Transcript

[music]

0:00:09.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Hello, and welcome to Today's Students, Tomorrow's Talent, the podcast about work and learning after high school brought to you by Lumina Foundation. I'm your host, Dakota Pawlicki, and it's a pleasure to be back with you after our short hiatus. Today's show is all about state and federal policy. We're going to look at major themes from last year and highlight some key policy areas to keep an eye on throughout 2023. Later in the show, I'll be joined by Paola Santana, Lumina's State Policy Strategy Officer, to talk through Lumina's policy agenda and process with some state-level leaders had shared with us at a November policy retreat. But before we get to Paola, let's begin at the federal level. Joining me today is Julie Peller, Executive Director of Higher Learning Advocates, a bipartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for solutions to break down systemic barriers and support the success of today's students through federal policy. Joining me now is Julie Peller from Higher Learning Advocates. Julie, thanks so much. Good morning, and I'm so glad to spend some time with you today.

0:01:12.0 Julie Peller: Thanks so much for having me. Good to see you.

0:01:14.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Good to see you, too. I know we were just at a similar event, and I furiously wrote you an email like, I think I saw you across the way. Can I get you on the show? I know you're incredibly busy, and I appreciate you joining in with us today.

0:01:26.7 Julie Peller: Absolutely. Absolutely. Anytime.

0:01:28.7 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah. Well, we have a big task, Julie, and it begins with reviewing key themes from 2022 at the federal policy level. I mean, what a big question I know. I guess maybe one way to start is, what did we expect would happen last year? What actually happened last year? What are your key takeaways out of 2022?

0:01:52.3 Julie Peller: So I think the thing that everybody was expecting and watching was what the Biden administration would do on student loan forgiveness. While not the biggest current higher education policy for current students, it certainly took up a lot of news, took up a lot of time and attention, and certainly very important for people already out there. What we saw was kind of a path measure. They tried to forgive those student loans, and it's still kind of going through the process in the courts. So we expected some action, we saw some, but we didn't see any completion. So that was a little unexpected that it was left hanging at the end of the year.

0:02:38.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah. There seem to be a lot of people that feel like that's left hanging at the end of the year. It seemed like for one minute, the portal was up and people were getting things forgiven. And then the next minute it was like, down, don't apply for it. Where does that stand today? Not only in terms of what people should be doing who are interested in determining if they can get some of those student loans canceled, but also kind of at the policy level.

0:03:07.2 Julie Peller: So at the policy level, it is still going through the legal considerations and will ultimately end up in court cases to be decided whether or not the Biden administration or any administration has this authority. I think the best thing for individuals to do is to make sure that their information is current with the Department of Education so that way any updates or information or eligibility, they can receive that communication pretty clearly. Make sure you don't ignore an email that says from the Department of Education or from Federal Student Aid Administration, because that's really how they're reaching out to people these days.

0:03:54.7 Dakota Pawlicki: And I guess just to go one step further on this topic, because I do think it was certainly a major theme from last year, I'm trying to understand the sticking point. Is it a matter of some of the details, who's eligible, what the threshold should be, or is it more at the principal level of whether or not this should be done or we should cancel that or not at a fundamental level?

0:04:26.6 Julie Peller: Yes, yes, and yes. Policy wonks will always get into the details and then decide, talk about should there be an income or an asset cap, who's eligible, who's not eligible, how much should be forgiven, those kinds of things. But there is a large constituency that at a principal level says these are loans, people should pay them back, blanket forgiveness just doesn't make sense. And then there's kind of a technocratic policy level, where is the authority that the administration cited when they did this is kind of a long-standing authority that's been on the books that allows for some changes in states of emergency. And it's just questionable whether or not that's applicable here. And so there's kind of both the principal and the policy or the legal authority angle that's happening right now.

0:05:29.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Interesting. Well, once again, I'm entirely grateful that really smart folks like you are keeping track of the ins and outs of that. Anything else from last year that you were expecting to see or anything unexpected come out of last year?

0:05:44.3 Julie Peller: So I think there are two things that we both expected and hoped for last year in conversations, whether or not in policy action. But certainly the need to increase the Pell Grant and expand the pool of types of programs where learners could take their Pell Grants to. In policy land, this is called short-term Pell. And we really expected and did see a lot of policy movement on that angle over the last year. It's a bipartisan proposal. It has a lot of support from both parties, in both chambers, in both the House and the Senate. But policy is rarely a linear path. We didn't see that show up on the president's desk, but there was quite a lot of movement there.

0:06:40.6 Dakota Pawlicki: As we're looking ahead here, I guess before we get into the next year, one of the things I'm always curious about is to what degree midterm elections shake up some of the direction here. And I know for me in 2022, there is a lot of federal funds being activated, still part of recovery, others tied to the Good Jobs Challenge, the Economic Development Agency, as well as 14 or so other federal agencies that somehow provide funding. In one way or another, to either education, training, workforce programs. So I'm curious about how midterms play a role in reshaping some of the policy landscape.

0:07:25.3 Julie Peller: Certainly the big news on midterms is that the House is now in Republican control and we now have a divided government, which tends to slow at least congressional policy action down. I think in our space, in the post-secondary policy space, it'll shift a focus even more so into the direction of thinking about bridging higher education and workforce, thinking about the education to employment pipeline as a big priority, particularly of Republicans in the House.

0:08:04.8 Julie Peller: To me, I think this is a welcome and needed conversation that we need to be talking about ways to make those systems go together in a much more meaningful way and bring back some of that 39 million Americans with some college, no credential, think about how our training systems connect with our credit-bearing education systems and things like that. So I think from a policy-wise, we'll see much more of that conversation, particularly originating from the House. From a funding-wise perspective, certainly when there's divided government, we tend to see lower spending. Through the pandemic and in the last couple of years, there was unprecedented amounts of spending, as you mentioned, not only at the Department of Education, but in all federal agencies that a lot of which touched on the issues and the people and the kind of learning that we all care about and work for. I don't expect, I think with a divided government, it'll be hard to see those large-scale new investments and much more of a focus on how to best implement the things that are already out there on the street.

0:09:23.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, speaking of, you just mentioned a moment ago how much closer workforce-related investments, workforce-related work and higher education is coming together. We certainly see that in the field. I can't tell you how many community colleges we're talking to who are facing enrollment declines and, enrollment declines combined with demographic shifts and starting to think about how they as a community college integrate with workforce training, integrate with employer-based training, not only as a means to help alleviate some enrollment challenges, but as a means to, as you said, welcome back the 39 million people or so that have yet to earn their credential that do have some experience in college. I guess as we see the field kind of coalescing and coming together and bridging the divide between workforce and higher ed, are we seeing the same in policy? Are we going beyond just short-term Pell or are there other things that we should be looking at?

0:10:24.8 Julie Peller: I think the winds are starting to shift. I do think that there's a great need to talk to policymakers about what is happening in the field, what all of us have been working deeply on it and translating this new landscape into ways that policymakers can see the need for action. It's why Higher Learning Advocates, my organization, has launched a campaign called Widen the path, which shameless plug, widenthepath.org, we are always looking for partners and ways to tell that story to say the policymakers who by and large didn't experience this system either because they've been out of the education pipeline for quite some time or had a very traditional experience to say, this is what's going on. People are going through education, training, employer-based learning, all these different ways of going through learning, and they're doing it in spite of policy and not because of it.

0:11:32.7 Julie Peller: And with policy, we can make it even more meaningful and better for learners. So I think we're starting to get some traction on that story. I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done. And the reason why we've kind of put a wrapper on a particular campaign around this effort is we think it's really important and there's a lot of desire to help this. So yes, at the top level, yes, but we need to be framing it in a much more clear way that kind of gets through the noise here in Washington and really makes it the priority it needs to be.

0:12:09.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah. Well, I encourage folks to check out Widen the Path in our show notes, and it is really great work. I guess, Julie, you kind of already answering a little bit and we have it in some cases, but what are you particularly looking forward to in 2023? What should people keep their eye on in the federal policy space?

0:12:28.9 Julie Peller: So I think that this is the time to do that storytelling and building up champions. As I mentioned, in a divided government, things happen more episodically, a little bit slower. A lot of policy and political making is sometimes hurry up and wait. But in that waiting period, there's a lot to be done on telling the stories, building the champions. So that's one thing. The second thing is looking at, we're particularly paying attention to very discrete policy actions that we can make progress on. You mentioned about bringing together higher education in the workforce worlds. We're particularly excited and thinking about how might federal funds be used for credit for prior learning.

0:13:18.9 Julie Peller: Right now, credit for prior learning assessments are not eligible to be paid for by Pell Grants for example, which really shuts the door for a lot of students to have access to that tool. A satisfactory academic progress score that a former learner may have had from 10 years ago can still keep them out of eligibility for federal student aid. Resetting that would let them come back in the door and start at ground zero and regain federal student aid. So we're looking at some of these discrete policies that are really meaningful for millions of learners, but may not be your free community college or forgiving all student loan debt, some of the broad sweeping policy changes that we've seen in conversation in years past. But that doesn't mean we need to sit back and do nothing. We can have a lot of meaningful action with some of these particular policies.

0:14:20.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, I love that. And honestly, the big banner level marquee, headline-grabbing ideas, I think are incredibly productive, but they take a while to really come to fruition. And so it's encouraging, at least for me as a very practitioner-based person to hear, yeah, let's get into some of the nitty gritty of some of these things. At the end of the day, there is a procedural justice element to accessing the kind of education and training people need and removing barriers that prevent people from bringing learning in, removing barriers that keep people out because of something that happened 15, 20 years ago. These very technical kind of barriers, I think, are ripe and due for some attention. So I'm encouraged to hear you say that that's something we should be keeping an eye towards for this coming year.

0:15:11.0 Julie Peller: Absolutely. I think there's a lot of opportunity to move that both with Congress, and I haven't talked too much about the administration, but the Biden administration, there's a lot they can do without Congress. They can, through their regulatory tools or even through guidance and working with institutions and accreditors and others, we're going to see them in this coming year do another round of rulemaking and that'll be a lot of opportunity to have some of these critical conversations as well.

0:15:47.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Absolutely. Well, Julie, thank you so much for spending a little bit of time with us today and walking us through the federal policy landscape. I encourage everyone to check out Higher Learning Advocates, widenthepath.org and all your really great work. Thanks, and I hope to talk to you again very soon.

0:16:04.5 Julie Peller: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

0:16:10.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Hey, everyone, before we get back to today's show, I wanted to mention a resource that you may not know about called Stronger Nation. Each year, Lumina Foundation works with a variety of research partners to update the nation's scorecard on post-secondary attainment. The online and interactive report called Stronger Nation was recently updated, and I hope you take a moment to check out how our nation has made progress towards a more educated future. The Stronger Nation report tracks attainment rates at the national, state, and county level. You can disaggregate the data by age and race and even use a goal exploration tool to see what progress would be possible with great action. So if you have a moment, be sure to check out the interactive tool and the most recent insights report to learn more about our progress towards a more talented and educated populace.

0:16:56.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Check out the link in our show notes or simply search for Lumina Stronger Nation and check out the report today. Hey, everyone, and welcome back. I am now joined by my very good friend, my neighbor, my colleague at Lumina, Paola Santana, one of the state policy strategy officers. Paola, thanks so much for joining us in the studio.

0:17:19.5 Paola Santana: Hello, neighbor. Thanks for having me.

0:17:21.2 Dakota Pawlicki: I know. It is funny. It's like even though we live like half a block from each other, I rarely get a chance to see you except now here you are in studio.

0:17:29.9 Paola Santana: That's right. Thanks for having me.

0:17:30.4 Dakota Pawlicki: Of course. Of course. Well, Paola, I know, one of the things I'm excited to talk to you about is Lumina state policy agenda. We just heard from Julie Peller about kind of federal landscape, what happened last year, what's coming up this year. From Lumina's perspective, what are some of the key priorities for this upcoming year when it comes to state policy?

0:17:50.5 Paola Santana: Sure. Thanks, Dakota. So Lumina has for a long time had a state policy agenda that helps guide its work with states and in states, and we have several priorities that we work on from year to year. The first has to do with public financing of public education, so really trying to ensure that the institutions that serve the largest proportions of today's students, students who are older, first generation, low income students, students of color, that those institutions are adequately and equitably funded. Our second priority is to ensure that the students themselves have the resources that they need to be successful in post-secondary education. So really looking at financial aid programs across states to ensure that those programs are set up to serve today's students.

0:18:44.7 Paola Santana: And then another big priority for us on the state policy team is really helping to amplify the work that our colleagues across the foundation are doing and trying to figure out where there might be policy implications coming out of their work and finding out how we might be able to support that in states. And there are a lot of different examples, like for example, our four-year team is working on a project around stranded credits, so trying to ensure that students are able to get their transcripts even if they might owe a little bit of money to an institution to be able to continue to pursue their post-secondary education. And out of that work, we're trying to figure out what are some of the lessons learned how can some of the good practices be scaled through policy.

0:19:31.8 Paola Santana: And in other cases, we're looking at where's policy inhibiting the work of our colleagues across the foundation and what can we do to educate policymakers about some of the barriers that we're facing in our work, that our grantees are facing in their work, and ultimately that students are facing as they pursue post-secondary education.

0:19:51.0 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, I mean, that's a first off a massive list. So good luck in the new year. Glad you're in your job. And Julie was just kind of talking about something similar to federal level how, we've obviously been hearing a lot about big marquee headline grabbing ideas free college for all and cancel all student debt. But she was kind of saying we should keep an eye out on this year for some of the more technical, and almost inside baseball kinds of things she was talking about funding for credit for prior learning, or removing certain eligibility barriers for students making satisfactory academic progress from 15 or 20 years ago. So as you were just kind of talking you're really saying what are some policies that are getting in the way of people? What should we stop doing? What do we need to start doing? Do you see some of those same kind of technical things as you've been talking with your colleagues at Lumina about what needs to change from policy level?

0:20:48.4 Paola Santana: Yeah, definitely. And I think we're trying to think of policy at all levels, right? So is there institutional policy that's inhibiting progress for students? And how can that be addressed? Is there administrative policy that resides at a higher education agency that's preventing students from accessing services or accessing financial aid, or just being successful in general? Is there a legislation that's needed to make a change? Lumina doesn't engage in the legislative process. And we neither we nor our grantees do any lobbying, but there's a lot that we can do to help educate policymakers about some of the challenges that are out there and what their role can be in addressing some of those challenges.

0:21:36.5 Dakota Pawlicki: And I guess before you know, you just reminded me before we even get any further I think one of the tricky things and something I've always admired about like you and Scott and Amanda and everyone else who works here on the state policy side of things, like no state is the same, up in Michigan, there is no higher ed body or authority necessarily. Meanwhile, you have other states that have very strong powerful higher education state agencies that have not only coordinating powers, regulatory powers, legislative powers. I mean, how do you explain that to folks, the vast array of power and authority across states? I mean, are there I guess, can you describe the difference, essentially, of some of the key categories that some of the states have to fall into?

0:22:22.6 Paola Santana: Well, so I think you described it pretty well, Dakota there's a whole spectrum of where states resides, in terms of who has authority, accountability, and governance power over higher education. And it really does look different state by state. And so our team really takes a state by state approach in trying to advance our priorities, and our work looks different in a state like Michigan, that doesn't have a coordinating body as opposed to a state like Virginia that does. And the stakeholders that we engage might be different. And so in our strategy, we try to focus on who are the people on the ground that can help advance some of our priorities. And in some states, it requires partnering with the higher education agency. In other cases, it might require partnering with education advocacy organizations, or partnering with the governor's office. And so we really try to tailor our approach based on where it is that we can make some progress.

0:23:28.9 Dakota Pawlicki: Well, it's really impressive that you can keep track of all of it. I don't know if I could.

0:23:32.4 Paola Santana: A lot of matrices involved.

0:23:34.7 Dakota Pawlicki: I can only imagine. I can see the whiteboard now. I guess you know as you're thinking about the some of the priorities that you've had where do you see progress being made?

0:23:44.0 Paola Santana: So we definitely see a lot of energy in states around questions related to public financing of higher education. There are several states that right now are looking at their funding formulas for higher education and trying to figure out how they might make them more equitable, how they can get more resources to the institutions that educate today's students. For example, we have a couple of grantees in Illinois who are part of a commission that's looking at the funding formula for four year institutions there. And we'll be making some recommendations later in the spring about how the state can more equitably fund institutions.

0:24:33.3 Paola Santana: And one of the questions that they're looking at is actually thinking about, like, what is an adequate level of funding for post-secondary education, much like has been investigated on the K-12 side they're trying to do the same on higher ed, what does it actually take to support a student and maybe different types of students to get from enrollment matriculation to actually completing a degree or credential? And then there are other states that have reviews of their funding formulas that are mandated by law. And so they're constantly engaging in that process of trying to figure out how the funding formula can create incentives for institutions to serve students that might be underrepresented. There's also a lot of energy around financial aid with governors proposing increases in investments in need-based financial aid or states trying to figure out, like, how they actually start a need-based financial aid program for students. And on the non-degree credential side, there's a lot of energy there as well, trying to figure out how states can support students that are in those short-term programs, either through providing financial aid or creating special programs for them.

0:25:55.2 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah. So, I mean, a lot going on, a lot of progress. And I know later in the show, you're not going to have a chance to sit down and hear from some state leaders and kind of dig into some of what those specific states are doing. You mentioned about need-based aid. I know Arkansas is looking at creating their first need-based aid and all that. As you look to the extent possible, though, as you look across the entire state policy landscape, obviously hearing a lot about equitable funding, what are some of the other key themes that you think folks should be keeping an eye on as we go out throughout 2023?

0:26:29.4 Paola Santana: Yeah, there are a couple of things. One of them has been something that's been on Lumina state policy agenda for a while, and that has to do with state attainment goals. Forty-six states throughout the country have set goals of what percentage of their population needs to earn a degree or credential in the state for a variety of reasons, like economic competitiveness and just ensuring social mobility for residents. And like Lumina's goal that expires in 2025, about half of the states have goals that expire in 2025 as well. And so they are starting to think about as we get closer, how will our goals evolve and what can we do in this short time period to accelerate progress towards those goals? And so states are starting to have conversations about do we renew this goal? How do we refresh it? What does our state actually need now as opposed to what we needed 10 years ago when we first set this goal?

0:27:36.8 Paola Santana: So lots of conversations happening there. I mentioned briefly a lot of interest around those short-term credentials. This is an area where a lot of states are trying to figure out how they can create better alignment between some of those credentials that might be not for college credit and how they can be embedded in credit-bearing programs so that learners who get those credentials actually have a pathway to a degree if they decide to pursue one later on.

0:28:10.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, I mean, that's a big theme, right? I mean, we've been talking about this for a long time, and I think people inside Hired have seen the effects of what happens when you have a split between some of the non-credit courses and credit courses. And in some cases, it's important to have those non-credit kind of offerings for people who are just looking to be continuous learners and to scale up in certain areas. But creating a stronger pathway towards credential programs is particularly important now as we're seeing the workforce and training field come a little bit closer and integrated with higher ed. And so what I hear you saying is that states are also, state government agencies are starting to look a little bit more at their particular role, not only in the funding side of things, but also to ease barriers and kind of incent that behavior. Is that what I kind of hear you saying?

0:28:55.2 Paola Santana: Yeah, exactly. And I think there's a question around the transferability of some of those credits, and we have states like Ohio who are trying to figure out, you know, how to create those pathways from those non-credit credentials into the credit bearing certificates, associate degrees, and how they can be on a pathway to a bachelor's degree if somebody chooses to pursue that pathway. There are a lot of short-term programs out there. We want to ensure that where states are actually dedicating their resources, that they are funding short-term credentials that are of high value that actually provide some type of outcome for the learner, whether it's a wage outcome, whether it's getting a job or something like that, and making sure that that credential is not just a dead end to a specific job, but it's actually on a pathway to continue education.

0:29:56.1 Dakota Pawlicki: Well, as always, you have a lot on your plate, a lot on the radar. But I'm excited to dig into our next segment with you because, like I mentioned you had invited us out to one of your state policy retreats from last fall, and we had a chance to talk to a number of state leaders. So when we get back, we're going to take a look at some of those videos and hear from you, continue the conversation, and hear specific about what some states are doing.

0:30:23.9 Paola Santana: Yes.

0:30:25.4 Dakota Pawlicki: All right, we'll be back with you in a moment. Hey, everyone, welcome back. Again, joining me is Paola Santana, the state policy officer for Lumina Foundation. And Paola, again, thank you for having invited Today's Students Tomorrow's Talent out to your state policy retreat at the end of last year. For those that don't know, you've all been running a state policy treat for a while now, right?

0:30:51.8 Paola Santana: Yes, it's been several years that we have hosted this state policy retreat where we invite higher education leaders from states to put together teams to come to the retreat and learn about some of Lumina's priorities, learn from their peers about things that are happening throughout the country related to state policy, and also just have some time to retreat and to do some planning for the upcoming year sort of away from the pressures of the day to day work within their states. So they get to come in and do some planning together.

0:31:30.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Well, it's a great event. I always love coming to it. And we, as I mentioned, we had a chance to pull some folks out over to the side. And before you and I have kind of figured out some kind of thematic elements of what they're talking about. So we're going to show a clip here, I had a chance to talk to Aaron Thompson, who is the president of the Kentucky Council on post secondary education, as well as Lande Ajose, who at the time was vice president and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. And both of them talked a little bit more about how their states are focusing a little bit more on broader collaboration to achieve their goals. So let's check out what Aaron and Lande have to say.

0:32:11.2 Lande Ajose: One of the reasons I like being here is I've been in higher education a while, and was at one of the very first state policy retreats eight, nine years ago, a long time ago when there were only maybe 35 of us in a room. And so I think what I really appreciate is the opportunity to sit down and listen to people from different levels of the higher education system talk about what the opportunities are to work together. Like I think more than a particular strategy, it's the way in which people choose to work together and figure out how to work together in the context of their state teams, with their funders, with their CIO's, with their government folks. I think it's, that is the model of collaboration and cooperation that I think is really important for application if we want to have some momentum in the field of higher education, because too often we kind of think about our own institutional boundaries.

0:33:07.1 Lande Ajose: And so listening and watching and working, and watching people work together has really been the piece that I'm able, I feel like I'm able to take back. And so I often go back and I say, "You know we could reach out to, or there's more that can be done, or what if we brought these people together in a particular environment? How could that shift what we are doing in California higher education policy in real ways"? I think one of the challenges that we have in California is that we're so big. Someone asked the other day, they said, "Oh, our state has 60 school districts. How many school districts does California have?" And I'm like, "A thousand", So we're so big that trying to figure out how to take certain models and scale them seems kind of challenging, but the ways in which people work, that actually is really replicable for us. So I think that that is definitely my big takeaway.

0:33:57.7 Aaron Thompson: In Kentucky, we work very closely with what I call all of our partners and the legislature is our partner. So we discussed a little bit along the lines of, yes, what is the strategic way that we want to think for the next 10 years? And how do we do that? What are some of the things we're doing now? Some of the things we need to double down on? What's the short-term effects can we have? Can we scaffold it over a length of time? What's connected with policy, to budget? What kind of bills that may need to be passed, whether it's a budget bill or a statutory bill? We talked about all that and really designing an output that we all can buy into that we can bring other partners around the table.

0:34:44.6 Aaron Thompson: Who are the partners we need to identify to do this with? So our team time was very, it was strategic, no doubt, but we wanted an outcome. I want a tangible item in the end. So we walked out with a tangible item that we're going to be working on this legislative season that's coming up in a few months. And we know exactly the kind of direction we want to go. And it's good to have the input of the legislator who would be leading some of this work with us. But it's also good to build with our leadership team that I have here a process of understanding how you dialogue in this setting. How to take the information we're getting from this retreat as well as other places and creating a holistic way of thinking through enough holistic way of designing a process. But also how we can lead the effort to really do what we need to do for our agenda.

0:35:41.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Well, Paola, a lot to take in. Certainly I heard Aaron very clearly say, let's work with our legislators. Let's work with our folks so we can understand what to start doing, stop doing scale, not scale. Lande talking very clearly about getting people together from multiple levels of the higher education system, not only in terms of stakeholders like funders and state agencies and institutions, but also people working at different levels within those agencies who can kind of speak into a real picture of what the actual system looks like. Are you seeing trends in the development and execution of state policy when it comes to collaboration? Are more states moving to the space where they want to collaborate with many more partners rather than focus on kind of more siloed approaches?

0:36:34.6 Paola Santana: Yeah, I think we're seeing that. I don't think we can hang the banner that says mission accomplished quite yet. I think there are examples where things continue to remain siloed. But I'm definitely heartened by some of what we see across states. And Lande working in California is a really good example. We mentioned earlier California does not have a coordinating body for post-secondary education. And so bringing folks together to be able to address the issues related to post-secondary education is really critical without that formal coordinating function. And so the governor has brought together a post-secondary education council that informs him and his staff of things that are happening out, throughout the state. And that council engages people from business, from K-12 education, from post-secondary education, from different state agencies, all folks that have a stake in the post-secondary education ecosystem to do some coordination absent that sort of standalone function in the state.

0:37:51.8 Paola Santana: In Indiana here, we see something very similar with the governor's workforce cabinet that brings together a broad set of stakeholders, too, to think about the talent pipeline across the entire state and how, you know, the state can use its resources to upskill and reskill people and get them back to work, but also helping them, access post-secondary credentials.

0:38:16.0 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, and Aaron goes on later in our conversation, he was even bringing it down to, when he has a staff turnover, it's no longer assume that they're just gonna re-hire someone in the exact same role. And in fact, they're gonna take those resources and really figure out, "Should I put these resources maybe in our P20 council? Should I put these resources in and invest in our Kentucky's Student Success Collaborative, or our Workforce Coalition". And so he's even been thinking about as a state agency, how do I share my literal operational resources into more collaborative efforts to make sure these collaborative tables are well-equipped to accomplish their collective goal?

0:38:56.4 Paola Santana: Yeah, I think Aaron is definitely a visionary in that regard, in thinking how big he can bring his own resources to bear, to support coordination and collaboration throughout different agencies and with other folks in the state. And I think the example you gave with the Student Success Center, it's a really great one.

0:39:16.2 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, well, it wouldn't be a state policy retreat, and it wouldn't be a state policy conversation if we didn't talk a lot about financial aid and funding streams. We had a chance to catch up with Maria Markham from Arkansas. Then she was talking a lot about trying to untangle and better understand the multiple revenue sources that go into institutions from the federal, state and local level. And she even has some interesting ideas about what she would hope the federal government could play in terms of funding, so why don't we check out Maria Markham, the Director of the Arkansas Division of Higher Education.

0:39:54.8 Maria Markham: It's very confusing, there's all of these multiple funding sources at the federal, state and local level, and in Arkansas alone, we have seven or eight state funding sources that people, policymakers, legislators, members of the governor's staff who want to make change for higher ed, they don't know what lever to pull or how to exert pressure on community colleges to do things that we need them to do without disincentivizing other activities because of other funding streams. So in order to make those good policy recommendations, we really need a clear understanding of how those things come together.

0:40:27.3 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, I know the current state of all the funding, how to braid all these things, what's the eligibility and one of the morning sessions, we also talked about how to really leverage some of the federal dollars that have come in, not only during the recovery and all that, but now with EDA coming out, good jobs challenge, all these things.

0:40:47.7 Dakota Pawlicki: When you're thinking about how federal resources can help you in your state, what advice do you give to federal policymakers and saying, "Hey, help our state, this is what we could really use from you."

0:41:00.3 Maria Markham: We could really use dedicated funding for critical and deferred maintenance. We have a lot of state and federally funded buildings and resources throughout the state that haven't received the attention over the years, and they're in danger of decay basically, so it's protecting those resources that those assets that we've already established on our campuses, so that we don't have to build new buildings every couple of years. So I'm working with my members in the state to create appropriations for when those dollars start to flow for us to address those things that aren't sexy, but are very necessary, like roofs and HVAC systems and old clay plumbing. We just have so many things that it doesn't sound good, but when institutions have to spend their state appropriations to address those things, they're not spending their money on things like new science labs, students support, the things that we really know we need. They just have to keep the buildings operational, so for us, that infrastructure fund would be very pivotal and we could use federal dollars to support the things that we're already doing for general operations.

0:42:03.4 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, I love that. Education is infrastructure. When these false barriers, especially in small rural communities, for example, and even our own communities, community college could co-locate a lot of public services, and so we need to make sure that the infrastructure is actually working.

0:42:16.7 Maria Markham: Yeah. Without the infrastructure, we don't have the access, so protect... We have great access in Arkansas, but if we wanna keep it, then we have to protect those assets that we have.

0:42:24.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, there's so much to like about what Maria was saying, and it was a really great conversation, I was so glad that she spent some time with us. And, I guess, have you seen other states and how they've navigated like this very confusing array of funding resources? Like she said, there's federal investment, state investments, local investments, sometimes hyper-local investments, and not to mention grants and private investments and all these things coming in, especially with the recovery, has any state done a particularly good job of deploying this strategically?

0:42:58.5 Paola Santana: Yeah. I think one of the areas where we see states really trying to investigate how all of these different funding streams come together is around meeting the basic needs of students, so addressing housing insecurity, food insecurity and things like that. You talk to Aaron Thompson, the CIO in Kentucky, and his team is currently engaged in an initiative where they are really trying to understand how they can tap into all of those different sources of revenue, both from the state, federal resources like TANF, SNAP, even Section 8 housing. How they can bring all of those resources to bear to provide services to students that are enrolled in different post-secondary institutions in Kentucky. And so I think in that area, there has been some progress made in trying to figure out how you can braid a lot of those resources to address some of these needs. Dr. Keith Curry in Compton, California, comes to mind who has done a lot of work around basic needs, and his College is now able to offer every single student one free meal every single day by putting together a lot of these different funding pots to be able to address a real need for students.

0:44:26.3 Paola Santana: Another thing that has been a part of our Lumina state policy agenda has been working with students on what we... Not with students, pardon me, with states on what we call our talent finance planning. So bringing together a broad set of stakeholders to investigate just that question, where's all the money flowing into the state that could potentially support students in getting to and through college, and how can we be better coordinated as stakeholders to provide that support? And so, as an example, Virginia has gone through that planning process to identify and map out all of these different funding sources and has been able to identify where there are gaps and how those gaps will actually affect how the state pursues its own attainment goal, and what they found is that they need to address some funding gaps for their community colleges to ensure that today's students who would tend to be concentrated at community colleges can better complete their degrees and credentials.

0:45:33.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, the kind of comprehensive talent planning, I've been such a big fan of. It just makes so much sense to me. And even looking at the federal level, you have, almost every federal agency has some kind of investment in talent or workforce or education, but they're all kind of the siloed streams. And so at the ground level, it's very difficult for institutions to know, eligibility, what I can use this dollar for, that dollar for, let alone tracking all of that, which is a masterful job for all the CPAs working in institutions around the country. So I think, thinking about it as a comprehensive, what is our talent plan and what are the revenues that come in to that, making sure our state, our community has a talent. And he just makes a lot of sense. One of the other things, I really like how Maria closed out our time together saying, "Listen, without infrastructure, we don't have access." And she was talking a lot about, hey, listen, if... I asked her, if you could tell a federal policymaker something, what would you tell them? And she was really encouraging them to invest in kind of, deferred maintenance.

0:46:41.3 Dakota Pawlicki: What is the relationship? I know every state's likely different, but generally speaking, what's the relationship between federal and state governments when it comes to funding higher education and workforce?

0:46:51.4 Paola Santana: Yeah, Well, I think there has been an interest on the part of the Biden administration in addressing some of those infrastructure needs. When we talk to CIOs and other folks in state agencies, the backlog of deferred maintenance is huge across all states, I would say. And so states are trying to address it by providing some of that deferred maintenance funding, but I think this is where additional coordination is needed between state and federal, and trying to figure out what that state and federal partnership looks like. One of the things that we hear a lot from the folks that we engage with is that they could actually use more flexibility in the way that funding actually comes down to the state to address what the most critical needs are. And so I think that's a conversation that would be of a lot of interest to folks in some of these state agencies. As, even in the absence of additional resources, what can we do to ensure that the money that is coming into states has the most flexible approach to be able to address what's most critical?

0:48:04.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, sometimes it's not even about more, it's about using what we have in a more strategic way. And I can imagine the amount of fragmentation that happens from one agency to another, putting their priorities and their kind of focus of eligibility of use of funds on each can make it really quite confusing for a lot of folks. Well, great, we have one more theme to get through, and of course, saving, I think one of the best themes for last, which is there's a lot of... Obviously, Lumina has been out front very much in terms of advancing racial equity, particularly in the field of learning and work after high school. But it's tough to talk about racial equity or really equity at large in political climates of today, and I have to imagine there are a lot of state leaders that have to navigate their own particular state politics, their own particular state culture as they're trying to do some of this equity-focused work. We had a chance to talk with Ryan Fewins-Bliss, the Executive Director of The Michigan College Access Network. A little bit about how he tries to advance conversations about racial equity throughout the state, Michigan has a divided government, so it's a really great kind of test case, so let's listen in and see what Ryan had to say.

0:49:25.1 Ryan Fewins-Bliss: Well, and one of my sessions, it was about equity today, and we took a look at some equity data, we're pretty steeped in equity in Michigan, certainly in MCAN, but it was nice to be able to pull the data right live from the internet while we were in the conversation to be able to look at it, and lo and behold, we have equity gaps in Michigan. I don't know if you knew that, but even in Michigan, we've got some equity gaps, so we really gotta focus on closing those gaps, figuring that out. And with the pandemic, again, even our White students receded, so now we have to double down on getting White students in, and the gaps that we have created for students of color, low-income students, first generation college-going students.

0:50:04.0 Dakota Pawlicki: How do you advance a conversation about racial equity in a state like Michigan?

0:50:09.3 Ryan Fewins-Bliss: Yeah, well, it depends on who I'm talking to. So in Michigan, we have a divided government, a Democratic governor, Republican House and Senate, we have a full-time legislature, so they're always in business, always doing good and bad things that we're trying to work with. When I talk to Democrats, I talk to them about the power of an education, I talk to them about equity, I talk to them about Black and Brown students, talk to them about low-income students. When I talk to my friends on the Republican side, they're often in rural areas in Michigan, and there's a rural poverty all over it. That looks a whole lot like urban poverty when you look at college-going rates and the barriers that students face. So, that's how I talk to it about that, or talk to them about that. I also talk about getting folks off from government assistance, which we know is a Republican priority. We know increasing educational attainment not only gets individuals of government assistance, but families and decreases that in communities, which I think we can all agree on is a good thing. It doesn't matter to me how people come to the table for this conversation, as long as they come to the table.

0:51:08.6 Dakota Pawlicki: Just come to the table.

0:51:09.4 Ryan Fewins-Bliss: That's right.

0:51:10.2 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah. And the economic argument can be really powerful in a lot of places.

0:51:13.9 Ryan Fewins-Bliss: Absolutely.

0:51:14.9 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, Ryan's always great, he's always... He's got some fun stuff to say, and it's interesting because obviously he talked about some of the tangible ways that, again, as a leader of a state network, who honestly just want more students to succeed, who wants to have a state of Michigan with the kind of talent that needs to be prosperous. Talks about very specifically how he's advancing conversations, and actually a year ago on episode 33, we had a chance to talk to Commissioner Carlos Santiago in Massachusetts about how they are pursuing a plan for racial equity. What are you seeing in other states, how are other states trying to advance on their equity-focused agendas?

0:51:53.5 Paola Santana: Thanks for that question. I think addressing the racial, the gaps in attainment that we see for different racial sub-groups, it's core to our work at Lumina, our equity first commitment, it's really core to our work, and so it's really important, but we definitely are seeing more... We're seeing states trying to grapple with how do they actually address some of these issues in a climate where we are seeing sometimes a little bit of backlash against diversity initiatives around talking about racial equity, we have the forthcoming decision on affirmative action pending before the Supreme Court. And so, I think at a national level, there's a little bit of a perception that there's a little bit more of a chilling climate around racial equity, but we see that a lot of our partners are still really dedicated to this work, but just like Ryan was mentioning, they have to figure out how to enter into the conversation. And the communications team at Lumina has actually done a lot of work around this, how do you actually talk to somebody about these issues without causing them to shut down or to not want to engage in that conversation?

0:53:22.3 Paola Santana: And one of the things that they have found is that most Americans can acknowledge the fact that opportunity is not equal, and so starting off a conversation around opportunity, a lot of times tends to be an effective way to enter into this conversation. But what we're seeing with state leaders is that a lot of them are leveraging the strategic planning process within their states to try to continue to center racial equity and trying to center the needs of students of color.

0:53:53.8 Paola Santana: As we look across most states, you're going to see gaps in attainment by race and ethnicity. Our new stronger nation report show some progress in narrowing those gaps, and we are seeing increases in attainment for Black students, for Hispanic and Latino students, so all of that is really heartening. But if you are sitting at a state agency, you're still looking at gaps in attainment, and so starting with the data has been a successful approach for some of our partners, and then from there, baking into a strategic plan that the state, the universities within the state, the colleges have within their mission, trying to address some of those racial disparities. And Commissioner Santiago, who has since retired from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, led a lot of this work in Massachusetts, and they actually put together an entire strategic plan to address those racial inequities. And we really see that as a model for other states. In thinking about this issue, we have to be very direct and acknowledging that those gaps exist and that as a post-secondary ecosystem, that we all have a stake in addressing those disparities.

0:55:13.2 Dakota Pawlicki: Yeah, and one of the things I loved from our conversation with him last year... You're exactly right, leveraging the strategic planning process that the state was already doing, a strong on racial equity. But to your point about how do you get into the conversation? I know one of the things that really stuck with me. He said, "The first thing we did is we went to places already in our state that were doing something that worked well," he went into the conversation looking for positive deviance. He went in to say, "What are you doing really well, and then how can I as a state agency, how can my folks make it easier for you to do what you're doing scaled up and also bring this to the college down the street, the institution down the next county over?" So I do think it's a great example of entering the conversation, looking at the data, then getting to action. I guess I'm curious, how are we helping people? How can we help people move beyond looking at the data, calling attention to the problem, measuring. Yes, get in this conversation, but I actually get to real action, 'cause I think there's still a very clear appetite in communities across the country for real action when it comes to making the progress on this area.

0:56:24.4 Paola Santana: Yeah, I think that's true. And I think you can't understate how important it is to dive into the data to identify what the challenges are, but moving to action is also really critical. And we are actually trying structure a process around this in partnership with The Education Trust or Ed Trust, who works nationally. They have put together an equity policy audit of framework that they are currently piloting with a group of four states across the country that walks the state agency or whoever wants to engage in this process through the process of actually doing a policy audit. So states are looking at a very concrete policy, either around financial aid or public financing, looking at the data, disaggregating the data, trying to figure out, are we seeing disparate outcomes as a result of this policy for different student subgroups, students of color in particular? And if we are seeing that this policy is disadvantaging students of color in some way, what are some of the action steps that we can take? Who are the stakeholders that we need to engage in order to either revise this policy, get rid of this policy or come up with a new policy to address this issue. And so the focus really is on the action piece of it, working from the data, and so we are really hopeful that other states will want to participate in this process when Ed Trust releases this framework more broadly later this year.

0:58:04.9 Dakota Pawlicki: Wow. Well, that sounds really exciting. We'll have to definitely invite you back on and talk about it. That sounds like a really useful tool to help you get back to action.

0:58:11.4 Paola Santana: Yeah, I will love to.

0:58:11.9 Dakota Pawlicki: Well, you've heard a lot from other state leaders we have a chance to hear from four today. Before we wrap up the show, Paola, is there anything else that you're leaving with, optimistic for the next year?

0:58:24.4 Paola Santana: Yeah, definitely optimistic. I mentioned briefly, our stronger nation data that Lumina just released a couple of weeks ago. Again, showing a large increase in attainment across the country, seeing increases for students of color as well, so that is really heartening, so it seems like we're on a positive trajectory. That data only goes through 2021, and so I do worry that we may not be fully capturing the effects of the COVID pandemic quite yet, also hopeful that or... And heartened by enrollment starting to pick up a little bit, I think states will have to really figure out what their plans are for re-engaging students that might have had to stop out during the pandemic. And so, I'm hopeful that we will see more states trying to tackle that question.

0:59:23.5 Dakota Pawlicki: Excellent, well, stay tuned. All that and more. Thank you, Paola, for joining us today, Paola Santana, strategy officer for state policy at Lumina Foundation and a good friend and neighbor, so we'll see you around the neighborhood, my friend.

0:59:36.5 Paola Santana: Yeah, thanks for having me.

[music]

0:59:42.6 Dakota Pawlicki: My thanks to Julie Peller, Paola Santana, Aaron Thompson, Lande Ajose, Maria Markham and Ryan Fewins-Bliss for joining us today. And thank you for listening in. Our show is produced by Jacob Mann and me, Dakota Pawlicki. With support from Matthew Jenkins, Amy Bartner and the team at Site Strategics. Well Done Marketing supports the promotion of our show, Debra Humphreys and Kevin Corcoran provide leadership for Lumina's strategic engagement efforts. As always, please be sure to subscribe and rate our show wherever you happen to be listening or watching today, and if you have a comment or an idea for a future episode, reach us at luminafoundation.org, or reach me on Twitter at Dakota Pawlicki. Thanks so much for being with us today, and we'll see you next month.