complex financial aid is paralyzing

Families are predictably confused and frightened by the result. In a recent College Board-commissioned opinion survey, overwhelmingly parents and students understand that college opens doors to more economic opportunities and a more successful life, but most believe the cost is out of reach or worse, have no clue how much college costs. The complexity of financial aid formulas is seen as an impenetrable code. Fewer than half (46 percent) of parents surveyed in the survey, “Cracking the Student Aid Code: Parent and Student Perspectives on Paying for College,” were confident they knew the cost to attend a public college in their home state. Forty-four percent of Latino parents -- our nation’s fastest growing population -- indicated that they were aware of Pell Grants, compared to 80 percent of white students and 82 percent of African Americans.

Sadly, much of state spending is wasted when scholarships miss helping the neediest students. Georgia’s Hope scholarship, Florida’s Bright Futures, Tennessee’s Lottery Scholarships, and Louisiana’s TOPS scholarships represent millions of dollars distributed to students who could easily afford tuition, while many needy students, especially at community colleges, got nothing. The Georgia Hope scholarships have coined a new word -- “Hope mobiles,” the cars students buy with the money they’re not spending on tuition.

Governors would be pound-wise to better target scarce dollars, like the innovative, need-based performance scholarships in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Louisiana, which reward course completion and steady progress toward a degree -- not just enrollment.

Are tuition hikes the only option?

No one will dispute that state budgets are bad. But families are hurting, too. State leaders must resist reaching for the increase button at the first sign of economic bad news. Instead, they should look first underlying and systemic inefficiencies in higher education that impede students from getting the degrees they need for success.

As we listen to state of the state addresses and watch budgets roll out, we should be looking to see whether governors and legislatures are using the current crisis as a policy opportunity, or risking making a bad situation even worse.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants to do away with a cap in tuition increases at the state's public universities. Is New Jersey defaulting on its responsibility to have a coherent and effective college affordability program, or will he propose a meaningful alternative? Watch for Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s address this week. Will he link steep tuition increases with serious college completion goals and a commitment to increasing need-based aid?

Unlike most states, North Dakota is enjoying a healthy budget from an oil boom. Incoming Gov. Jack Dalrymple is seizing the opportunity to fundamentally change the way higher education institutions are funded to reward outcomes that ensure more students can affordably earn a degree. North Dakota could go further and use some of its enviable resources to support aid policies that create the same opportunities and incentives for students.

Raising tuition is a difficult habit to break, but, as we enter a fourth difficult state budget cycle in a row, we may have just hit bottom. If the first stages of recovery are admitting there’s a problem and seeking a solution, states like North Dakota provide a good example.

By Kristin Conklin January 17, 2011 4:07 am UTC

Despite a slight rise in state revenues, the 2011 budget cycle is likely to be the most difficult yet of the states' ongoing fiscal crisis. That’s because budget shortfalls are epic - $60 billion in budget shortfalls this year and another $50 billion in 2012. Whereas most state revenues will rebound to peak levels by 2013, revenue recovery is not likely in nine states until 2014. The National Association of State Budget Officers’ A New Funding Paradigm for Higher Education says that while a slight rise in revenues will “mitigate the funding squeeze, the environment for state higher education support might be permanently and unalterably different from the past.” What an understatement. Average annual spending growth is projected to be a weak 3 to 4 percent for the next 10-20 years.

How governors navigate these “new normal” budget conditions will have a profound impact on the nation’s economic future. An economic recovery cannot be achieved through cuts alone. Shrinking state budgets must be refocused to grow the economy. Higher education will be front and center in any growth strategy.

According to estimates from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, if the U.S. could muster the capacity to better match skills with today’s jobs, unemployment would be at 6.5 percent instead of 9.6 percent. That represents millions of good-paying jobs that lead to economic growth.

The Value Imperative in the “New Normal”

It is a myth that public higher education is systematically being dismantled in this country through spending cuts. Paul Lingenfelter of the State Higher Education Executive Officers warned in a recent speech to AFT: “The public perception of higher education being privatized risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.” While half of the states in this country lost ground in per student funding support between 1994 and 2009, 25 states held their own or grew in constant dollar state funding per student; three grew by more than 20 percent, and 13 grew by nine percent or more. What distinguishes gainers (like Kentucky and Maryland) from losers? A clear public agenda focused on attainment and productivity – in other words, giving citizens more value for each dollar spent. This “new normal” creates a real value imperative.

Recent governors’ state of the state and inaugural addresses show that governors understand the “new normal” and its value imperative, albeit slowly and unevenly. Veteran governors seem to “get it” best.

Veteran Governors “Get It”

Second-term Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe hit a home run with his understanding of the value proposition that higher education needs. The governor proposes a 1 percent increase in postsecondary funding, coupled with warnings against tuition increases. Vowing to double the number of graduates by 2025, Beebe said achieving this bold goal will require changes in state funding formulas to reward course completion and graduation.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire show a bi-coastal appetite for tackling an insidious political hot potato and significant driver of higher education costs: pension benefits. Whereas Governor McDonnell proposes $50 million in new funding for higher education -- targeted to undergraduate financial aid and funding incentives for efficiency and economic development, technology, increased four-year graduation rates, and year round use of facilities and degree attainment -- Governor Gregoire is trying to commit colleges to public goals of completion in exchange for flexibility to set tuition.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman also gets credit for aiming to stabilize higher education funding. His new Talent and Innovation Initiative, Innovation Campus at the University of Nebraska, and virtual high school are all funded by redirected existing resources, leveraged private sector funds, and a modest increase in state support.

Freshman Governors’ Learning Curve

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback distinguishes himself among his peer freshmen for his early understanding of the “new normal.” While declaring that the “days of ever-expanding government are over,” his budget would stabilize support for higher education for the first time since the Great Recession began. In constant dollars, state funding for higher education in Kansas has fallen 10 percent since 1994.

Unfortunately, Brownback misses the chance to include college attainment goals in a set of otherwise precise and long-term social and economic development goals for the state. Reaching the governor’s goals, which include increasing net personal income and private sector employment and reducing child poverty, will certainly require a spike in the number of college graduates in the Sunflower State.

Wyoming Gov. Matthew Mead was silent on the higher education value imperative, perhaps because the robust mining industry provides short-term protection from the “new normal” spreading across the nation.

With $300 million in cuts allocated to higher education, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal misses the opportunity to better target shrinking higher education funding toward degree completion. For example, many question whether the state’s popular HOPE scholarship is the most cost-effective way to invest in increased college degrees.

Governors’ “state of the state” addresses signal their policy priorities for years to come. The 13 addresses given to date reveal that many chief executives appreciate the “new normal” and its value imperative. But changing old habits will mean relying less on the tuition valve, and instead -- as the Delta Cost Project advises -- setting goals, aligning resources, and increasing degree productivity and accountability.
More on the propensity to feed the revenue beast next week.

By Kristin Conklin January 11, 2011 2:24 am UTC

This month, we’re meeting the largest class of new governors in history. Twenty-nine will be inaugurated this month. As extreme jobs go, being governor during epic budget constraints, high unemployment, and a frail infrastructure surely tops the list.

However, this new class of governors is far from naïve about the challenges they face. Minnesota’s Mark Dayton promised a budget “that will be reasonable, balanced, and painful -- because I see no easy alternative.”

As the oldest governor at 72, California’s Jerry Brown declared: “Choices have to be made and difficult decisions taken. At this stage of my life, I have not come here to embrace delay or denial.”

Maine Governor Paul LePage won huge applause when he said, “It’s time to deliver value to our taxpayers.’’

For the next several weeks, this Statehouse Test blog will be a place to share innovative ideas governors present in their inaugural and state of the state addresses to improve postsecondary education.

As both a significant budget item and linchpin to job creation, how governors and other state leaders address postsecondary education matters more than ever. Few were surprised to see redesigning postsecondary education and job creation near the top of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ top 11 issues in 2011.

The two are inextricably linked.

By 2018, an estimated 64 percent of jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education. And, by 2025 there will be a shortage of 23 million college-educated adults in the U.S. work force if current graduation rates continue.

Incoming governors and state legislators know that jobs are portable and that the proportion of college degrees in other countries is higher than in the United States. They know higher education is key to growing our economy and creating more local jobs.

They also know it must change to bring about a more educated, prepared work force -- a change that must occur in an extraordinarily difficult budget climate. States will face more than $60 billion in budget shortfalls this year and another $50 billion in 2012, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. With the end of the federal stimulus program, states will have nearly $40 billion less in federal funds in 2012 than they did last fiscal year. And there are few places and people left to cut.

So … what’s a governor to do? Joining the ranks of the “attainment pioneers” is a smart first step. I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of working with these pioneering governors and higher education leaders in several states that have maintained a public agenda for increasing postsecondary attainment, restructuring costs and boosting academic productivity.

For example, Indiana overhauled its postsecondary funding to tie the bulk of spending to measures of student and institutional performance -- including data that show how many students complete coursework and earn degrees. The less productive institutions face deeper cuts. The new Western Governors University Indiana is an entirely online nonprofit college focused on yielding thousands more bachelor’s degrees without adding to the budget.

Maine, Nebraska, and Ohio have tackled cost drivers such as prescription drugs and pension benefits, saving hundreds of millions of dollars and minimizing tuition increases.

Complete College Tennessee is the first effort of its kind. Among other changes, it calls for the expansion of the structured, accelerated (and more productive according to McKinsey) Tennessee Tech Center model across community colleges.

Academic productivity is accelerating in this environment. States like Texas are helping students minimize the time and credits required to attain a degree and give students incentives for completing their degrees on time. Pennsylvania is offering more classes online and discontinued nearly 80 programs with low enrollments or diminished career relevance.

These states have learned that in a prolonged recession, the usual tricks (raising tuition and cutting positions) just won't work.

The agendas governors formulate in the first month of 2011 really are a test of our country’s capacity to innovate in extraordinary times. Governors have a very attentive audience on campus and off.

Please share your comments and views on the Statehouse Test under way across the nation. The next posts will discuss how leaders are dealing with tuition, access, quality, and changing demographics.

Statehouse Test is a weekly analysis of governors' inaugural, state of the state addresses and budgets related to postsecondary education. The posts are presented by Kristin Conklin, founding partner of HCM Strategists. HCM Strategists is a public policy and advocacy consulting firm dedicated to advancing innovation in health and education. As a first-generation college graduate and benefactor of policies advancing postsecondary education for low-income students, Conklin knows firsthand the difference these policies can make.




2011 - February
2011 - January