These Are State Higher Ed Leaders’ Top Priorities for 2024

Economic and workforce development is key for state higher education leaders in 2024, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
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Bennett Leckrone is a news writer for BestColleges. Before joining BestColleges, Leckrone reported on state politics with the nonprofit news outlet Maryland Matters as a Report for America fellow. He previously interned for The Chronicle of Higher Ed...
Published on January 10, 2024
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  • Economic and workforce development is the top priority for state higher education leaders in 2024, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
  • State operational funding, as well as financial aid funding, also made the list of leaders' top 10 priorities.
  • State higher education leaders are also focused on student success and college affordability.
  • Higher education's value, as well as public perception of higher education, are also key for higher education leaders heading into 2024.

Labor shortages in wide-ranging fields like cybersecurity and education are set to be both a challenge and an opportunity for colleges in 2024, state higher education leaders indicated in a recent survey.

Economic and workforce development is the top priority for state higher education leaders in 2024, according to a survey from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO). That priority took the top spot in part because it affects many of the state higher education leaders' other priorities, like boosting higher education's value proposition and aiding college affordability.

Economic and workforce development comes at a time when all levels of government, alongside private employers, are looking to colleges to tackle workforce shortages. Higher education is set to play a key role in the Biden administration's workforce development plans, BestColleges previously reported.

"Public higher education leaders have entered 2024 aided by tailwinds of fiscal stability in many states and a strong national economy, but some challenges of the post-pandemic era remain, including strengthening the value proposition of higher education, building public trust, and meeting changing economic and workforce needs," the report reads.

Higher education leaders singled out the K-12 teacher workforce as a top concern, ranking at No. 9 on their overall priority list. That ongoing teacher shortage has led to private organizations and the federal government alike giving funding to colleges to cut back on that gap, BestColleges previously reported.

Funding, Affordability, and Student Success Among Other Top Priorities

The survey, given to SHEEO members in November, listed a wide range of potential priorities to narrow down what was most important to state higher education leaders.

Leaders indicated the following 10 to be their highest priorities, although others like Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion were just shy of breaking the top 10 and remain important to state higher education officials:

  1. Economic and workforce development
  2. State operating support for public colleges and universities
  3. Higher education's value proposition
  4. College affordability
  5. State financial aid program funding
  6. Public perception of higher education
  7. College completion and student success
  8. Enrollment declines
  9. The K-12 teacher workforce
  10. Adult and nontraditional student success.

State higher education leaders listed state operating support for public colleges and universities as their second highest priority in 2024. SHEEO noted that state operating support "is generally the primary revenue source for higher education."

"Operating support from states is increasingly important to counterbalance inflationary pressures in operating costs and avoid potential tuition increases. In states focusing on tuition freezes and college affordability, state operating support to institutions is critical, as these funds subsidize the costs of educating students," the report reads.

Higher education's "value proposition" and college affordability came in at Nos. 3 and 4 on state higher education leaders' top 2024 priorities, respectively.

The two are deeply intertwined, as students weigh the cost of attending college and potential debt with the long-term value and return on investment of a degree. State funding for financial aid programs, also connected with affordability, landed as state higher education leaders' fifth top priority for 2024.

When it comes to students' perspective, a 2023 BestColleges survey found that affordability is critical when selecting a college. A majority of students, or 53%, ranked affordability as the most important factor when choosing a school, with student outcomes (39%) and flexibility/accessibility (36%) also top priorities.

Higher education is set to be a key political issue in the 2024 election year, BestColleges previously reported, with affordability; student loan forgiveness; name, image, and likeness (NIL) oversight; and other key issues set to play out on a national level throughout the year.