Making Sense of State Governance Structures in Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary & Workforce

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We recently released a comprehensive set of resources related to state postsecondary governance structures. Given the complexity of the issue, we are creating additional ways to present this information to policy and education leaders.

First up, we summarized information about state postsecondary governance models, coordinating and governing boards and administrative/service agencies, and the appointing authority of higher education executive officers.

To set the context, the 50-state analysis categorizes postsecondary governance structures based on the type of boards and agencies that exist in the state. Beyond these basic groupings, no two states have the same governance configuration.

An accompanying chart summarizes the number of statewide and major, systemwide coordinating boards/agencies and governing boards, as well as administrative/service agencies. Illinois and Tennessee are among the states with single, statewide coordinating boards/agencies, while Kansas and Nevada fall under the statewide governing board category.

The summary becomes more complicated with major, postsecondary system coordinating and governing boards. While these states do not have statewide boards, several have state-level postsecondary administrative offices. Georgia, for example, has separate governing boards for the four- and two-year systems and a state financial aid office. Governing boards oversee the two postsecondary systems in Minnesota, while an office of higher education serves as a statewide administrative/service agency. California has governing boards for both of the four-year systems and one for its community college system. If either of the two bills winding their way through California’s legislature is enacted, a statewide coordinating board/agency would be added to the mix. (For more on this, check out our earlier blog post, “States Move to Restructure Their Postsecondary Governance Systems.”)

The analysis also takes a look at who appoints the executive officers of higher education boards, agencies and department divisions. Governing boards appoint most of these individuals, with coordinating boards following closely in second place. Executive directors in Maine and North Carolina are appointed by system governing boards, while state-level coordinating boards have this authority in Arkansas and Colorado.

Governors in several states, including Ohio and Washington, play a direct or indirect role in appointing, approving or hiring the executive directors. In the remaining states, agency boards/committees or the state board of education or commissioner/secretary of education has the appointing authority. In Massachusetts, the statewide coordinating board appoints the executive director — with approval of the secretary of education, who is appointed by the governor.

The Notes sections in our 50-state analysis further illustrate the complex and inconsistent nature of postsecondary governance structures with respect to the types of boards/agencies and appointing authority of executive directors.

If you are interested in a regional view of state postsecondary governance systems, we created a similar analysis for each of the higher education compacts: Midwestern Higher Education Compact, New England Board of Higher Education, Southern Regional Education Board and Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. You can access the summaries from this webpage.

For more information, our data visualization uses top-level graphics as an entry point into postsecondary governance systems and links to the individual state profiles and an in-depth 50-State Comparison.

Please contact us if you have any questions about postsecondary governance in your state or other states.

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Mary Fulton is a former senior policy analyst at Education Commission of the States.

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