While aspirations to attend college are now more common among high school students, the opportunity to pursue higher education and complete a degree in order to enjoy the lifelong benefits of a college education varies widely by students’ race and socioeconomic background. Through financial support of public institutions, tax benefits for private institutions, student financial aid, and regulation of the higher education marketplace, state governments have the potential to mitigate these inequities for their residents. Yet with wide variation in how states fund, regulate, and govern their higher education systems, states also have different records of successfully educating a diverse student body.

We are using data and research to delve into this problem and better understand the relationship between differing state policies and student outcomes. With great excitement, we announce the launch of a partnership with the Joyce Foundation through which we will investigate the efficacy of a wide range of state policies in expanding college opportunity and closing attainment gaps. As Sameer Gadkaree, Senior Program Officer on the Joyce Foundation’s Education and Economic Mobility team described, “At a time of declining college affordability and growing racial and economic equity gaps, we need to understand how state policies can move us closer to equality of opportunity. Ithaka S+R’s respected researchers and higher education leaders are well positioned to point us to the policies that will matter the most.”

Through a combination of deep review of the existing literature, mining state-level education and policy data, and focused qualitative studies of a handful of states, our research on state higher education policies will help to highlight successful policies, guide reform of ineffective policies, and inform future policies. Our goal is to deepen understanding of how state-level policies contribute to increasing postsecondary access and success for low- and middle- income students as well as underrepresented minorities and veterans, and translate that evidence into practical policy guidance.