Time and time again, at critical junctures in our nation’s history, our leaders have bet on education as a route to future prosperity, equality of opportunity, and a stronger civic fabric. Today, our colleges and universities once again have a central role to play in helping Americans overcome years of stagnant incomes, preparing for a tidal wave of economic dislocation resulting from automation, and bridging growing civic and political divides.
Over the course of the 20th century, states built the community colleges and public universities that now enroll three-quarters of America’s college students. But higher education as a whole has low graduation rates and rising student debts. As a result, many colleges and universities are not yet the reliable path to the middle class or the force for social, economic, and civic progress that they should be.
The good news is that colleges have identified a growing number of ways to help students graduate from college and find rewarding jobs. However, too often colleges struggle to sustain even successful innovations, much less help them reach more students across campuses and the country. The challenge for state leaders is to help college leaders identify what works and apply it systematically to benefit students.
As a Democrat and a Republican, the authors of this report may not agree on everything, but we both believe that the strategic use of data and evidence can help more college students succeed. In this paper—part of a series published by Results for America—we present specific recommendations for state leaders to use data and evidence in the financing of colleges in order to improve student outcomes. We recently published a similar paper focused on federal policies. The steps we outline below can help promote upward mobility, foster shared economic growth, and enable Americans of all backgrounds to understand and cooperate with one another to solve our toughest public challenges.