States Move to Restructure Their Postsecondary Governance Systems

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    Governors and legislators continue to consider and adopt changes to their postsecondary governance systems, several of which could alter how policy decisions are made and education goals are pursued within their states. Here are few examples of recent proposals to restore, reorganize, revise or replace statewide postsecondary boards or agencies.

    California may pass legislation during the 2019-20 session to resurrect a statewide coordinating agency. The California Postsecondary Education Commission was defunded and closed its doors in 2011. In recent years, multiple attempts to revive a state-level agency failed or were vetoed. The new governor, however, signaled that he is supportive of the idea. So far, lawmakers have introduced two bills, S.B. 3 and A.B. 130, that would create the Office of Higher Education Coordination, Accountability and Performance. If either of these bills or similar legislation is enacted, California would rejoin the 20 other states with single, statewide coordinating boards/agencies.

    North Dakota’s governor formed a task force last year to explore alternatives to their single, statewide governing board for postsecondary education with a goal of creating a more flexible and responsive system. The task force recommended a three-board model with one board governing the nine regional institutions and community colleges and separate governing boards overseeing the two research universities. In response, lawmakers introduced and then modified H.B. 1500 that would establish a single board for the universities and one for the other institutions. Voters would have to approve such changes since the state’s constitution would be amended. Meanwhile, the state board of higher education wants to create three new committees to address the needs of community and technical colleges, regional institutions and research universities.

    In 2018, Tennessee lawmakers continued to revamp the state’s postsecondary governance system by enacting the UT FOCUS Act (H.B. 2115) that reduces the University of Tennessee’s governing board from 26 to 11 members, reconstitutes the membership, revises the board’s powers and creates advisory boards for each of the four campuses. Another bill, H.B. 1198, shifts the appointment of the executive director of Tennessee’s Higher Education Commission from the governor back to the coordinating board, which had this authority until 2012. Check out our earlier blog post, “Shaking Up the Decision-Making Channels in Postsecondary Education,” that highlights Tennessee’s previous governance changes.

    The governor of West Virginia created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Education in 2018 to examine several higher education issues, including the governance system. The commission is reviewing and deliberating the Higher Education Policy Commission’s role in coordinating and setting policies for the four-year system but has yet to issue recommendations. Legislation enacted in 2017 (H.B. 2815) already transferred some of HEPC’s authority to the governing boards of the three so-called exempted universities. Earlier this month, lawmakers introduced H.B. 3096 to replace HEPC with an office of postsecondary education that would be primarily responsible for providing shared services to all public institutions and coordinating academic programs.

    We’ve been keeping an eye on these and other proposed reforms related to postsecondary governance, and we’ll share a comprehensive look at governance structures across all 50 states and the District of Columbia in a release next week. In the meantime, contact us if you have questions, comments or ideas about higher education governance.

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    Senior Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States | mfulton@ecs.org

    As a senior policy analyst, Mary focuses on issues related to postsecondary governance and contributes to workforce development and other postsecondary education policy projects. Mary brings more than 20 years of experience with Education Commission of the States and has worked on numerous K-12 and postsecondary issues during her career. Beyond a commitment to serving our constituents and supporting educational opportunities for all students, Mary has a passion for community service and the arts.

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