Statewide Changes to Postsecondary Governance in 2019

Postsecondary & Workforce

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Now that the 2019 session is wrapping up, we can look back at a couple states that made surprise moves to reorganize their postsecondary governance systems. While a few other states edged toward overhauling their structures, they opted for less extensive revisions to higher education governance or policies.

Arkansas is merging its K-12 and higher education departments and other offices into one agency as part of a large-scale effort to create a more efficient state government. Under H.B. 1763, a new secretary of education, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, will oversee the agency. The former, separate department of higher education is now a division within the agency and its director reports to the secretary. The Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board will continue to appoint the director, with confirmation by the governor, and oversee the division’s policies and programs. Given the scope of the reorganization, it will be interesting to watch how the relationships among and responsibilities of Arkansas’ K-12 and higher education boards, secretary and department divisions unfold over time.

Many of us who keep an eye on postsecondary governance expected the big news of 2019 would be California’s revival of a formal, statewide coordinating board and agency. After initially voicing support for the idea, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed A.B. 130 that would have established the Higher Education Performance, Accountability and Coordination Commission. Newsom’s veto message referenced his recently created Council for Post-Secondary Education, which is charged with providing advice and recommendations to the governor on a range of issues and encouraging coordination across the three systems. A central argument for re-establishing a coordinating entity has been to bring the postsecondary systems together to examine and craft solutions to high-priority topics. At least a handful of states have postsecondary advisory groups, and several interested parties will likely be paying close attention to the role and recommendations of California’s new council.

At the end of Rhode Island’s session, lawmakers took steps to break up part of the P-20 governance system. The 2020 budget bill, H.B. 5151 (see page 242), removes the University of Rhode Island from the governing authority of the Council on Postsecondary Education and state board of education, and creates a board of trustees for the institution. The bill’s language indicated that a separate governing board would allow the university to be more strategic, nimble and innovative as it faces changing demographics and increasing competitiveness within higher education. The council will continue to govern Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island. These changes will move the state from a single, statewide governing board model to one or more systemwide governing or coordinating boards. Check out this recent Policy Guide that categorizes states by general models and our 50-State Comparison on postsecondary governance structures, which includes individual state profiles.

Here are a couple additional updates to the previous blog post, “States Move to Restructure Their Postsecondary Governance Systems.” Despite efforts by governors’ task forces and some lawmakers, North Dakota and West Virginia did not revamp their governance structures. If approved by voters, a North Dakota resolution, S.C.R 4016, will nearly double the size of the statewide governing board and lengthen members’ terms. And West Virginia enacted S.B. 673 that repeals the mandate for a higher education master plan and streamlines data collection and reporting by the coordinating boards for the four- and two-year systems.

We will continue to keep an eye on state and postsecondary system actions to reorganize their governance structures and revise various components within these systems. Contact us if you have questions about education governance.

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

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