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Cumbass Identifies Trends in State Legislation on Higher Education 

Cumbass Research

by Jewel Caruso

Kanler Cumbass, M.Ed. 2021 and Education Strategy Group(ESG) associate, recently co-authored an article with Oreyane Tate highlighting the ways that lawmakers across the United States seek to legislate higher education's role in students' economic mobility and the overall economic well being of states.

Published on the ESG website, “Education Meets Economic Mobility at the State House," the authors identify a legislative trend linking education, work, and economic mobility in several states.

Cumbass and Tate identify four major state legislative trends related to postsecondary education: incentivizing higher value credentials, investment in work-based learning and navigational support for career options, expanding access to dual enrollment, and awarding grant aid to returning adults.

Incentivizing Credentials of Value: States recognize the need for learners to acquire high-quality credentials that lead to well-paying jobs. Cumbass points out that legislation, such as Texas House Bill 8, emphasizes the importance of accessibility and affordability in postsecondary education. It encourages institutions to make pathways to valuable credentials and high-demand jobs more transparent. This approach aims to increase competitiveness and decrease unemployment by ensuring learners can access education that leads to economic mobility.

Investing in Work-Based Learning and Navigational Support: States are focusing on helping students explore their postsecondary and career options early on. Legislation like Colorado's House Bill 1212 establishes programs like the Apprenticeship Navigator Pilot Program, which aims to increase awareness among high school students about apprenticeship opportunities. Similarly, Rhode Island's Senate Bill 0178 enables learners to earn a bachelor's degree while participating in apprenticeships, reducing the time to degree completion and allowing them to earn wages.

Expanding Access to Dual Enrollment: States recognize the benefits of dual enrollment in promoting college access and sustaining enrollment. West Virginia's House Bill 2005 establishes a dual enrollment pilot program that aligns high school students with workforce needs, provides tuition and fee support, and widens access to postsecondary credentials required for high-paying jobs.

Aiding Adult Learners: Recognizing the enrollment challenges among traditional-aged learners, states are providing grant aid to support adults in pursuing postsecondary education and training. The ReEngage Alabama Grant Program, as outlined in Senate Bill 175, assists adults aged 25 and older in completing their associate or bachelor's degrees, aligning their education with high-demand occupations and enhancing their competitiveness in the workforce.

These trends reflect a concerted effort by states to bridge the gap between education and economic mobility by addressing issues related to affordability, early exploration of career paths, access to higher education, and support for adult learners. The goal is to ensure that individuals from all backgrounds have the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in a rapidly evolving economy. This pathway helps grow the state’s economy.

Overall, this report by Cumbass and Tate showcases the steps state policymakers are making to improve higher education in the United States and to focus on positive student career outcomes.

ESG is a consulting firm that works in K-12, higher education, and workforce leaders to improve student success and advancing equity. Cumbass joined the firm in 2021.

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