State Leaders Press for Student-Centered Higher Education Policies

National higher education policy should be built around the needs and priorities of students, who are taking different pathways through higher education as part-time students, adults, workers, transfers, parents, and more.

At Higher Learning Advocates’ first Champions Network briefing on Capitol Hill, “Unlocking College Opportunity for Today’s Students”, policymakers and higher education advocates were able to hear what two state leaders are doing to build systems and policies centered on today’s students, and hear the journey of one of today’s students.

 The panel discussion featured Michele Siqueiros, President of the Campaign for College Opportunity; Mike Krause, Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission; and Raquel Gonzalez, a recent college graduate who worked three jobs while caring for an ailing parent as a full-time student.

Student-Informed Policy-Making

Student perspectives were an integral part of the briefing. Mike Krause discussed his experience being enlisted in the Army while also pursuing higher learning, Michele Siqueiros spoke about her experience as a first-generation college student, and Raquel Gonzalez shared her complex and difficult journey through the current system.

Raquel emphasized the need to update the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and the complex FAFSA verification process. Without the help of one of her teachers, Raquel would have been unable to complete the FAFSA because the form is long, complex, and even intimidates some parents who are unsure how to complete its requirements or who are reluctant to share personal information.

Raquel also spoke about her frustrating experience with credit transferability. Unbeknownst to her, she took unnecessary classes because her institution lacked full-time academic advisors to guide her through the most efficient path to her goal, transfer. When Raquel had to leave one higher education institution and go to community college part-time, poor guidance and coordination led her to accumulate a whopping 120 credits and 5 associate’s degrees before she transferred to and completed her bachelor’s degree from California State University – Los Angeles.

California’s Historic Push to Improve Outcomes

Bringing a strong voice in favor of student outcomes and equity, Michele Siqueiros spoke about why institutions need to be “student-ready” instead of focusing only on whether students are “college-ready.” She emphasized that while access is critical, success is ultimately what counts, and that crucial policy and budgetary maneuvers are essential to push higher education to change in order to improve student outcomes.

Recognizing that systems of higher education need to support students like Raquel and ensure timely pathways to college completion, the Campaign for College Opportunity has been at the forefront of advocating for strong transfer articulation between two-year colleges and developing a funding formula that rewards institutions based on enrollment and outcomes of first-generation college-goers.

Ms. Siqueiros and Ms. Gonzalez also shared their support for outcomes-based policy in a meeting with the higher education policy advisor to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Tennessee Moves the Needle on Affordability and Success

Tennessee has been “ground zero” for improving affordability and expanding access for returning adult students. Mike Krause spoke about Tennessee Reconnect, a program that

enables adults to earn a two-year degree at any technical or community college in the state tuition-free. During the event, Mr. Krause also highlighted that our higher education accreditation system is broken, and must re-focus on student outcomes instead of compliance to ensure students have a strong likelihood of success.

Mr. Krause also met with Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The two leaders discussed Tennessee’s efforts to serve adult learners and increase student success.

Bipartisan Advocates for Today’s Students

These Champions, and their work in Tennessee and California, are prime examples of how states are working to bridge the gaps between yesterday’s policies and the needs of today’s students. For more, read Mike Krause and Michele Siqueiros’ stories on our Champions Network page and learn about the five key federal policy principles that these state and local leaders support.