Examining the Federal-State Partnership in Higher Education
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Each state has its own system of public higher education. States design, regulate, and fund the public colleges and universities that educate the states’ residents. In many states, local governments also provide funds, particularly for community colleges. At the same time, the federal government provides a growing share of the funding for these institutions, and with the funding come motivation and responsibility for monitoring quality and outcomes. This trend raises difficult questions about how federal and state governments should work together to ensure the efficient and equitable use of public funds to provide high-quality widespread postsecondary educational opportunity. This brief provides background information and perspectives to help foster a productive national conversation about the federal-state partnership. It asks what the main problems facing the current system are and what the goals of any efforts for reform should be. Drawing on three recent papers from the Urban Institute, this brief provides background for developing constructive strategies, focusing on potential pitfalls. The argument does not support wholesale reform or a shift to a more centralized, federalized system of higher education. But it does support a more conscious and nuanced role for the federal government and greater coordination across state lines to improve educational outcomes for students across the nation.