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Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 01/ 8/2010

Top 10 education issues for 2010

By Valerie Strauss

Since Friday is the day for lists on The Sheet, here is one showing the 10 most important education policy issues for 2010, as determined by the non-profit American Association of State Colleges and Universities. I have shortened the analysis; for a fuller one, click here.

1) Fiscal Crises Facing States
The biggest force behind much of the policy action that will occur in 2010 is the quarter-trillion-dollar collective deficit that has devastated states’ budgets in the past 24 months. Public colleges and universities throughout most of the country are slicing and dicing budgets because state governments have lowered--dramatically in some cases--public funding. This has been most obvious in California, where tuition increases are the highest ever and where enrollment caps have kept ten of thousands of students out of classrooms.

2. President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative
The president called for the United States to lead the world again in college graduates by 2020 and to have every American enroll in at least one year of college or career training after high school. There is no consensus on whether the country has actually fallen behind but billions of dollars are being invested in raising graduation rates,

3. Tuition Policy and Prices
This includes how college price increases affect access to higher education for not only the neediest students, but also middle-class students and families battered by the recession. Mid-year tuition increases are one way schools are trying to offset state budget cuts. In Virginia, for example, several public colleges and universities in Virginia have imposed mid-year tuition increases for the 2009–2010 academic year ranging from $100 to $300.

4. Enrollment Capacity
With public two- and four-year colleges and universities across the country recording peak enrollments in 2008, and with state budget cuts continuing, concerns are rising over capacity issues are some schools.

5. State Student Aid Programs
According to The College Board’s 2009 Trends in Student Aid report, preliminary numbers indicate a flatlining of total state grant aid during the 2008–09 academic year. The total amount of grant aid held constant at $8.4 billion from the 2007-08 to the 2008-09 academic year. Moreover, the proportion of state aid for students with financial need continues to erode from 90 percent in 1992–93 to 72 percent in 2007–2008. State legislators may have to make difficult decisions in upcoming years on how to fund these programs.

6. Federal Focus on Community Colleges
A major portion of the federal American Graduation Initiative focuses on community colleges, calling for an additional 5 million students to graduate from these institutions by 2020. Further, the creation of the initiative’s Community College Challenge Fund injects approximately $9 billion in challenge grant funding into the sector for innovative programs such as workforce partnerships and $500 million to develop online courses. Another $2.5 billion is slated for investment in upgrading community colleges’ facilities so they can expand their infrastructure to meet the challenge of graduating considerably more students. The total cost of the program is expected to be $12 billion over the next decade.

7. Expansion of Statewide Data Systems and New Reporting Metrics
In the year ahead, states will strive for continued progress in the development of comprehensive data systems designed to measure student growth and success, with momentum fueled by federal support. In addition, many national organizations, state policymakers, and institutional leaders will continue to develop and promote improved metrics for understanding and reporting student progression. Compared to the federal IPEDS graduation rate measure currently in use, the new measures are more inclusive, disaggregated and multifaceted—better able to suggest strategies for improvement.

8. Veterans Education (Implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and State Issues)
As the Post-9/11 GI Bill (formally known as the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008) enters its first full year of implementation in 2010, states are evaluating how this federal program meshes with state-level assistance programs for veteran students. Complicating the matter is the claim-processing backlog that has plagued the Post-9/11 GI Bill since its inception in August 2009. At the time of this writing, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has closed its Education Call Center for two days a week to allow staff to process education benefit claims.

9. College Readiness
There is great variation among states in the rigor of academic standards. As a result, many students can pass all required tests for high school graduation, but still need remedial work in college; many of these students will ultimately not reach their education goals. Some recent progress has been made through the American Diploma Project, through which 35 states are now working to raise high schools standards and align them with college and employer expectations. However, the nation’s long tradition of local autonomy in public education has led to resistance to federal involvement in developing rigorous national standards. Also, in 2009 there was a major breakthrough in the development of national (not federal) college and career-readiness standards, which should undergo continued progress over the coming year.

10. Teacher Effectiveness
Issues of teacher quality and effectiveness will be front and center in 2010 as the federal government and states work to improve student readiness and success. Recognizing the well-documented assertion that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor affecting student learning, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” requires states applying for funds to develop longitudinal data systems that link K-12 student achievement with teacher data. Data on teacher effectiveness are to be used to identify and reward effective teachers as well as to inform professional development. States are also being challenged to use teacher effectiveness data to rate the quality of their teacher education programs so that such programs can be improved. Also in 2010, teacher education issues will be central as the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as “No Child Left Behind” during the Bush administration) is discussed.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 8, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Tags:  education policy  
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