Today, Americans will head to the polls and ballots will be counted. For those of us who are focused on higher education, this election represents unusually high stakes. But there are nine votes getting far less attention that are worth watching today, and none includes the outcome of the presidential or Congressional elections.
While much attention has been given to what the next Administration might mean for education and workforce policy, from free college to increased Pell funding to expanded apprenticeship programs, it is often governors, legislators, Boards of Regents (and the higher education systems they govern) that have the greatest, and most immediate impact on students — and institutions.
So, as voters head to the polls, organizations such as the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) will be tracking election day results at the state and local levels — and their potential impact on a wide range of education issues.
Here are nine “off the beaten track” higher education votes I’m paying close attention to today.
On The Ballot
In my home state of Colorado, voters will decide on Amendment B, which is the question of whether to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, a complex — and some argue — arcane constitutional amendment that impacts how tax revenues can be used to fund local government services, such as K-12 schools. As the Colorado Commission of Higher Education argued following their September vote in support of Gallagher’s repeal, the trickle down effect of retaining the Gallagher Amendment will continue to have a detrimental impact on the amount of funding available to support public postsecondary education in the state.
In Nevada, voters will determine whether the Board of Regents will retain their constitutional status. Question 1 would amend the state constitution by removing the constitutional status of the board — allowing the state Legislature to review and change the governing organization of public universities. In addition, Question 1 would revise federal land grant proceeds dedicated for the benefit of some state university departments.
In New Mexico, voters will vote up or down Bond Question C, which is new $156.3 million in bonds that include support for public higher education institutions (among special public schools and tribal schools).
In North Dakota, voters will determine through Constitutional Measure No. 1 whether the number of individuals who serve on the state board of higher education will increase from eight to 15 and whether those individuals will serve a six year term (up from four). Further, the measure, if enacted, would require the board to meet at least annually with the leaders of each institution under the board’s control. And similar to many other states, state legislators, elected state officials and full-time state employees will be prohibited from serving on the board.
In the state of Washington, Governor Inslee is running for re-election against challenger Loren Culp. In Washington, the Governor appoints the State Higher Education Executive Officer — or the SHEEO. Currently, one of the nation’s most respected higher education leaders, Michael Meotti, serves as the Executive Director of the Washington Student Achievement Council, where he has championed a number of college access initiatives. If you care about the pace of innovation in higher education in a state that has been leading the way, pay attention to whether Meotti will be reappointed by Governor Inslee, or replaced under a new administration.
Public Higher Education Leadership
In four states, public higher education boards of regents will be elected to new terms.
In Colorado, the Board of Regents for the University of Colorado System — comprised of the University of Colorado – Boulder, the University of Colorado – Denver, the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center consists of nine members serving staggered six-year terms, one elected from each of the state’s seven congressional districts and two from the state at large. This year, three seats are open and two are being contested. Republicans have held a majority of the Board of Regents seats for the last 40 years and if Democrats win the three seats today, they will gain a majority of the Board.
In Michigan, voters will elect two of the eight seats on the University of Michigan Board of Regents, two of the eight seats on the Michigan State University Board of Trustees and two of the eight seats on the Wayne State University Board of Governors. In Michigan, candidates for these three university boards are nominated by political parties during state conventions – instead of during primary elections.
In Nebraska, voters will elect two of eight seats to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. Following the primary in May, two candidates — Mike Kennedy and Jack Stark — defeated Viv Ewing and are now running unopposed in today’s election, securing their seats as regents for the next term.
In Nevada, alongside the ballot initiative to determine whether the Board of Regents will retain their constitutional status, four regent seats of the thirteen total are up for election.
What happens today in Washington, DC, Washington State or even one of the 30 local Washington Counties — will inevitably shape postsecondary education policies and the way learners access, complete and make the transition into the world of work. But I would argue that there is no more important moment in history than today to ensure that our postsecondary policies and policymakers are aligned on behalf of learners — and the talent we need to move forward as a nation.