State Policy Toolkit
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The State Policy Toolkit is designed to help NCAN members and partners grow and strengthen their state-level advocacy work. Each policy issue in the Toolkit is derived from NCAN’s Model State Policy Agenda and is categorized under affordability or talent development.

By highlighting exemplar policy and programs and providing evidence that contextualizes issues affecting students, the Toolkit can augment the equally powerful stories of students for the use of advocates. Moreover, the Toolkit demonstrates impactful advocacy practices by featuring the policy efforts of several NCAN members.

This resource can serve as the starting point of organizational advocacy efforts, offer additional options for issues on which groups can lend their voice in the policy arena, identify programs or resources that can help organizations serve students directly or indirectly, and help initiate meaningful partnerships.

Download the full State Policy Toolkit.

Focus on Need-Based Aid

NCAN’s stance: Given that low-income students, students who are first in their family to enroll in higher education, and students of color are less likely than their peers to go to college, states should provide the opportunity for all students to continue their education after high school.

States should:

  1. Establish a minimum threshold for need-based aid and not dip below it.
  2. Design state aid programs that align with the economic needs of the state.
  3. Use early awareness strategies to set expectations and provide financial resources.

Example tool: The National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs conducts an annual survey and produces a report that provides a clear picture of how states prioritize need-based aid in comparison to other types of aid.

Establish a Higher Education Funding Strategy

NCAN’s stance: State funding for higher education is still recovering to pre-Great Recession levels. States should develop a predictable, goal-oriented strategy for funding higher education.

States should:

  1. Set a state attainment goal for the population that includes both traditional and nontraditional students, and align that goal with state workforce needs.
  2. Prioritize efforts to assist underrepresented students in overcoming barriers to accessing and completing postsecondary education.
  3. Devise incentives for institutions to increase degree attainment for adults lacking a few credits and implement student-friendly financial aid deadlines and procedures.
  4. Develop a tuition-setting policy that is affordable and predictable, includes passing a state budget without undue delay, and announces tuition increases on a timeline that allows institutions to respond.
  5. Consider an incentive system for institutions that rewards student success.

Example tool: This March 2016 brief from the National Conference of State Legislatures outlines the context in which tuition usually increases, highlights recent trends in tuition prices, and identifies policy options states have considered to remedy consistent tuition increases.


NCAN’s stance: Beyond financing higher education, states and statewide higher education systems should provide opportunities for all students to prepare for and succeed in higher education, particularly those who are traditionally underserved. This includes breaking down barriers within the system and building up students through equitable opportunity. Students do not enter higher education from a vacuum; they need support and opportunities.

States should:

  1. Ensure all students have access to rigorous, credit-bearing coursework (dual/concurrent enrollment, AP, or IB) in high school.
  2. Provide free PSAT/SAT/ACT exams during the school day to all students.
  3. Provide school counselors with relevant, ongoing professional development in college and career readiness.

Example tool: In June 2014, the governor of Colorado signed into law House Bill 14-1118, a measure that appropriates funding for the creation of the Advanced Placement Incentives Pilot Program for students in rural schools who participate in the National School Lunch Program. The program, which is housed within the Colorado Department of Education, designates state dollars for school-wide AP programs (including online programs if necessary), AP exam fees, and professional development for teachers to improve their AP instructional strategies.


NCAN’s stance: Applying to college is a daunting process, but states can alleviate burden by providing students with the information they need.

States should:

  1. Allow all high school graduates of that state to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges.
  2. Build a statewide longitudinal data system that links postsecondary outcomes to K-12 education, including college-going and graduation rates by high school.
  3. Establish state application deadlines and processes that are sensitive to the needs of first-generation and low-income students.
  4. Align high school graduation requirements with college acceptance requirements.

Example tool: This May 2018 blog from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) highlights 2017 legislation aimed at leveraging data to improve student outcomes, including California’s Senate Bill 1224, which would establish a statewide longitudinal data system.


NCAN’s stance: States should support students to and through the higher education experience.

States should:

  1. Provide multiple pathways to success including two- and four-year degrees, certificates, and apprenticeships.
  2. Create and then manage a clear and accessible public database of transfer pathways among public institutions.

Example tool: This 50-state comparison from the Education Commission of the States profiles each state’s transfer and articulation policies, identifying state resources and statutes that ease the transfer process for students.

 Download the full State Policy Toolkit.