State of the States: How Higher Ed Can Build Its Future


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired June 27, 2024

In this episode, Katharine Meyer of Brookings and ACE’s Heidi Tseu join Jon Fansmith to delve into the complex landscape of state higher education governance. They explore trends such as free college approaches, the surge of anti-DEI legislation, and the impact of the Supreme Court rulings on race in admissions. They also dissect the challenges and opportunities facing higher ed around student-athletes, tenure, and state support for skilled workers. Plus, catch up on higher ed news from Congress, DACA, Title IX, and Pell appropriations.

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

Three more spending bills set to hit Rules panel as HouseGOP push moves ahead 
Politico | June 25, 2024 

Small Step Could Bring Big Relief to Young Undocumented Immigrants 
The New York Times (sub. req.)  | June 18, 2024 

What’s the Deal with the Blocked Title IX Rule? Here’s What Colleges Need toKnow. 
The Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req.) | June 20, 2024 

Supreme Court Divided Over Whether to Curb Power of Federal Agencies 
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | Jan. 17, 2024

ACE Releases Updated Issue Brief on Student Voting and Campus Political Campaign Activities 
American Council on Education | June 24, 2024 

ACE Launches Office on National Engagement 
American Council on Education | Sept. 11, 2023 

Tracking Higher Ed’s Dismantling of DEI
The Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req.) | June 21, 2024 

131 Scholarships Affected by Texas DEI Ban 
Inside Higher Ed | June 18, 2024 

Performance-based Funding: The New Normal or aSchtick? 
University Business | March 11, 2024 

Illinois’s Ambitious Plan for Higher Ed Funding 
Inside Higher Ed | March 29, 2024

Massachusetts Governor OKs $50M for Free Community College 
Higher Ed Dive | Aug. 11, 2023

Michigan Free Community College Program to Extend to 350,000 More Residents 
Higher Ed Dive | July 25, 2023 

Paychecks, Drafts and Firings: The Possible Future of College Sports 
The New York Times (sub. req.) | April 22, 2024

Republican attacks on tenure ramp up in latest battle withhigher education 
The Hill | March 3, 2024

Hosts and Guests
Katharine Meyer
Governance Studies Fellow, Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings
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Katharine Meyer - Governance Studies Fellow, Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings - Guest
Katharine Meyer
Governance Studies Fellow, Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. I'm your host, Jon Fansmith, and we'll be joined a little bit later in the episode by Katharine Meyer, who's a fellow in the governance studies program for the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, as well as our colleague, Heidi Tseu, who's the assistant vice president of the office of National Engagement here at ACE.

But before we get to our great guests, I have two great co-hosts who are with me almost as always, Sarah and Mushtaq. How are you guys doing?

Sarah Spreitzer: Good. How are you guys?

Mushtaq Gunja: I'm doing great. Thank you for asking, Sarah. Hi, Jon. It's nice to see you.

Jon Fansmith: Mushtaq is doing great because he's about 3,000 miles away from us, which I think is a big factor in his attitude.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, and soon to be like 6,000 miles away from us, so.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, it is definitely 10 degrees cooler here where I am in Southern California than I think it is in DC, so I'm appreciative of that, but I'm heading to Thailand as Sarah alluded to, and there it would be 10 degrees warmer than whatever the temperature it is in DC. So I'm enjoying the respite, but it's good to see you two, and summer is about to start, which I think means that Congress is about to stop, is about to slow down? What's happening on the hill these days, you two?

Sarah Spreitzer: I almost feel like they've already left town, but I know that's not right. It's been pretty quiet this week. My big bill that I work on is the National Defense Authorization Act, and so I basically told Jon I'm on a six-month vacation until post-election now that the House passed theirs-

Jon Fansmith: Right.

Sarah Spreitzer: I'm joking, there's lots of regulatory stuff for us to work on and talk about, but I do very much feel like Congress is hitting that point where they're going to get as much done as they can and then it will be working behind the scenes over the August recess, do a few things in September, and then they're gone for the election. But what do you think, Jon?

Jon Fansmith: No, that's right. Some of the stuff too, that the must pass things they have to do, NDAA they've got to finalize, but they've done a lot of leg work on that, so they've set that up. Appropriations, I think we're pretty confident they're not going to do until there's the next administration, whether that's a Biden Administration or a new Trump Administration is seated and has the ability to weigh in on policy priorities. So, there's a lot of running out the clock a little bit here, it does feel pretty slow. You don't see a lot of the more heated things.

Now, the one problem with that of course is, spring is going to be a bit of a nightmare because we're going to have appropriations. We don't have an agreement on how much federal spending there'll be, which we've had the last two years, which at least makes the process a little bit easier. And then we'll also get to do the debt ceiling again, which is everyone's favorite thing, so we can get to threats of global economic collapse and government shutdown and all those other things that always make policymaking fun.

Sarah Spreitzer: You... yeah.

Mushtaq Gunja: Our listeners enjoy it because then we make predictions about whether the government's going to shut down or we're going to default, and then we're always wrong and they can snicker at us in the background. So, that's great.

Sarah Spreitzer: So I have a question about approps, like a serious question. I know this is later in our agenda, but are they going to come out with numbers, because are they going to have a House version of a bill, a Senate version of the bill and then they'll try to come to agreement over the break? Or do you think they'll just set marker bills out and then nothing will still happen until after the elections?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I mean the House is already well on its way to putting the marker bills out. They've been moving all of their bills through subcommittees and committees. In fact, this week, as we recorded this on a Tuesday, on Thursday, the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, the committee that covers the funding for the Department of Education and the NIH and a bunch of other things, will be marked up in the House. We don't know what those numbers will look like. We can talk about that in a little bit, but the House is moving forward, they're putting those things out.

The problem is, of course, Republicans control the House. They are proposing a $9 billion increase in funding for defense and Homeland Security, and a $69 billion cut to non-defense spending. Those are just not numbers that will be palatable to Senate. So the Senate's going to have very different numbers, they're going to start with different assumptions.

I think what we have seen the last few years is less the process you outlined. Both chambers pass bills and then they reconciled those bills. A lot of times we don't even see Senate bills outside of a handful of them. Probably what we'll see you talked about, they'll talk in August, we'll know what the House is looking to do, the Senate will have an idea of what they'd like to do. The discussions will begin about what a final package could look like, and then when we get to February, March of next year, we'll see what the political climate is, who has more leverage around what the top line should be, and then what that means trickling down. But the broad parameters of an agreement hopefully will be reached by the end of the year.

Sarah Spreitzer: You're making that sound so exciting, Jon. Really exciting.

Jon Fansmith: It's budget and appropriations, it's incredibly important. It's just not necessarily riveting listening, I get that. I still love it.

Mushtaq Gunja: Can I ask you about two things that may be more riveting? DACA and Title IX. I gather that something has been happening in the DACA space over the last couple of weeks. You want to describe that for our listeners and then I'd love to hear where we are Title IX wise, because there's been a lot of action in the courts.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, on DACA last week, President Biden announced some executive actions to protect DACA and Dreamers. I mean, obviously, he can only do executive actions because Congress has still not passed any legislation to make DACA permanent or provide any pathway for those that would qualify under DACA.

And so the executive actions that he took, the first is that spouses or children of US citizens who may be undocumented will be provided with a way to remain in the US and perhaps a way to get legal permanent residency. And then for our Dreamers and those that qualify for DACA, they're going to make it easier for them to get an employment-based visa if they graduate from an accredited institution of higher education. And this is different from the work authorizations that they receive under DACA, because under an H-1B visa, you could eventually be on a pathway to citizenship. But they haven't shared a lot of details. My understanding is they have 30 days to roll out how they're going to implement this. So we are waiting to see the details from the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department and how our institutions can support our Dreamers, especially in the area of work visas.

Mushtaq Gunja: That's great, Sarah, and Jon, what about the, what's happening in Title IX in the courts?

Jon Fansmith: You basically said it, I'll provide a little bit more detail, but it is all in the courts right now and there's been some pretty substantive action. Currently, two different suits have been brought, or I should say in two different cases, judges ruled to put injunctions in place on the Biden Administration's Title IX package, that impacts 10 states.

So the simple explanation of that is within those 10 states, institutions are not required to come into compliance with the Title IX regulations that the Biden Administration's put out. That's only a piece of what's happening. There are four more lawsuits pending where they're seeking injunctions against rule. Those would cover 16 additional states, so actually, were all of them to be granted, and certainly they're two for two so far. That's the majority of states in the union where there will be blocked from going into effect.

As to their ultimate merits, it's a little bit hard to say obviously, but one other thing that's happening in the next couple of weeks here in DC will probably have some weight in this area. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in a case called Loper Bright Enterprises v, Raimondo, and I think it's relentless ink versus, I forget who the other party is in that one, but less important who the parties are, more important, what's at stake. And this is the Chevron doctrine, essentially the concept that's been in law for decades, that where there's ambiguity in federal laws, courts and others should defer to administrative agency. So essentially, where there's uncertainty as to what Title IX should mean, courts should treat the education department's interpretation as binding.

This is a Supreme Court that is very skeptical of the Chevron doctrine. They've already passed one decision in a case called West Virginia v. EPA that would curtail Chevron doctrine. These two cases have been joined together would go even further. And once you have, and again, it's widely expected that they will put out that ruling either this week or next week, and that they will move to significantly curb the authority of executive agencies.

Once that's the case, expect the floodgates to open. You'll probably see a variety of additional challenges, not just to things like Title IX, which is pending implementation, or the Department of Labor overtime rule where we're pending implementation, but lots of things that are already in the book. Gainful Employment/Financial Value Transparency is a great example. Anything where there is not explicit statutory authority to do what they're doing, those will undoubtedly be challenged in a variety of different jurisdictions.

Mushtaq Gunja: Jon, you are ready to go to law school because that was excellent.

Jon Fansmith: That means a lot coming from you, Mushtaq.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, no, that was really good, and I think the only thing I might add on the courts is, I think your prediction of what the Supreme Court is likely to do in re-administrative law and the power of the agencies and the tackling of Chevron deference, I think is quite right. I think the court is likely to curtail administrative agency's power, whereas you say, there's ambiguity.

But there's also something else that's going on here, which is this trend for federal district court judges to put injunctions and attempt to do nationwide injunctions on administrative actions. And I don't know that the court seems as thrilled about district courts moving in that direction. And I think you're right that we're going to see a flood of lawsuits, I think we're looking at a couple of years worth of significant uncertainty, but I don't know that the court can allow, can put the nation in a position where administrative agencies can't act or can act and then just have all of their decisions put on hold indefinitely by a random district court judge in any of the 50 states, which is something that we've been seeing more and more litigation strategy, especially on the right. Though we may see it on the left if former President Trump wins re-election, so.

Mushtaq Gunja: Stay tuned to this podcast, we'll have a lot to talk about over the next couple of days.

Jon Fansmith: Oh yeah, and just to that point, I want to highlight something our colleague, Pete McDonough shared earlier this week, which was, he'd looked at the number of national injunctions, not upheld by the Supreme Court, but that were issued by lower courts, by presidential administration. And I think Sarah, I'm not sure if you can correct my numbers, but I believe he said it was around eight national injunctions during the George W. Bush Administration, eight years, eight national injunctions. The Obama Administration, I think there were 12 national injunctions. And then former President Trump's sole term as president, there were 50 national injunctions. I would bet we will probably see comparable numbers for the Biden Administration. The pace of that, to your point, Mushtaq, I think that's exactly right. The pace is picking up at such a strong rate that both parties with Congress deadlocked on so many things, just bypass Congress entirely and go directly to the court seeking relief.

Mushtaq Gunja: I have a lot to say about Chevron deference and I think the court has made a mistake, but it's probably not quite for this podcast, but it does mean that who ends up winning the White House of course, will matter a lot for how all of this ends up playing out, both in the course and of course politically. And speaking of Pete McDonough, I wanted to do a little shout-out to the guide to elections that Pete puts out every four years with ACE and a bunch of folks behind the scenes, that helps campuses navigate the fall election season. So please keep an eye out for that campus guide because it's great, it's a wonderful resource and can really help institutions figure out what they need to do to prepare for voting, really starting in September in a lot of states. It's coming before we know it.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and the guide itself, already out, came out yesterday, Monday of this week. So as you listen to this, it's available on ACE's website and I would second Mushtaq's recommendation. It's one of the most downloaded items on our website and for very good reason, it's really very helpful to institutions.

Well, we obviously have a lot to talk about now. We have a lot to talk about going forward, but before we dive deeper into law and administrative policy on future episodes, we have a great conversation coming up with Katharine Meyer and Heidi Tseu about national trends and what's happening at the state level that's impactful for institutions of higher education. So, definitely encourage you to wait just a minute and we come back with that great conversation after this.


Jon Fansmith: And welcome back. As I mentioned at the top of the show, we are joined by two esteemed colleagues, two wonderful guests on dotEDU. The first I'll mention is my colleague and co-worker, Heidi Tseu, AVP for National Engagement here at ACE, and then Katharine Meyer from the Brookings Institution. Katharine, welcome to the show, first of all.

Katharine Meyer: Thank you so much for having me.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and I have to also thank you for, you have also made an appearance on a webinar for National Engagement, so you're becoming an old hand at showing up on ACE things. So, double thanks.

Katharine Meyer: Of course.

Jon Fansmith: Hopefully this one will go as smoothly as the last one did.

Katharine Meyer: Fingers crossed.

Jon Fansmith: I can't promise it though, my better co-hosts aren't on with me, so I'm flying solo a little bit here, but this is a great conversation and you're a great guest to have in part, and I did reference National Engagement because we are spending an increasing amount of time here in Washington looking outside of Washington and thinking about the kinds of things that are happening across the states because they're having a real meaningful impact on higher education. And we are starting to see things, culture war fights, that are permutating into things around governance of institutions, financing of institutions, directives around curriculum, and other things that are really directly impactful in ways frankly, that a lot of federal policy has not been. So Katharine, you're the perfect person to come on. Talk to us about all those things. Maybe I'll just give you a soft ball question and say, looking at the broad landscape, what are you seeing?

Katharine Meyer: Yeah, well, I think that's exactly right to turn to the states. We want the federal government to do certain things in education, but by and large, individual states are setting the agenda for what they want to do with postsecondary education.

As I've been looking at what has gone through the state legislatures in particular over the past six months or so that many of them have been open, I'm seeing it fit into these four broad categories. I group them into money, and whether that's money to institutions or money to students. Mission, as you mentioned, we have a lot of culture war issues rising up to the legislature, but also just questions about how institutions are governed and how they make decisions about admissions and enrollment practices. And then the two buckets of workers and skills, which are similar, but in workers, I think more about workers' rights and what we've been seeing in terms of employment law pass through and the intersection between federal and state employment guidance. And then skills is really just like, how are states thinking about the local labor market and how are they meeting the demands of their local communities in different ways.

Heidi Tseu: Katharine, It's so great to have you join. This is such an important conversation. If we could go back to what Jon raised earlier about these culture war through lines at the state level, I think the impact of state policy on a national level is a funny thing because it's not like these states have had strategic planning meetings at the beginning of their legislative sessions in order to coordinate these policy efforts across borders, but at the end, as you said, you are able to pick out these national trends and tactics and even indicators for what's to come next.

So our office, National Engagement was formed last fall because we were seeing this growing impact of what seemed like disparate policies, but they have national impact, national landscape effect and changes to the whole conversation around higher education as a whole. In fact, that's why we were named National Engagement and not state engagement in recognition of that cause and effect. And so clearly DEI is a strong example of that cause and effect that you've seen, and we now have what, over a dozen states with restrictions on the books. But maybe more concerningly, we've seen a fundamental change in this conversation around DEI programs in higher ed.

So, where do you see this going next? I mean, state legislators didn't necessarily coordinate this effort, but we do know that the drivers of these culture war topics did intentionally push these agendas from state to state. Do you think this urge has been satisfied or do you think this is the beginning of a new state level strategy for future culture war topics, and what do you think these topics might be that we should anticipate?

Katharine Meyer: Right, I think that's exactly right. It's not like these DEI or anti-DEI policies came out of nowhere and everybody just woke up one day and had the same thought to advance this legislation. There's model legislation being put out by right-leaning institutions that are proposing what states should put forward. And I think a lot of this is built in trends that we've seen nationally and over the past couple of years, so some general distrust and a growing partisan divide in trust in higher education in general. And I think that skepticism is what a lot of these initiatives are drawing on. If you can draw on this tendency to think that maybe the returns to education, the higher education aren't as great, or there's just a general misconfidence there, then it makes it easier to put these efforts forward. And they have very real implications. This is not just saying, oh, we want to change the name of an office, or we think that you need to change how you're marketing this. Real people are losing their jobs, people who work in student services who work to support students to remain enrolled and to persist and complete college are no longer available for those students. We're seeing that play out, as you said, in dozens of states and at different institutions.

I think what is so concerning to me is the chilling effect of a lot of these efforts. In some states, they're passing very specific laws that say you can't have an office focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, or you can't have your LGBTQ office. But in other states, we're seeing institutions just roll back programs because they don't want to become the next target. I think this chilling effect and institutions understandably being very wary and wanting to avoid litigation is the real impact of this effort, that you don't actually need to pass a law to scare people into rolling back programs that we know helps students feel like they belong and again, to be more successful at other institutions.

Jon Fansmith: And Katharine, you mentioned, and we know this, this isn't new, this is, efforts have been underway for a while, and I think of CRT, which predated DEI. This is not occurring in a vacuum though, and we are in a particularly unique moment. Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that colleges could no longer consider race as part of holistic admissions. At the same time, we are seeing this concerted effort to, as you pointed out, roll back programs or intimidate institutions into avoiding providing those programs in the first place that might reach those students who would most benefit from support, especially in a climate in which race can no longer be considered. Are we seeing additional state efforts around that to either further implement the Supreme Court's ruling or take it even steps further?

Katharine Meyer: Yeah. Well, I think that really fits into this mission bucket and really comes down to this question of autonomy. How much are you going to trust an institution to set its own mission and pursue activities that advance that? Or how much do you think the state or the federal government should have a say there?

So, obviously one of the biggest impacts of the decision has been a wave of legislation against legacy admissions that we're seeing. So we saw Virginia and Maryland ban the consideration of legacy status for admitting students to their universities. I think we'll continue to see those efforts pull up in other legislations. A couple are still considering them. We might see revivals of them in future years.

And then we're seeing, of course, Missouri is the biggest example, but the interpretation of particular here, the attorney generals in different states, as to whether or not this means you can no longer consider race in scholarship awards, which is not in the Supreme Court's decision, but again, falls into this a little bit chilling effect and a little bit over interpretation effect, of inferring from that decision, whether or not you can have race specific scholarships, whether you can have race specific outreach or cohort programs. Again, none of which were named or prohibited by the Supreme Court's decision, but I think there's a tendency to be overly cautious when these things come out.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and I do think it's an interesting difference too, in terms of maybe a chilling effect in terms of campus policies or launching offices, and then as you point out, some of these states were very specific, efforts to dictate institutional policies. And some of that I think is probably reflected what we've also seen. I will say it used to be, I think at least widely considered that trustees and other people appointed to oversee institutions were seen as apolitical actors. They were fiduciary agents of the institution, their goal was to grow and support the institution. That's changing across the states, right?

Katharine Meyer: Yeah, I think so. We're seeing this becoming increasingly politicized and in reaction to that, I think quite a lot of student pushback as you might expect about who's getting appointed to different boards. And so I think campuses will have to deal with that tension in the years to come.

Jon Fansmith: And one of the things obviously as we talk about state legislatures and the power and the impact that they wield, is in part related to what I think you mentioned as the first of your buckets, which was money. They in many cases provide a significant amount of institutions funding, especially for public institutions, but also through financial aid in some states. What's going on with money in higher ed at the state level right now?

Katharine Meyer: Money, it's a lot of money. In 2023 states spent about $116 billion on higher education. That's a lot of money going around. And like you said, some of that is direct funding to institutions, some of that is funding to students to take as they please.

On the institution side, we've seen for the past decade or so, an increase in performance-based funding, wanting to give institutions what you might loosely call incentive funding, if they enroll a more diverse cohort or especially if they have better college completion outcomes, giving them a little bit more money. That's not usually the bulk of the funding that institutions get, but it's been growing over the time it's been growing in which institutions get that funding.

I think for me, what I've seen in the past year or the past couple of years is a shift to maybe more of these equitable outcomes-focused funding, but trying to get funding to institutions more on the front end. So if you think that it's going to take more money and more student services to help a Pell Grant recipient get through college because they face unique challenges, you should give the institution that money up front so that they can actually do that, not after they've successfully graduated that student.

I know Illinois really put forth this big commission looking at equitable funding that would have boosts for enrollment and really trying to use this data driven approach like, let's look at our state context and see. In Illinois, they were seeing something like a 22 percentage point gap in college going between low income and higher income students. Well, that's a really big gap, so let's put forth a big additional boost for those low income students. And where there are smaller gaps, you can put a little bit less of a boost in there to support student services.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and one of those criticisms when state performance-based funding models first came out was exactly that, right? That they focused on outcomes, so you tended to see the institutions that may have been better resourced, may have been dealing with the assumed population with less need, getting a disproportionate share of the funding, in part. So it is interesting to see that trend reversing,

Katharine Meyer: Right, and what you measure, people respond to. We also saw institutions shifting their enrollments a little bit, and sometimes that was a good thing. We saw some states say we want to incentivize enrollment in STEM degrees. Well, when they put it into their performance-based spending models, they got more STEM degrees. But when you're incentivizing completing college, you're going to enroll more students who are going to be "easier" to get through. So that had real enrollment implications as well.

Jon Fansmith: And outside of performance-based funding, it feels like we've been having this debate at the federal level for a long time, but really, probably only since about 2015, 2016, the idea of free college as a universal provision, certainly at least free public higher education, but the states are moving forward, right? We're deadlocked on it at the federal level, but states are moving forward in different ways. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Katharine Meyer: Yeah, states have been rolling this out. I don't know if we'll get a federal effort, and I think any federal effort has to really be a federal-state partnership anyway to make that happen, but we're considering to see Massachusetts and Michigan are looking at, at least the governor's set out priorities for free college. And now those legislatures are still in session, they're debating about the details. But in both of those cases, what I think is really interesting is we're seeing a renewed focus on students' basic needs in addition to the funding. So, a lot of the early promise programs were very much these last dollar programs, they topped off whatever was left after you applied your Pell Grant. Some of these are still structured the same way, but in both Massachusetts and Michigan, they're proposing an additional stipend to cover basic needs and other cost of attendance metrics, which I think just is a testimony to several years of advocacy about the fact that obviously, tuition fees aren't the only costs that students are struggling with to get through.

Heidi Tseu: I think what makes me really optimistic when I hear you talking here Katharine, is that there are these common goals that we are sharing across our communities for how we want to move higher education forward. And so as part of our thinking for our National Engagement work, it's not just this analysis of what happened and why, but I think the next step is, what can we do about it moving forward? And I'm interested in your categories around workers and skills because there are legislative pieces that are coming out that cut across these sort of culture war lines. In particular, Alabama has a bill in the legislature which would allow some undocumented students to attend college in Alabama, and it's bipartisan and the motivation and the narrative recognizes that it's to reverse the trend of undocumented students leaving the state in order to attend college because they want the students to stay. So I'm curious to hear from you, what are your thoughts around leaning into those kind of shared goals and how we can translate that into having impact on what's happening in the upcoming legislative session?

Katharine Meyer: Yeah, workforce development continues to really be an area for bipartisan agreement, that's at the state and the federal level. I mean, I think the most promising, not that I think it'll actually pass, but the most promising bipartisan effort at the federal level has been expanding Pell Grants for short-term programs that are really aligned with these workforce development goals. I think politics will get in the way and shoot that down, or at least not this year, but it's the thing that came closest to getting passed at the federal level.

But I agree, at the states, it's all about wanting to revitalize the economy, wanting to have a strong workforce, wanting to have a good labor market. Every state knows where they have labor shortages, and here's where it's so interesting and so important to do this state by state and let each state determine what their shortages are. Now, you can't do that without good data and so I'm really encouraged to see states really focusing on data-driven approaches. Where are the labor shortages, but also in conversation, having conversations with commerce in their area and understanding what needs they have and how institutions can step up and be more agile to address that.

Heidi Tseu: Yeah, that's great, and I think it's interesting as we start to look at the involvement of industries outside of higher education, that are drawing that circle around the connected pieces for how we all are supporting each other in these shared goals. Do you see increasing trends in private businesses and outside entities entering into these topics? Or do you think this is something that is going to recenter back into the higher education world in the upcoming sessions?

Katharine Meyer: Yeah, I mean, I still think when we look at community colleges or regional, four years, all of our higher education institutions, these are places that are well-designed to do workforce development and so it's good for businesses to partner with those institutions. It's hard to do that in-house training. I think we will continue to see this public-private partnership, in terms of driving degree programs. So in Virginia, there is a big partnership between one of the hospital medical companies and some of the community colleges to say, these are the areas where we really see a healthcare need. How can we make sure we're increasing spots there?

I think less so on public-private, but more on this connecting education to workforce, something related to that is I'm seeing this expansion of apprenticeship programs, which has always been situated in Department of Labor, workforce development, but applying those to more education, and in this case very education teacher apprenticeship programs. The increasing emphasis on grow your own and thinking about teacher education as workforce development, that's where I think it's just this really interesting intersection of two departments that conceptually have often been separated, blending together to address local teacher shortages.

Jon Fansmith: So Katharine, Heidi was talking about skills, I think some very illuminating answers, but we also talked a little bit about workers, and I think there's a very interesting, maybe messy, confusing, certainly based on what we're hearing from our members, new discussion about, are student athletes actually workers? Are they employees of an institution? And there's certainly been a lot of discussion about that on the federal level. There's certainly things pending in the courts, but again, as per usual, states are out in front making changes, proposals are out there. I don't know that there could be a more confusing aspect of current postsecondary life than student athletics, but let's add a few more layers of complexity to it. What's going on with the states and student athletes?

Katharine Meyer: Right? It's the wild west of policy right now. Every single state is coming up with their own model about what they want to do with student athletes, how they want to govern name image likeness, and NCAA has put forth fairly tepid, broad guidance and continues to run up against court challenges to some of those guidance.

So for example, they're temporarily not enforcing the restriction against using NIL contacts in the recruitment process because they've been challenged in court, and so they're just not applying that nationally. Well, that's changing the conversations that colleges are having with prospective athletes. They're going to leverage those incentives and talk about the potential contracts you can get during recruitment. And this is an area where you do not want a patchwork approach. When we think about when the federal government should be involved in anything, in education in particular, it's when you have a national market like this. The student athletes are crossing state boundaries. A, they should have a standardized set to face in all of these states. And B, it's just confusing and it sets students up for failure, to keep all of 50-plus different models in mind and maybe mistakenly violate the one at the institution you ended up in because you had the other institution in mind. That just doesn't set students up for success. So this is very clearly the case where you want strong federal guidance. I hope we'll get it.

And I think there, again, where I've seen some bipartisan consensus at the federal level is that we do need some form of federal guidelines.

Jon Fansmith: I don't know that we've seen a whole lot of consensus on what exactly those guidelines should be, but everyone does seem to get the point that in your phrasing, I think a number of people have called it the wild west. It really is almost, you don't want to say, lawless environment, but certainly, the laws are highly variable.

Just thinking about the idea that the federal government may not act, I often think about technology as another area the federal government's always playing catch up with what's actually happening in the world. Do you see an environment where athletics gets to the point where we have these sort of state by state actions that just make it functionally impossible for conferences to operate in across broader areas?

Katharine Meyer: I don't think so because I think there's enough of consensus and fondness for student athletics in the conference system that we're going to find a way to make it work. I think there's enough public enthusiasm here that we're not going to let the system crash. I certainly love watching March Madness, so I hope that the system doesn't crash. I think there's enough will there to get it done.

Heidi Tseu: So, shifting to a different type of employment category, we've seen this spurt of state policies that are attempting to legislate around tenure and policies for how faculty are retained, how they're evaluated, how they are hired. What are you seeing there? It didn't look like there was a great amount of purchase when it came to actual enactments, but that intent has certainly bubbled up.

Katharine Meyer: I think here we have this really fascinating tension between two things that we've talked about today. One is the sort of anti higher education, the partisan divide and trust on institutions and wanting to put guardrails around amplifying the tenure system, but also as you talked about in Alabama, the sense of wanting higher education policies to be good for the economy. If your institutions can't attract and retain top line talent and you think that that is going, you can see how that's going to impact your enrollments, that's going to impact the labor and market outcomes of your students, then I think you as a state are going to be hesitant to put this in place. So I think in this discussion, it really depends how much you can frame tenure and the structure of faculty contracts or any school employee contracts in this economic language and building your state's capacity. I think that's going to give pause to putting some of these more restrictive bills forward. And I think that's why we haven't seen more, to your point, find purchase in the recent sessions.

Heidi Tseu: So you think there, it's a ripe area where this ability to articulate a different case for why these types of policies aren't going to work for that particular state, that's what's gaining ground? Is that something that can be replicated as we think about other topics in your other categories that you're looking at?

Katharine Meyer: Yeah, I mean, I think that's the common thread through everything in higher education policy right now. Again, we keep talking about the partisan divide and confidence in education, the declining support for education, and I think that's true. We're at a moment where people are asking real questions, but it's when you ask real questions that you get good innovation and conversations like this. It's time for colleges to step up and make the case for the value they're adding to the community and how they can be partners with the community. The name community college highlights how vital these institutions are to the wellbeing in individual states and the same again, for our regional or flagships. All sorts of institutions in a state provide value, and I think the opportunity in the next couple of years is to say, not just like, oh, this is how many people we're graduating and the local economic impact, but how we can do that in partnership.

Heidi Tseu: So I'm hearing two things, Katharine. I'm hearing optimism and I'm hearing that we should all be leaning in.

Katharine Meyer: I think so. I'm an eternal optimist, I think college is worth it and we can make it even more worth it. I don't mean to be blindly optimistic, I know we face challenges. We have challenges getting students graduated from different types of colleges. We have challenges with students transferring and being able to fully engage in their studies and these are real challenges students face, but I also think we have people in higher education and in the states who genuinely care about supporting students and supporting people. Folks who went into public service to be in their state legislature because they love public service. So yes, I am without doubt in optimist. We'll see how long that lasts. Check that a decade later.

Jon Fansmith: I was going to say, generally optimism is not very commonly found on our podcast, so it's nice to have you adding that element. I might just have one last question for you before you go, and then maybe it's a little bit unfair, but there's a lot of things we've talked about that I think you could very specifically say these are policy issues, how do you produce the kind of workforce you're looking for? How do you make education accessible within your state? And those are ongoing conversations, constant improvement efforts to do that.

There have been, as we've talked about as well, a number of attacks on higher education and attacks on the autonomy of institutions, attacks on what they teach, how they teach, who they're teaching. Some of this, at least I think we think of at the federal space as tied to the elections, right? You've talked about an increasing divide between the parties, in terms of the composition of their voters, educational attainment, partisan affiliation around education. Do you think part of what we're seeing at the state level is also tied to that? This is, we're heading into elections, maybe some of this gears up around elections, and then when elections pass, it'll die down somewhat? Or is this just the new normal?

Katharine Meyer: Yeah, I mean, I think you're right. The trends that we've seen in the states of pushing back against this institutional autonomy, I'll say, this is a national trend, it was absolutely heightened after Trump's first election. You can really see, if you look at the polling, Pew has a tracker, you can really see the split and the partisan support for higher education really occurring around 2015, 2016, 2017. So in that sense, I don't think that sentiment is going away regardless of the outcome of November this year.

But what I'll say is, to Heidi's point about leaning in, I think that's the opportunity for colleges to go on the offensive. The anti-college, the anti-higher education movement is certainly not hesitated to go on the offensive and it has resulted in a lot of institutions being on defense and responding to policies coming out. As states want to build up and support higher education that needs to take the form of offensive policy back to the student athlete, not offensive, but on the offense policies of, again, strengthening support for students, strengthening supports for institutions, codifying how you want to support higher education in your state, in a way that when bills become a law, they're awfully hard to unravel, building the system that you want to see live in your state for decades to come.

Jon Fansmith: Well, that is fantastic, I think, advice for all of our listeners and Katharine, I want to thank you for coming on, sharing your time, your expertise, certainly sharing your optimism with us. So, thank you for joining us today.

Katharine Meyer: Oh, thank you so much. This has been a delight.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and we'll just have to look for yet another way to leverage your talents for ACE. I'm sure Heidi has a few ideas in mind already.

Heidi Tseu: We have a thing in the works, so stay tuned.

Jon Fansmith: All right, well, thank you so much and thanks all of you for listening. We'll be back next month.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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