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White Papers Explore Higher Education Funding Directions

The National Commission on Financing 21st Century Higher Education released a set of white papers earlier this month exploring aspects of the fiscal issues facing higher education. Designed to guide policy and funding decisions, these papers (and another six still in development) provide a revealing look at the state and national funding landscape for institutions.

The commission, a project of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, has been working since 2014 on policy and funding recommendations for the United States to reach the goal of 60% of the labor workforce having a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025. Currently, the nation is not on target to meet this goal and faces numerous related challenges, from high school graduation rates and access to higher education to workforce underdevelopment. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, other nations are meeting or surpassing the United States in postsecondary degree and credentialing rates.

The commission engaged experts to create 10 white papers on different aspects of the problem, centered on three key questions:

  • How do we realign incentives and retarget existing public funding to make the entire system more efficient and to increase graduation rates for students generally, and for students of color and from low-income families in particular?
  • What are the new, innovative models to deliver postsecondary education that can both lower the cost and increase the productivity of the entire system?
  • What options do federal and state governments and the private sector have for increasing funding for higher education?

While each paper represents the views of the individual authors, the commission will use them to form its recommendations in a final report. The initial four papers are these:

For educator preparation programs, it’s important to understand the direction and fate of state-level funding for higher education, as well as the changing landscape of funding streams. The roles of faculty and leaders will change to meet the needs of institutions as well as of students. Understanding why certain changes are unfolding may allow you to engage in advocacy and actively pursue pathways forward.

In particular, the first paper – “Crowded Out” – charts the lay of the land in state funding of higher education and identifies drivers of the decline seen in most states. Understanding this landscape helps you focus your state-level advocacy on appropriate challenges and solutions, and it helps you partner and collaborate strategically with stakeholders inside and outside of higher education.

For example, this paper notes the decline in higher education funding is due in large part to the growing cost of Medicaid. As states spend more and more on Medicaid, other discretionary spending must be cut; remember, states are required to have balanced budgets. Understanding that health care dominates states’ budgets allows you to become an informed advocate – not just for the needs of higher education, but for health care and the drivers of the increase in Medicaid enrollment, as well as revenue streams.

The other six white papers and the commission’s final report are expected this fall. For more information about the commission’s work, visit http://millercenter.org/policy/commissions/higher-ed.


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Deborah Koolbeck

Director of Government Relations

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