In a survey distributed in November 2023, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) asked state higher education leaders to identify their top policy issues going into 2024. States face a multitude of higher education policy issues each year, with some topics consistently among the top priorities for policymakers while others represent emerging public policy concerns driven by the current higher education landscape. SHEEO’s report details the top 10 state policy priorities for 2024 according to state higher education leaders. The report also includes additional honorary mentions—topics consistently making headlines and generating important conversations among the higher education community.
Economic and workforce development ranked as the number one priority for the second year in a row among higher education leaders. Last year, economic and workforce development tied with K-12 teacher workforce as number one. This year, K-12 teacher workforce fell to number nine. Governors and legislators throughout the country are looking to the state’s higher education system to train and educate the future workforce. SHEEOs have worked closely with their state business communities to develop educational opportunities and financial aid programs linked to in-demand jobs in their states.
Ranking number two for 2024 policy priorities is state operating support for public colleges and universities, rising from number four. The budgetary news in many states remains positive heading into 2024 legislative sessions, with continued surpluses and robust reserve funds. The sustainability of these surpluses, however, remains an open question. Diminishing federal relief funds, combined with sharp state tax cuts and growing needs for investments across state governments will put pressure on many state budgets in the year ahead. While state operating support for public colleges and universities has increased in most states over the past two decades, state operating support decreased in more than half of all states from fiscal years 2020-2022, when adjusted for inflation.
Rounding out the top five priorities are (3) higher education’s value proposition, (4) college affordability, and (5) state funding for financial aid programs. All top five issues ranked within the top 10 in 2023. Other issues in the top 10 include (6) public perception of higher education, (7) college completion/student success, (8) enrollment declines, (9) K-12 teacher workforce, and (10) adult/nontraditional student success. Tied for eleventh are FAFSA completion and institutional accountability/effectiveness in higher education. Both issues were new to this year’s report due to current events and headlines.
“While this isn’t an exhaustive list of issues states are facing, it is telling for policy priorities for the year ahead,” said Tom Harnisch, SHEEO’s vice president for government relations. “Politically, we anticipate higher education will continue to face questions over relevance and value, along with more bills and messaging on hot button issues heading into the 2024 election cycle.”
The full State Priorities for Higher Education in 2024 report can be found online at https://sheeo.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/Policy-Issue-Survey.2024.pdf.
ABOUT SHEEO: The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) serves the chief executives of statewide governing, policy, and coordinating boards of postsecondary education and their staffs. Founded in 1954, SHEEO is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2024. SHEEO promotes an environment that values higher education and its role in ensuring the equitable education of all Americans, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic factors. Together with its members, SHEEO aims to achieve this vision by equipping state higher education executive officers and their staffs with the tools to effectively advance the value of higher education, promoting public policies and academic practices that enable all Americans to achieve success in the 21st century, and serving as an advocate for state higher education leadership.