Funding, student support, apprenticeships and diverse career pathways were the most common focuses, but other issues including mental health, broadband and the aim to provide equal educational opportunity were emphasized as well.
By Nathan Le Duc
Governors began their 2022 legislative sessions as the Omicron variant spiked and many states recorded substantial budget surpluses. In the wake of these events, Governors focused their State of the State remarks on their residents’ shared achievements and laid out their plans for facing the complex issues ahead. State higher education systems were central in these plans. Funding, student support, apprenticeships and diverse career pathways were the most common focuses, but other issues including mental health, broadband and the aim to provide equal educational opportunity were emphasized as well.
Education policy during the past year has been dominated by the focus on transitioning back to in-person instruction, dealing with interrupted education, and addressing the widening of achievement gaps for disadvantaged communities. Nationally, student debt also increased last year, while both graduation rates and enrollment in higher education continued to lag behind pre-pandemic rates.
State of the State addresses from the nation’s Governors emphasize the unique role of states in higher education leadership. This brief explores their legislative requests for the 2022 session in the following categories:
- Wraparound supports
- Work-based learning (WBL) and apprenticeships
- Health care workforce development
- Student success
- Remote learning and the digital divide
Supported by an influx of federal spending, an average 15% increase in state income tax revenue in fiscal year 2021, and widespread state budget surpluses, many Governors introduced plans that included substantial new investments in education systems–especially in programs directly tied to workforce development priorities. In all, 38 Governors spoke about higher education funding, with some advocating for billions in new spending over the next 5 years.
- Governor John Bel Edwards, Louisiana:
- “Shaping the future always, always begins with education. So the budget I have proposed includes: $31.7 million for faculty pay raises in higher education. $10.5 million for the MJ Foster Promise Program Fund, created by President Cortez just last year. $97.2 million for higher education, which includes $5 million for Title IX offices across the state, $15 million increase in GO Grants, and $25 million into the Higher Education Initiatives fund.”
- Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan:
- “We eliminated the cost barrier for 170,000 Michiganders, who are getting skills and better-paying jobs through Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners… Together, we made the largest education investment in state history without raising taxes — something we’ve done three years in a row.”
- Governor Charlie Baker, Massachusetts:
- “We increased public school spending by $1.6 billion and fully funded the game changing Student Opportunity Act. We invested over $100 million in modernizing equipment at our vocational and technical programs, bringing opportunities to thousands of students and young adults. We dramatically expanded STEM programming, and we helped thousands of high school students from Gateway Cities earn college credits free through our Early College programs.”
- Governor J.B. Pritzker, Illinois:
- “At the beginning of my term I pledged to… Increase MAP scholarships by $200 million, get more Pell Grants and low-cost federal loans for Illinois students, and increase direct support for institutions of higher learning. With this FY23 budget proposal, we will have achieved all three during my first term in office.”
Wraparound Supports/Student Well-being
The pandemic’s effects on student well-being prompted a surge of research and policy action on supports and wrap-around services, especially for mental health. Governors also spoke about child care, English language learning resources, food and housing security, disrupted learning and the effects of grief and loss on education. In all, at least 19 Governors highlighted the need for additional supports for students.
- Governor Henry McMaster, South Carolina:
- “We must also recognize that a mental health crisis exists in South Carolina, especially among our young people who have weathered two years of disruptions, virtual instruction, isolation and constant changes to normal routines. This crisis is here, right now. Students must have access to professional mental health counseling and services.”
- Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama:
- “I am proud that my Administration, with the support of the Legislature, is doing more to make significant improvements in mental health care than any since Governor Lurleen Wallace in the 1960s. In my commitment to expanding access to quality mental health care, I am proposing a $12 million investment for two additional mental health crisis centers, as well as other health services.”
- Governor Phil Scott, Vermont:
- “From academics to extra curriculars, we have a lot of ground to make up. So, the Agency of Education, Department of Mental Health and schools are putting $285 million in recovery dollars to work to address social, emotional and educational gaps.”
- Governor Chris Sununu, New Hampshire:
- “I am calling on the House and Senate today to continue the progress we’ve made in bolstering mental health services by passing SB 234 — which would require every student ID card in New Hampshire to have the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Easy access to this 24-hour emergency service for every family — It’s so simple, costs nothing, but will undoubtedly save lives.”
Work-based Learning and Apprenticeships
Enrollment in alternative postsecondary learning pathways such as apprenticeship programs has increased substantially in recent years due to their ability to provide pathways to high wage salaries. In some sectors such as cybersecurity, the number of job openings surpassed 50% of the total number of individuals currently employed in the field, sparking new programs across the country focused on filling these open jobs. In all, 27 Governors spoke on work-based learning and apprenticeship programs. Governors’ remarks focused mostly on the success of previous investments but also proposed new funds and programs to bolster the state workforce.
Additional information on state efforts to increase the effectiveness and reach of work-based learning programs can be found in Diversifying Partnerships in Work-Based Learning, and the Key Role of Community Colleges in Scaling Apprenticeship Programs Statewide.
- Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa:
- “Through bipartisan efforts, we established Future Ready Iowa, which provides tuition-free community college and certification programs to Iowans training for high-demand jobs. Since the fall of 2019, more than 35,000 scholarships have been awarded, empowering nearly 17,000 Iowans to pursue careers and advance Iowa’s workforce — with thousands more to come.”
- Governor Daniel McKee, Rhode Island:
- “Let’s launch Rhode Island’s first Higher Ed Academy, a statewide effort to meet Rhode Islanders where they are and provide access to education and training, that leads to a good-paying job. Through this initiative, which will be run by our Postsecondary Education Commissioner Shannon Gilkey, we expect to support over a thousand Rhode Islanders helping them gain the skills needed to be successful in obtaining a credential or degree.”
- Governor Pete Ricketts, Nebraska:
- “Our students continued to pursue personal development. We enter 2022 with more than 3,900 Nebraskans in registered apprenticeship programs throughout the state — including through our six great community colleges. That’s 3,900 more Nebraskans who are pursuing growth and contributing to our diverse, skilled workforce.”
- Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida:
- “Over the past three years, Florida has added more than 50 new apprenticeship programs. The credentials earned through our workforce initiatives have paved the way for employment in a variety of fields like aviation, logistics and welding. These are as valuable and as honorable endeavors as attending august universities, and they deserve our support.”
Governors’ focus on postsecondary affordability is the result of both budget surpluses and the sharp increase in the annual cost of college – a rise that is outpacing the growth of family income or state investment. Governors’ plans to make education more accessible included expanding need-based scholarships, freezing tuition, offering free community college, and emphasizing nontraditional education pathways that lead to high-wage careers. The impact of affordability on racial equity was also highlighted.
- Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico:
- “Almost 40,000 more students receiving high-quality college education for free under my Opportunity Scholarship program means more skilled workers building 21st-century careers right here in Roswell, Espanola, Sunland Park, Rio Rancho, Chama and so many more; the intellectual infrastructure of a nationally competitive state economy is being built right here, right now, on campuses and in communities through our state.”
- Governor Henry McMaster, South Carolina:
- “Every South Carolina resident who qualifies for a federal Pell Grant will be eligible for 100% of their tuition to be paid for with a grant at any in-state public college, university, or technical college.”
- Governor Janet Mills, Maine:
- “First, I am proposing funding in my supplemental budget to stave off tuition hikes across the University of Maine System, to keep university education in Maine affordable. Secondly, thinking especially about all those young people whose aspirations have been most impacted by the pandemic, I propose making two years of community college free… To the high school classes of 2020 through 2023 — if you enroll full-time in a Maine community college this fall or next, the State of Maine will cover every last dollar of your tuition so you can obtain a one-year certificate or two-year associates degree and graduate unburdened by debt and ready to enter the workforce.”
- Governor Kathy Hochul, New York:
- “We’re also going to restore the Tuition Assistance Program for incarcerated people — ending a 30-year ban. “
Other Key Themes
Health care workforce development
At least 27 Governors thanked the healthcare workforce for their ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic. Many promised to support them with more funding and to strengthen education and training pipelines to decrease worker shortages.
- Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia:
“My budget proposals include an initial $1 million for the University System of Georgia to expand nursing programs to up to 500 students annually over five years and funding for our Technical College System to grow their partnership with Allied Health to serve up to 700 additional students annually.”
- Governor Jared Polis, Colorado:
“I will be proposing in the days ahead, a three-year plan to make historic investments to stabilize our healthcare workforce and expand career paths for all Coloradans who heed the noble calling of caring for others.”
Governors expressed concern over interrupted instruction and the need for academic recovery programs – especially when it comes to disadvantaged communities. In all, 19 Governors mentioned student achievement in their address and many presented plans to increase educational equity.
- Governor Spencer Cox, Utah:
“That’s why I am proposing more than $970 million in education funding with a priority focus on at-risk and disadvantaged students. A child’s zip code should never determine their future or their opportunities.”
- Governor John Carney, Delaware:
“Amidst all these challenges, last year, the General Assembly made permanent new resources to support low-income students and English learners in public schools.”
- Governor Jay Inslee, Washington:
“This proposal further empowers educators so they can innovate to address what kids have suffered through because of COVID, just as they have done throughout the pandemic. Educators, when empowered, can develop solutions to overcome opportunity gaps.”
Remote learning and the digital divide
Many Governors highlighted the impact of broadband access on educational pathways, including the opportunity to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged groups through infrastructure investments.
- Governor David Ige, Hawai’i:
“Virtual classrooms became a necessity, but we also learned that they could supplement in-person classes and provide opportunities that would not otherwise be available. That’s why we’re supporting the expansion of virtual classrooms and the Hawai’i Virtual Learning Network… The pandemic made us realize that we could use virtual classrooms to ensure that every student has every opportunity to learn no matter where they live.”
- Governor Ned Lamont, Connecticut:
“The infrastructure funding will also extend broadband to those rural and urban areas cut off by the digital divide. We already added free Wi-Fi to many town greens, schools and libraries so you can do everything from Brooklyn, Connecticut, that you can from Brooklyn, New York. Telehealth, e-learning, and telecommuting are not just nice to have — they are a 2022 necessity. This is as much about fairness and equality as it is convenience and efficiency.”
About NGA: NGA supports Governors’ policy priorities as the only association representing the leaders of the Nation’s 55 states, territories, and commonwealths. The NGA Center for Best Practices collaborates with Governors and their advisors to identify policies and programs to address the educational challenges Governors face.