Economic and workforce development tops policy priorities for state higher education leaders in 2024

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

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.

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

West Virginia’s Sarah Tucker named SHEEO Executive Committee Chair

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker has been named the chair of the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) Executive Committee.

Dr. Tucker is Chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) and Chancellor of the Community and Technical College System (CTCS). She is the first person to simultaneously hold these two roles – and the first woman to serve as CTCS Chancellor. 

Tucker previously served the SHEEO Executive Committee as treasurer during 2021-22, and chair-elect during 2022-23.

“It’s with great pleasure we announce Dr. Sarah Tucker as the executive committee chair,” said Dr. Robert Anderson, president of SHEEO. “Dr. Tucker has been a great thought-partner and colleague to SHEEO throughout her tenure in West Virginia. Her depth and breadth of experience will continue to serve our community well, and we are thrilled to work with her and our entire Executive Committee in service of our students.”

SHEEO, the national association of the chief executives of statewide governing boards and coordinating boards for postsecondary education, works to assist its members and states in developing and sustaining excellent systems of higher education. The Executive Committee is responsible for shaping SHEEO’s federal priorities and strategies and for leading its communications with Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and other federal agencies. 

“I am honored to serve as the new executive committee chair of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association,” said Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, West Virginia’s Chancellor of Higher Education. “There are remarkable achievements happening across the country that are paving the way for more people to continue their education and succeed throughout their lives. By bringing state higher education leaders together around policies and strategy, SHEEO creates even more of these opportunities. At a time when education and training are more important than ever, I am looking forward to serving in this role to help advance higher education on a national stage and bring even more new ideas to West Virginia.”

Dr. Tucker became Interim Chancellor of HEPC in April 2019 and Chancellor in June 2020. Under her leadership, West Virginia adopted its first-ever statewide dual enrollment program, launching as a pilot in 2023 to provide free college courses for high school students across the state. Under her leadership as CTCS Chancellor since 2015, West Virginia has made enormous strides in taking community and technical education to the next level. A hallmark of her championship on behalf of West Virginia’s students was the State Legislature’s passage of a free community college bill in March 2019. As a result of her hard work and state leaders’ forward-looking investment, the WV Invests program now provides students with last-dollar-in grants that cover the full costs of tuition and fees at the state’s nine community and technical colleges.

The full SHEEO Executive Committee is as follows:


Chair: Sarah Tucker, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

Past Chair: Ben Cannon, Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission

Chair Elect: Clayton T. Christian, Montana University System

Treasurer: Ginger Ostro, Illinois Board of Higher Education


Brian Bridges, New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education

Allison Garrett, Oklahoma State System of Higher Education

Shannon Gilkey, Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner

Harrison Keller, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

Chris Lowery, Indiana Commission for Higher Education

Dennis Olson, Minnesota Office of Higher Education

Noe Ortega, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

Aaron Thompson, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education