Designing Policy with Equity and Economic Advancement in Mind

Published oct. 11, 2019

Policy Leadership Trust

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The start of a new school year serves as a great reminder of what is at stake for our students and the communities and businesses we serve, and of the essential role that policy plays in creating the conditions for increasing educational attainment and addressing talent development needs.

Millions of young people and working age adults who have returned to school for the fall term are filled with hopes and dreams of earning a credential or degree that has value in the labor market, and of then going on to achieve career success. While settling into their courses, many of our students are balancing other responsibilities, like child care or full- or part-time work. Alarmingly, many students are also dealing with food and housing insecurities, unreliable transportation, and mounting college debt, which create additional barriers to completion.

Meanwhile, in our roles as community college presidents, we hear regularly from employers and civic leaders who are concerned that a lack of skilled, job-ready workers is hurting the bottom lines of businesses and the economic and social fabrics of communities. The rapidly changing labor market is deepening the divide in skills and economic opportunities, as technological advances stimulate job growth in exciting high-paying fields only for workers who possess the right education and skills.

Our campus communities are grappling with how best to respond to these challenges. To do our job well, we need policymakers to be strong partners and use the power of the purse and of policy to close gaps in educational achievement and expand economic opportunities for all people and places.


In Columbus, Ohio, and Raleigh, North Carolina, and other state capitals around the nation, legislators and governors and their administrations are crafting policies focused on creating jobs and building skilled workforces. Strategies such as these are gaining a lot of attention:

  • Ensuring that education and training systems are responsive to workforce needs by, for example, targeting investments to demand-driven programs and ratcheting up accountability for achieving results
  • Expanding college in high school experiences, such as dual- or concurrent-enrollment programs and early college high schools, to provide young adults with opportunities to earn college credit for free or at a low cost and gain early exposure to college coursework and careers
  • Making college more affordable and attractive to pursue by rolling out college promise scholarships in this era of overwhelming student loan debt

States have an opportunity to grow a skilled workforce if they adopt policies that are thoughtfully implemented.

By pursuing initiatives such as those, states have an opportunity to expand college access and improve student success, increase attainment of high-quality credentials and degrees, and grow a skilled workforce—but only if they adopt policies that are thoughtfully structured and implemented.

Poorly crafted policies could have the opposite effect—by reinforcing inequities in education outcomes and failing to create opportunities to develop the new sources of talent that the future of work requires.

Policies governing dual-enrollment, college promise, and career-connected postsecondary programs should be intentional in design and implementation to ensure that students from underserved and underrepresented populations are able to fully engage with them and benefit from them. Policymakers should support postsecondary programs that are purposefully inclusive and make sure that policies do not put up barriers to access, affordability, or success for disadvantaged students.

We believe that college practitioners can help policymakers design policies with equity and economic advancement in mind while mitigating any unintended consequences of poorly crafted proposals.

As community college presidents, we have both learned from experience that introducing new campus policies can go poorly if we have not included faculty, staff, and students in the decision making process. The same goes for regional, state, and federal policy. Without seeking input from the field, policymakers run the risk of adopting measures that, no matter how well intentioned, may result in missteps in implementation and missed opportunities in achieving positive change for students and communities.

Recognizing this need for practitioner-informed policy, JFF launched the Policy Leadership Trust to amplify the collective insights and experiences of institutional and state systems leaders in policy discussions. The Policy Leadership Trust brings evidence of what works, speaks to practical considerations and trade-offs of different policy approaches, and voices the needs of students and local communities to ensure that policy designs meet desired goals.

The purpose of postsecondary policies must go beyond improving access.

This fall, with the support of JFF, the Policy Leadership Trust is issuing three sets of principles to guide policy designs for dual-enrollment, college promise, and career connected postsecondary programs. We drew on our on-the-ground experiences to offer key considerations, and we make clear what we believe should be the two overarching goals of policy across these issue areas—equity and economic advancement.

We believe the intent and purpose of postsecondary policies must go beyond just improving access and affordability. They should also be aimed at supporting the state’s talent pipeline, addressing skills gaps, and driving economic advancement for all learners and their communities. Each student who participates in a postsecondary program and completes a degree or credential should have a seamless pathway to a marketable, in-demand, and family-sustaining job or career.

We look forward to engaging in continued discussions on ways in which policies can best serve today’s students and contribute to the economic vitality of our states and local communities.

Interested in the policy principle reports?