Smart Postsecondary Policies that Work for Students and the Economy


The rapidly changing economy demands new ways to build workforce talent and help all Americans secure family-supporting careers. Every state needs solutions. JFF presents this postsecondary policy agenda to advise state leaders on what works to increase the number of college graduates with the skills and credentials employers value.

Smart Postsecondary Policies centers on the crucial role of two-year community and technical colleges in our country. With low tuition and open enrollment, these publicly funded schools serve millions of low-income, underprepared, and first-generation students—a vital source of untapped talent in the United States.

Our recommendations recognize that community colleges cannot solve our nation’s workforce challenges alone. Therefore, we call on states to strengthen alignment with K-12 education, higher education, employers, workforce development, and human services.

Smart Postsecondary Policies is organized into three key strategies for making postsecondary education work

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Focus on the talent development needs of regional and state economies

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Create efficient pathways to postsecondary credentials

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Help all students fulfill their potential

Talent Development

Focus on talent development needs of regional and state economies

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The state has a clear and ambitious postsecondary attainment goal that includes targets for historically underserved populations.

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The state has a data system that enables policymakers to understand how students are progressing through public education and into the workforce.

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The state makes labor market information available to track and report employment outcomes of college graduates.

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The state sets expectations for community colleges to use regional labor market information and employer input to align their programs to workforce needs.

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The state supports regional alignment among education and workforce development providers toward in-demand careers.

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The state supports work-based learning opportunities for postsecondary students as part of their program of study.

Efficient Pathways

Create efficient pathways to postsecondary credentials

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The state expands access to high-quality dual enrollment pathways designed to save students time and money in completing a postsecondary credential.

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The state supports college readiness approaches that accelerate entry into college-level courses as quickly as appropriate.

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The state supports efficient pathways toward the attainment of a two-year degree.

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The state supports efficient pathways to a four-year degree from community colleges.

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The state has community college finance policies designed to ensure funding is sufficient and aligned to support broader state education goals.

Student Potential

Help all students fulfill their potential


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The state supports college and career advising to help students and families make well-informed educational choices.

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The state promotes college affordability.

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State financial aid is flexible, accessible to different types of students, and incentivizes completion.

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The state supports the financial stability of community college students and helps them complete a postsecondary credential.

Based on JFF’s 20 years of experience collaborating with education leaders at the forefront of the college completion movement, we know there are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all approaches to making change through state policy. 


We encourage states to consider a range of policy levers to achieve the goals of the agenda, such as:

  1. Data collection and reporting systems that measure meaningful education and labor market outcomes and make information available to the public to guide their education decisions and hold systems accountable
  2. Enabling policies that encourage innovation and foster stronger collaboration across systems to accelerate implementation of evidence-based approaches
  3. High-level directives that set clear expectations and deadlines for practitioners and partners to take action
  4. Intensive technical assistance deployed statewide to support practitioners and partners
  5. Financial resources, incentives, and tax policy changes that inject much-needed investments into the implementation and scaling of evidence-based approaches 

For more information about Smart Postsecondary Policies, contact David Altstadt