New SHEEO report explores higher education executive officers’ views on college affordability and the role of a state-federal financing partnership

A new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) examines the views state higher education executives have on the federal government’s role in college affordability and policy proposals to make college tuition free. 

Growing concerns over student debt have led to a series of sweeping policy proposals from the higher education community over the last decade to align state and federal higher education financing policy. The existing framework, one in which states primarily subsidize institutions and the federal government primarily supports students, is increasingly seen as inadequate for making college affordable.

This new report includes results from interviews of state higher education executive officers (SHEEOs) and a survey of SHEEO membership. In their responses, SHEEOs expressed their concerns over college affordability but had a range of views on factors driving increased tuition prices, including inflation, labor costs, and declines in state subsidies.

SHEEOs welcomed greater coordination with the federal government through incentives and investments in state-driven college affordability plans, but federal tuition-free proposals received a mixed response. SHEEOs remain concerned about the sustainability of tuition-free programs and believe more targeted approaches, such as supporting need-based financial aid, could better withstand longer-term budgetary and political challenges. SHEEOs were also wary of burdensome federal mandates and would like flexibility in a partnership amid the wide variation in state political and economic contexts.

SHEEOs were generally in favor of some form of state-federal partnership to address college affordability. Seventy-four percent of surveyed participants wished to see greater coordination between the states and the federal government to make college more affordable.

“SHEEOs had differing thoughts on how a state-federal partnership should look,” said Tom Harnisch, SHEEO vice president for government affairs. “There was some consensus among participants that the ‘devil is in the details’ when it comes to states being incentivized to participate.”

Overall, SHEEOs’ perspectives shared concern for college affordability, the desire for a state-federal partnership that allows flexibility, and a preference for targeted tuition-free college policies over those open to all students.

Read the full report and learn more at