Don’t Derail! State Policy Solutions to Keep College Plans on Track

Postsecondary & Workforce

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Earlier this summer, we published A State Policymaker’s Guide to Equitable Transitions in the COVID-19 Era, presenting a framework to help state leaders think through options to ease high school to college transitions during the pandemic. We worked with over 20 organizations to identify barriers and potential policy solutions in six thematic areas: admissions and enrollment, academic readiness, access to financial resources, experiential learning, new learning environments and non-academic supports.

Tomorrow, we are releasing a series of Policy Briefs, authored by a subset of these organizations, to expand on specific topics within these themes and present promising practices and state examples. Both our framing paper and the subsequent briefs address how state policy can be leveraged during and beyond the pandemic to support students equitably. They surface several core considerations for state policymakers:

    • Revisit eligibility requirements. Whether it’s admissions or financial aid, certain eligibility requirements that limit equitable access may be more restrictive than necessary for quality outcomes. Some requirements have been waived during the pandemic to ease transitions for all students. Replacing overly restrictive or burdensome requirements with multiple options can increase equity in access to postsecondary pathways. (Read more from The Hunt Institute.)
    • Ramp up communications. Students need contact and support from counselors, faculty and advisors to successfully navigate the transition to college. In the virtual world of the pandemic, schools, colleges and states got creative with communications in multiple modalities, such as video, texting and chat functions. Multiple access points and intrusive advising initiatives increase the reach of student communications and can improve equity. (Read more from the Education Strategy Group.)
    • Focus limited dollars on students with the greatest need. State policymakers are always faced with difficult decisions about allocations, which have only become more fraught in the current economic downturn. When dollars are limited, policy can support increased equity in access by investing in programs that will have the greatest impact on underserved students. (Read more from Jobs for the Future.)
    • Provide flexibility to develop competency-based models. When face-to-face instruction and learning time become limited or compromised, competency-based models can help. Such models allow students to progress through the curriculum at their own pace with support intensified for those who are struggling. Successful implementation requires flexibility in certain common metrics. When done well, CBE can increase student success across the board. (Read more from KnowledgeWorks.)

These policy considerations emerged as we examined the intersection between transitions, equity and the pandemic. Yet the challenges addressed existed prior to the pandemic and are likely to outlive it. Therefore, policy options that improve equity in our current crisis, if adopted permanently, have the opportunity to make real change in equitable access to, and success in, postsecondary pathways for all students moving forward.

Author profile

As principal, Sharmila provides leadership on the development and execution of Education Commission of the States’ strategic policy initiatives and fosters internal and external relationships. Sharmila brings more than 15 years of education policy experience to her role, including 10 years at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association engaging with state and federal policymakers, funders and national associations in pursuit of policy to smooth transitions between education sectors. Sharmila holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Cornell University and a master’s and doctorate in human genetics from the University of Michigan.

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