Critical Considerations for Any New Federal-State Partnership

In response to mounting concerns about the cost of college, lawmakers and presidential aspirants have proposed major new partnerships between the federal government and states to tackle college affordability. In “Fixing America’s College Attainment Problems: It’s About More Than Affordability,” Ed Trust maintains that any new federal-state proposal aimed at making college more affordable must also simultaneously address completion problems by leveraging new investments to ensure that incoming students are better prepared, and making sure that colleges and universities prioritize student success, especially among historically underserved groups of students.

It also gives policymakers, analysts, and advocates critical questions they must consider when crafting and reviewing new federal-state proposals:

  • Is the amount of federal money proportionate to the level of demand the partnership places on states and/or institutions? Are the eligibility requirements for states — including the financial ask — sensitive to state context?
  • Is the funding needed new money or pulled from existing higher education programs?
  • Will the way funding is structured exacerbate or ameliorate education spending differences between wealthier and poorer states and/or institutions?
  • What are the performance requirements, and what actions do they incentivize? What are the prescribed consequences for not meeting some or all of these requirements?

The report makes it clear that our nation needs not just more access to college but more college graduates, and each level of government has a role in getting that job done.

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