Thursday, January 26, 2012

House, Senate offer two versions of a bill to replace HECB

Hearings continued this week on House and Senate bills that would transfer many of the responsibilities of the Higher Education Coordinating Board to a successor entity – either a Council for Higher Education or a Student Achievement Council.
The public hearings for these bills were held last week, when inclement weather prohibited many interested parties from attending. To enable a full discussion, the chairs of the House Higher Education Committee and the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee scheduled additional public hearings this week.
The House bill, HB 2483, under a proposed substitute, would create a Student Achievement Council as a state agency with a director appointed by the Governor from a list provided by the citizen members of the council.  This bill and its Senate companion bill, SB 6232, are based on the Higher Education Steering Committee recommendations.
SB 6269, an alternative to the Governor’s request legislation, would create a Council for Higher Education with a director selected by the council.
Legislative staff have prepared a comparison of key differences in the bills. Briefly, the House bill would create a nine-member council with five citizen representatives and the Senate bill would create a 14-member council with eight citizen representatives.  Institutional or sector representatives would be named to each council.
The House bill focuses on coordination and collaboration to increase statewide educational attainment; the Senate bill focuses more on policy development and coordination in higher education. The Senate bill would require the council to conduct a study and make recommendations on how best to expand its duties to include coordinating transitions from secondary to postsecondary education.
Testifying before the Senate committee Tuesday, Don Bennett, HECB executive director, said the proposed legislation would provide new emphasis on getting the relationship right between the legislature, the executive branch, and the institutions of higher education as they work to achieve the important central goal of raising statewide educational attainment.
The board has, over the years, served as a focal point for these discussions, Bennett said. A non-partisan entity is needed as the state attempts to guide institutional priorities toward meeting current and future economic and workforce needs while helping institutions fulfill their ongoing teaching, research and public service missions.  The new office or council should be expected to continue this important work, he said.
Bennett said additional attention would be needed to clarify how data needed to measure progress toward goals is gathered and analyzed – especially in light of the national movement to fund higher education on the basis of outcomes achieved rather than by student enrollments.   He also emphasized the need to fully integrate student financial assistance administration within the overall work of the new council.

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