NE Higher Ed’s Changing Weather … Introducing NEJHE’s “State Capital Notes”

State Capital Notes …

New England’s public education and higher education governance structures have always varied. Some states have designated state agencies focused on higher education; others have an office within a state department of education. The executives at the top—commissioners of higher education, chancellors of state postsecondary systems or directors of state higher education departments, secretaries—also vary. And the people and the structures are changing again.

In late January, the New Hampshire Governor’s Executive Council confirmed Edward MacKay to be director of the Division of Higher Education at the New Hampshire Department of Higher Education. MacKay is the past chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire.

Rhode Island lawmakers in 2012 voted to abolish the Office of Higher Education and combine the boards of K-12 education and higher education. Now the Ocean State has launched a search for a Commissioner of Higher Education. A newly expanded board will be responsible for overseeing issues related to K-12 and higher education in the state; a separate Commissioner of Education is responsible for matters pertaining to elementary and secondary education.

The Maine Department of Higher Education is in the midst of trying to fill the position for a higher education specialist. Acting Commissioner of Education Jim Rier’s permanent appointment is awaiting legislative approval.

Vermont has its first cabinet-level education secretary in Rebecca Holcombe. She may be charged with overseeing the consolidation of school districts if a nascent proposal in the Legislature continues to gain traction.

These developments come on the heels of changes in educational leadership in Massachusetts with the appointment of Secretary of Education Matt Malone just over a year ago and in Connecticut, with the appointment of Gregory Gray, former president of Miami Dade College Kendall Campus and former chancellor of the Riverside Community College District, in California, to lead the Board of Regents last summer. In February, Gray met with the state’s four regional universities and 12 community colleges to discuss a $15.5 million budget shortfall at mid-year attributed to declining enrollments.

With population and economic trends pointing to an aging population and an increased need for workers with postsecondary education, these new leaders could face a harsh climate in coming years—but it wouldn’t be New England if they didn’t.

Monnica Chan is director of policy & research at NEBHE. John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.

Welcome to State Capital Notes, NEJHE‘s new state-oriented counterpart to our regular DC Shuttle, which is focused on federal and national higher ed news. @nebhe has also begun actively tweeting higher ed news from the state capitals so we can cover big state policy developments as they unfold.


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