In 2016, there was an increasingly dramatic divergence between state economies in the West. Most states in the region benefited from an ongoing economic recovery, but states reliant on the energy sector for tax revenues were hit hard by the global decline in oil prices. This resulted in varying budget situations in legislatures across the West – outlined in this Policy Insights – with certain states dealing with significant cuts to higher education while others were in a position to make a wealth of new investments. Despite the region’s varied economic outlook, common themes did emerge. These included a focus on affordability and accelerated learning options, continued support of military-connected students, investing in evidence-based student success initiatives, and proposed solutions for addressing teacher shortages. The brief concludes with a section on issues to watch in the region, ranging from data privacy to guns on campus.
Policy Analysis and Research
Knocking at the College Door
WICHE has been producing projections of high school graduates for the states individually and the nation as a whole going back over 30 years. These projections have routinely been viewed as the most useful forecasts of future postsecondary enrollment demand from recent high school graduates and even enrollment in K-12 schools by a wide and diverse array of audiences. In spite of its success, WICHE believed the time had come to undertake a review of the methodological approach it used to prepare its projections, a methodology that had not been rigorously examined at any point during the projections’ series entire history. Advances in technology and predictive analytics suggested that such a review would, at a minimum, provide an enhanced level of confidence in the methodology, even if it did not suggest changes were needed. WICHE also felt the time was right to investigate other ways in which its expertise in projecting high school graduates could be deployed, such as by providing additional disaggregations of the national and state-level data or by releasing the projections in more interactive and useful ways to the various audiences.
Challenges to closing the gap between findings from academic research and effective policymaking are not new, and they will not be solved overnight. However, as the entire education sector faces mounting pressure to provide high-quality education under tightening fiscal constraints, all while demonstrating improving student outcomes, the time may finally be right for a renewed spirit of collaboration between higher education researchers and policymakers. This Policy Insights is just one component of a partnership between the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) focused on how to better connect rigorous higher education October research and appropriate state-level policy. This brief examines why research is not currently 2016 more influential in policymaking; how those in the academy can develop a cross-sector, statelevel research agenda that is more likely to affect policy change; what policy areas are wellsuited for collaboration between policymakers and researchers to increase equity and inclusion within postsecondary education; and what action steps can be taken by those in academe and the policy arena to improve the links between educational research and policy.
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WICHE's Policy Analysis and Research unit has released a new Policy Insights summarizing our most recent survey of published tuition and fees prices in all public institutions in the West in 2015-16, state budget levels, higher education appropriations, state financial aid programs, college affordability and related college finance topics and news.
The detailed tuition and fee rate data that are summarized in this Policy Insights brief are available here on the WICHE web site: http://wiche.edu/pub/tf, in PDF and Excel file form.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and AACRAO are conducting a webinar that will lead participants through the tangled, tortured web of “state authorization,” particularly as it applies to distance education. Russ Poulin (WCET) and Marshall Hill (NC-SARA) will talk about what institutions are required to do when they provide distance education to residents of other states, how the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) affects those requirements, and how these issues affect registrars and admissions officers.
This brief provides an overview of the implementation and impact of near peer mentoring programs in Alaska and Idaho from the standpoint of both existing research and the near peers themselves. In addition to offering strategies and promising practices that have helped foster a college-going culture in both states, the brief provides testimonials from mentors and the students they have served – students who might otherwise never considered college as an option without the extra support of a near peer or college guide.
Targeted Recovery: Recapping 2015 Higher Education Legislative Activity in the West summarizes key policy themes over the past year and highlights emerging issues to watch in future legislative sessions. Affordability was the dominant theme of the 2015 sessions; in an attempt to address affordability, legislators in the WICHE region passed bills freezing or limiting tuition increases and increased need-based aid and even offered low-cost degrees in an effort to improve financial assistance opportunities for students. Many Western states also increasingly looked to higher education as the driver of economic growth, as their legislatures focused on career and technical education and STEM fields, while others sought to encourage partnerships between business and postsecondary institutions. Issues to watch include allowing guns on campus, preventing sexual assault on campus, military and veterans education, and the ongoing implementation of common academic standards that prepare students for college and careers.