4. Create clear pathways to certificates and degrees.

Greater state policy attention is required to ensure that high school students are prepared to academically succeed in postsecondary education, and to provide easy transfer for students from two-year to four-year institutions without losing credits.

One example of success can be seen with Texas, which has policies that identify and assess college-ready knowledge and skills, developed collaboratively between higher education and K-12 schools.

Another example is with Maryland and Texas, states that guarantee a transfer curriculum based on a set of courses designed to transfer, with no loss of credit hours.

5. Match educational institutions and providers with regional education needs.

The report also finds that, “failure to provide the right mix of institutions or programs matched to student needs compromise goals…”

For example, in an environment of limited public resources, Texas’ aspirations for an additional seven research universities is likely to come at the expense of undergraduate education opportunities for the fast-growing but under-served minority population, notes the report.

Also, states should be aware that policies to expand the mission of community colleges by letting them award baccalaureate degrees, as in Washington, might not be a good solution.

“An expanded mission can increase costs for the state and for students and families due to the higher cost of four-year programs,” reveals the report.

6. Focus on building incentives into state budget and linking finance policies.

State leaders need to build incentives into state budgets to encourage institutional behavior that advances the public agenda for higher education, according to the report.

States must develop comprehensive higher education finance policies, as Maryland has done, that increase institutional productivity, invest in student financial aid and link tuition to the income of the population to be served.

“Implementation of public policies will be the ultimate test of a state’s commitment to higher education,” said Finney. “Ultimately, state leaders must determine whether higher education continues to provide the public benefits that justify this important and ambitious public agenda.”

For more information on how the research was conducted, state profiles, and more, read the report.