By comparing higher education policies in five states (Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, and Texas) that have similar challenges as other states, the report finds that states struggle to develop policies in three general areas: using fiscal resources strategically, aligning education opportunities to student needs, and easing student transitions between educational sectors.

Based on these findings, the report makes the following policy recommendations:

1. Make equity a top priority.

According to the report, “no state can successfully meet their higher education challenges without creating a level playing field for low-income, minority and first-generation college students.”

Examples of this problem can be seen with Texas and Washington, since both states deregulated tuition policy from the states to colleges and universities during the recession.

“These policy actions resulted in high spikes in tuition and the inability of state financial aid programs to keep up with tuition increases,” says the report.

2. Develop political consensus.

States must “develop political consensus for clear goals related to educational opportunity and attainment, as well as mechanisms to monitor and publicly report on those goals,” explains the report.

While all five case study states articulated some goal related to improved educational attainment, the report states that little political consensus was found to advance these goals and implement policies to achieve them.

For example, Illinois developed a new master plan for higher education but failed to identify specific policies for implementation. Political indifference in Washington state resulted in elected officials ignoring plans for improvement in higher education.

And except for Maryland, none of the five states studied had a long-term strategy to link state appropriations, tuition and financial aid in ways that will help achieve higher levels of educational attainment.

3. Work on all areas of performance simultaneously.

The report finds that disconnected efforts are far less effective, compared to working on all higher education performance areas at once.

For instance, many states focus policy attention on improving college completion, but fail to take the necessary steps to promote student preparation or preserve access and affordability—necessary components of a comprehensive policy approach to improve college completion.

(Next page: State recommendations 4-6)