Bridging the ‘Divide’ in Times of Policy Uncertainty

Postsecondary & Workforce

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As we experience changes in state education leadership, there is a sense of anticipation in education policy and practice. New leadership will inevitably bring new ideas and has left many of us asking, what does this mean for our own work in the education policy space? 

When thinking about spheres of influence in higher education the rhetoric often leans towards depicting a separation between researchers and policy professionals. In a recent policy insights brief, Translating Research into Policy to Increase Equity in Higher Education: Lessons Learned from the ASHE-WICHE Collaborative, released by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), authors share recommendations for increased collaboration between policymakers and researchers to increase equity and inclusion within postsecondary education. Outlined in the brief are action steps needed to improve the links between educational research and policy. The reality is that there needs to be increased collaboration across researcher, practitioner and policymaker silos to respond to current and changing needs.

Now, let’s not be naïve, this is often easier said than done. These entities are often separated by distance, mission, intended constituents and preferred methods to address change. But there is hope, and despite these difficulties, there are opportunities to cross these divides.

I recently attended the 41st annual Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) Conference. ASHE and its members are committed to scholarly research, interdisciplinary and collaborative work, and discourse about the pressing issues of higher education to lead the advancement of postsecondary education, policy and public interest. The annual meeting commenced the morning after the recent presidential election, and there was a palpable feeling of uncertainty in the air. The impacts of the results and what they meant for our work was in the forefront of many thoughts, both that day and throughout the conference. Again, a similar question surfaced: What is our responsibility to collaborate among education scholars, practitioners and researchers to address any changes to come as a result of new leadership?

I participated in the conference in several diverse manners: a student attendee, an Education Commission of the States presenter and as an ASHE committee chair member. Wearing these different hats allowed me to directly witness the sometimes great divide between education scholars, practitioners and policy thinkers.

The theme of bridging the divide between different policy communities continued this week at Education Commission of the States’ Winter Commissioners Meeting. The meeting brought together key education leaders and constituents across the 50 states to discuss the opportunities for, and benefits of, collaboration, while multiple spheres came together to share ideas and action plans for the year ahead. Among the focused and applicable action steps outlined in the Policy Insights brief, action step two states: all education professional communities should establish systematic and sustainable ways for scholarly and policy organization networks to flourish. While there is still work to be done to increase these efforts, there continue to be great examples that set the blueprint. Even in times of political changes, we can be certain that opportunities for collaboration, like the ASHE Annual Conference and the convenings designed by Education Commission of the States, continue to create bridges between scholarly and policy communities.

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