To and Through College: How Advocates are Impacting Higher Education
July 13, 2018

Higher education attainment remains an elusive goal for many students across the United States. Although students often begin pursuing higher education opportunities, a variety of obstacles can prevent them from achieving certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees. In fact, a recent report found that only 55 percent of students who started in any type of college or university in fall 2010 completed a degree or certificate within six years. Several PIE Network members and partners are wrestling with higher education issues and working toward innovative policy design solutions, including advocacy at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels.

Dual Credit Enrollment Opportunities

Colorado Succeeds advocated for the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-Tech) bill that allowed P-Tech to operate as a school program instead of a standalone school. (Network members can find more details here.) As a result, students can begin work on an associate degree while still in high school and then enter a four-year college with additional credits. Through strong stakeholder investment and bipartisan support, this monumental bill passed in 2017. According to Kelly Caufield, Colorado Succeeds’ vice president of government affairs,

“Industry, community colleges, and school districts all working together on legislation is a very strong partnership. If everyone is aligned, then it’s hard for the legislators to oppose reform efforts.”

Dual credit policy has always been at the forefront of Educate Texas’ efforts, and advocates have worked to improve Texas’ dual credit enrollment opportunities. In 2016, Educate Texas wanted to identify the discrepancies in dual credit implementation throughout the state while also ensuring its continued existence (members can find additional information here after logging into our site). Throughout the process, Educate Texas learned that without strong data around dual credit quality and implementation, it is difficult to identify solutions.

Aligned Credit Transfers

In Oregon, accelerated learning programs provide students with the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school, such as through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and dual credit. Yet, these credits do not always transfer universally among higher education institutions. Recognizing this as a burden for students, Stand for Children Oregon worked with a coalition to unanimously pass the Accelerated Learning Bill in the State House and Senate in 2018.

With the new measure, public colleges and universities must report on credit transferability (what is transferring, and what is not) among a representative sample of students who complete accelerated learning opportunities in high school. By using the information they gather from the study, Stand Oregon hopes to work with their coalition on another bill next year to improve credit transferability.

In the Lone Star State, Educate Texas has worked to strengthen credit alignment and portability between higher education institutions. The lack of alignment may prolong the time it takes for a student to graduate and could ultimately create a more expensive higher education experience for students or cause them to drop out of school. Educate Texas identified a set of recommendations in 2017 and passed one recommendation in the Texas legislature that requires community college students to plan more efficiently for graduation by filing a degree plan within two semesters of completing 30 hours (members can view recommendations here in our database of advocacy work.)

Although the rest of the desired legislation did not pass, Educate Texas has worked in collaboration with the University of Texas-Austin and other higher education institutions to develop MapMyPath, a student-facing tool that will allow students to compare how courses transfer across institutions. According to Priscilla Aquino Garza, Educate Texas’ deputy director of policy, “As a reform community, we don’t look at the whole education pipeline enough. There is a real need to not just think K-12, but to think about continuing the conversation in higher education.”

College Completion for Working Adults

Among Idaho’s population of working adults, the second largest group has completed some college but does not have a degree. Idaho Business for Education (IBE) has advocated to increase post-secondary opportunities for adults who have yet to complete college and for students to earn workforce-ready certificates while still in high school. According to Rod Gramer, IBE’s president and CEO,

“By increasing the number of working adults with a college degree, it would increase their skills, increase their value to employers, and increase their potential to adjust to an ever-changing economy.”

Starting in 2016, IBE advocated for a College Completion Scholarship that helps adults who have completed at least 30 credit hours and have been out of school for at least three years to finish a certificate or degree at a higher education institution in Idaho. Although this initiative was unsuccessful, in 2017, IBE worked with the Governor’s Office and the Division of Career-Technical Education to include a provision in Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarship to provide 20 percent of the total funding to college completers. This proposal passed in 2018.

Incentives for Work-Based Learning

Colorado Succeeds has long recognized the importance of creating pathways for students to apply their learning and develop skills that will prepare them for Colorado’s high-growth, high-paying jobs. In 2016, Colorado Succeeds, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and other Colorado-based education reform organizations supported the Career Success Pilot Program (HB16-1289), a bill that gives districts $1000 in bonus funding for each student who (a) earns an industry certification tied to an in-demand job, (b) finishes a rigorous workplace training program tied to key industry needs, or (c) successfully completes a Computer Science AP course (members can find additional information here).

In 2018, Colorado Succeeds invested significant effort in supporting an expansion of this bill and developed several videos that demonstrate the program’s effectiveness. The program has helped students access post-secondary opportunities while in high school, leading to increased student engagement, higher GPAs, and increased graduation rates. The 2018 legislation passed with bipartisan support and was expanded for another five years.

Building on Colorado Succeeds’ lessons learned on career and technical education (CTE), Idaho Business for Education helped successfully pass legislation that gives local school districts a financial incentive for graduating seniors with workforce-ready certificates. Encouraging students to pursue career and technical education in high school gives students the opportunity to develop skills early and significantly reduces the cost of their post-secondary education. After laying the groundwork and garnering bipartisan support for the bill this year, IBE will ask the legislature to fund the initiative next session.

In 2018, Tennessee SCORE aimed to better support high school students’ postsecondary and workforce success by advocating for several pieces of related legislation. By working with business and workforce partners, SCORE helped to successfully pass Senate Bill 1649, which helps to encourage school districts and workforce leaders to partner on increasing work-based learning opportunities for students. Specifically, the bill creates additional protections for businesses who employ a student in work-based learning, and also requires school districts to maintain liability insurance coverage for all students participating in work-based learning.

According to Brett Turner, SCORE’s director of policy and research,

“Looking ahead, SCORE will work with partners throughout the state to develop a vision from K12 to jobs and build upon past work to ensure future Tennesseans have ample opportunities to pursue their chosen path in life.”

National Context

In addition to all of the important advocacy work happening in state capitols, Network partners are also looking across state lines to analyze broader higher education trends. The Education Trust’s State of Higher Education Equity project reveals a state-by-state and national trend comparison of degree attainment for Black and Latino Americans and identifies where change is most needed to improve degree attainment.

According to Andrew H. Nichols, Ed Trust’s senior director of higher education research and data analytics and co-author of the briefs,

“If state leaders are serious about racial equity and reaching their goals to increase the number of college-educated residents in their states, they need to be honest about what their data are telling them about Black, Latino, and other racial or ethnic groups.”

If you are interested in learning more about higher education degree attainment, please reach out.


Katherine Raths

Katherine is a summer fellow at PIE Network


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