The 2015 Gubernatorial State of the State Addresses and Higher Education

Each year, governors throughout the country share their policy priorities for the upcoming legislative session through State of the State addresses given to a joint legislative session. Governors also use this opportunity to outline state challenges, revisit ongoing policy initiatives, and publicize accomplishments of their administration.

AASCU has analyzed 48 gubernatorial addresses that have taken place since the beginning of this year. In cases where a governor did not give a State of the State address, AASCU analyzed an inaugural or budget address. Collectively, these speeches provide insight into how state leaders view higher education as well as the fiscal and policy priorities they have put forth that could affect students, families, and institutions of higher education in the years ahead.

The following higher education-related themes were evident in this year’s gubernatorial addresses:

  • Higher education’s role in state economic development remains a cornerstone of many gubernatorial policy agendas. In line with past years, governors continued to highlight higher education’s role as a state economic driver through workforce development, university research and innovation, and strategic partnerships between the private sector and public institutions of higher education. This gubernatorial narrative affirms public colleges’ and universities’ reputations for serving as multi-faceted engines of economic expansion that are deeply embedded in regional and state economies.
  • Governors continue to propose policies to incentivize state residents to explore technical and vocational educational opportunities. A number of governors expressed concern over state businesses failing to have access to a robust talent pool in technical and vocational fields. Commonly touted responses to this challenge included making new investments in community college job training programs and forging stronger partnerships between K-12 districts, higher education institutions, and employers in order to provide educational pathways leading to high paying, in-demand careers.
  • College affordability continues to be a top concern for state chief executives. Governors throughout the country lamented the growing price of a college education in their addresses. In response, several proposed tuition freezes for the upcoming academic year and stressed their efforts to maintain or increase funding for higher education and financial aid programs. The speeches also included a number of strategies to cut costs for students and families, such as reducing the need for remedial education and expanding dual enrollment opportunities. Governors also championed policy proposals to help students pay off debt by linking debt relief to high-demand professions (i.e. teaching) in the state.
  • Governors remain committed to ensuring that veterans have successful transitions into and through college. In their addresses, several governors called on colleges and universities to recognize veterans’ education and skills through the granting of commensurate college credits.

Higher education-related topic areas from this year’s addresses are below and ordered according to their prevalence in the speeches. The link below provides a state-by-state accounting of higher education-related gubernatorial public policy proposals stemming from this year’s addresses.

2015 State of the State Addresses and Higher Education

Compiled by Thomas L. Harnisch, assistant director of state relations and policy analysis, and Emily A. Parker, senior research and policy associate 

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