Nov. 28, 2006

Fixing Higher Ed, Legislator-Style

Higher education is in crisis, in large part because of government neglect,
and states must take the lead in fixing the problems, a bipartisan group of
state legislators says in a new report.

"Transforming Higher Education: National Imperative - State Responsibility,"
the report from a 12-member special panel
<>  of the National
Conference of State Legislators, in many ways falls in line with other
recent studies that have identified concerns about access to and the
performance of American colleges and universities, including the work of the
Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education
<>  and the National
Academies'  <>
"Rising Above the Gathering Storm."

Like those reports, the legislators' study (a summary of which can
<>  be found here) cites
statistics showing the United States slipping on international indicators,
bemoans the effect that increasing tuitions and flattening financial aid
have had on college access for low and middle income students and adult
learners, and notes that those problems must be addressed if the country is
to provide a meaningful future for the waves of educationally underprepared
Americans preparing to slam into higher education and society.

Continue the fix:


From within the article:

The NCSL Commission's Recommendations:

1. Define clear state goals: States need long-term priorities and a public
agenda for higher education that links higher ed to overall state economic

2. Identify your state's strengths and weaknesses: Legislators need to
carefully study and examine where the leaks are in the student pipeline.

3. Know your state's demographic trends for the next 10 to 30 years:
Legislators cannot begin to articulate meaningful goals for state higher
education systems without good information about upcoming population

4. Identify a place or structure to sustain the public agenda: Setting state
goals is not a one-time thing. States should find an appropriate place to
house ongoing, statewide discussions about how well the system is

5. Hold institutions accountable for their performance: Once clear statewide
goals are set, legislators can better hold institutions accountable for
their performance.

6. Rethink Funding: Over the years, states have reduced their share of
overall higher education costs, and as a result, the share of costs for
students, families and institutions has gone up. Some states may decide to
spend more money. All states need to spend money more wisely.

7. Rethink student aid: States should examine their merit- and need-based
financial aid programs to ensure that they are well balanced, reward
students who are efficient, and help adults and part-time students.

8. Help reduce borrowing and debt: Two out of three students graduate with
debt, and the average debt is $17,250. Ten years ago, it was $8,000,
adjusted for inflation. Legislators must find a way to reduce this drain on
the state economy.

9. Recommit to access: States can make college more affordable. They can
also see that courses are offered at varied hours, such as in the evenings.
And they can make sure a variety of low-cost options like technical schools
and community colleges are available.

10. Recommit to success: Ensuring that students get into college is only
half the battle. States should also ensure that students graduate.

11. Embrace innovation: Legislators should encourage innovation within the
entire state higher education community-including public schools, private
schools, and the for-profit sector.

12. Encourage partnerships: Legislators can help communication with business
and with K-12 to better articulate expectations and outcomes.

13. Transform the 12th grade: Dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment and
early college programs can all help prepare students for college and finish

14. Don't neglect adult learners: Adults going back to school now represent
40 percent of the student population. They have different needs than
traditional students.

15. Focus on productivity: Legislators should ensure that state dollars are
spent productively and should demand that institutions become more


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