State Policy Priorities


State Policies for Equitable Attainment in Higher Education

NCAN's state policy agenda is a set of core strategies to promote equitable access, affordability, and attainment in postsecondary education. These policy proposals are informed by our members across the country, many of whom work directly with students on a regular basis.

States can play a significant role in creating affordable higher education opportunities for all students. For example, state grant aid should be prioritized to students with the most limited financial resources.

Moreover, states should ensure that students can complete their education in a timely manner and work to remedy the existing pitfalls that prevent far too many students from crossing the graduation stage.

Policies to Create Opportunity for All Students:

State Higher Education Funding 

Despite the growing economic need for students to pursue higher education, many states are not maintaining the level of investment required to meet the moment. Only a handful of states have fully recovered to their pre-Great Recession funding levels for higher education. States should ensure tuition-setting policy prioritizes affordability.

Need-Based Student Aid

The price of higher education is ever rising, and students are bearing a greater proportion of this financial burden; meanwhile, attainment is more important now than ever before. Unfortunately, students who require financial assistance have far worse outcomes than their peers from higher-income families. States can support students who may not have the financial means to attend higher ed by investing in need-based aid.

Equitable Free College

"Free college" has become a major policy discussion in states and at the federal level. Generally, states have implemented "free college" programs that cover the full cost of tuition and fees at a public, in-state, two-year (and, in a some cases, a four-year) institution. An example of a more equitable approach would be for states to implement a "first-dollar" program.

Mandatory FAFSA with Supports

Data show FAFSA completion increases the likelihood of enrollment and persistence in higher education. States should require FAFSA completion for high school graduation, but only in a context where a robust opt-out option exists for students, and counselors, advisers, and students are provided with the ample supports needed to effectively meet the requirement.

Access and Affordability for Undocumented Students

Students brought here as children deserve the chance to complete their education. Equity in higher education demands this opportunity, yet these students face unique barriers to college access and affordability. To best support these students, for example, states should allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition and provide need-based aid for those who are income-eligible.

Two- to Four-Year Transfer Pathways

Community colleges (CC) serve about 40% of all postsecondary students, and CC students are disproportionately from backgrounds where inequities in attainment exist. Though the vast majority of enrolled CC students aspire to achieve a bachelor’s degree or higher, approximately one-third of CC students transfer to a four-year institution within six years. Fortunately, some state systems have implemented promising strategies to facilitate the two- to four-year transfer, and ultimately bachelor’s degree attainment.

State Advocacy and Policy Resources

More resources to be available soon.