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MINUTES: October 26, 2018 Governance Subcommittee Meeting
Summary notes from Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education
Governance subcommittee meeting on October 26
Subcommittee members participating: Mr. Becker, President Martin (Fairmont State), Mr. Payne
Commission members participating: President Boggess (Concord University), Mr. Farrell, President Jenkins (West Virginia State University)
Presidents participating: President Greiner (West Liberty University), President Krotseng (Bluefield State), President Pellett (Glenville State College)
Written comments received from President Hendrix (Shepherd University)
Mr. Payne convened the meeting at 11:00 a.m.
President Boggess began by describing the various ways HEPC supports the development of West Virginia higher education generally and Concord University in particular. She shared detailed handouts to supplement her comments. She observed that HEPC has acted as an essential shared services agency for the smaller institutions. She also said that although she does not call HEPC every day, she would guess that one person from her campus calls HEPC at least once a week to ask for help or guidance.
President Greiner began his comments by expressing concerns about the logistics of transferring HEPC’s duties to a new entity. He wondered how long that would take and what would happen to the smaller institutions during the transition. He agreed with much of President Boggess’ comments and reiterated financial aid, WVNET, and international services as areas where HEPC is particularly important to West Liberty. He also said that over the last three years, the program approval process by HEPC has gotten quicker and more efficient. He asked what the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the regional accrediting agency for West Virginia, would say about a new state agency to replace HEPC.
President Martin said that if there is a new state agency, it needs to be “West Virginia strong” in its orientation and mission and that its priorities should be data (collection, analysis, reporting) and program oversight to reduce duplication and competition.
President Krotseng identified the following HEPC services as especially important for Bluefield State: legal, human resources, Board of Governor training, bonding and capital funding, and international services. She also pointed out that according to ECS/NCHEMS, every state that has a service agency also has some form of coordinating or governing body. She expressed her opinion that the top three priorities for state coordination are providing an overall vision and goal setting, ensuring the consistency and integrity of data (especially for data used in any funding formula), and reaccrediting. She referred to HLC’s Criterion 2 (Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct) and the role a state coordinating board can play as a buffer between institutions and external political interference.
President Pellett enumerated four broad themes: service, support, reporting, and regulation. He said that smaller institutions need technical support, particularly in light of the crisis West Virginia is facing because of declining population. He offered his assessment that service from HEPC is exemplary, from the Chancellor to the person answering the phone. He said that the key to regulation is how it relates to mission-critical needs. He asked for regulatory relief on program development, stating that local administrators and boards know best about the demand and market for new programs.
President Jenkins expressed his general agreement with the comments of his colleagues. He said that in the three higher education systems of which he had been a part (University of North Carolina, University of Maryland, and University of Central Florida), the board oversaw every institution, not all but one or two. He said a major concern of the regional institutions is being swallowed up by one of the larger institutions, and that a state board or agency needs to act as a check-and-balance on the power and speed of the larger institutions. He said HEPC offers support mechanisms to help smaller institutions get new programs up and running. He acknowledged that presidents of smaller institutions must be “authentic” and can not chase every new idea or program that comes along. Instead, they should focus on those programs that are central to their mission and the populations they serve. He said that institutions should consult with each other and that HEPC serves a convening function for this consultation. He also said that the availability of good data is key to informing decisions that reduce duplication and competition.
President Martin asked about how a state can have a rational discussion about preventing the cannibalization of programs at smaller institutions. In order to have a rational discussion, the involvement of every institution is necessary.
President Jenkins agreed, saying that any state agency or board needs to be representative of all institutions, not over-represented by one or two institutions.
Mr. Payne asked Mr. Farrell for his thoughts. Mr. Farrell began by saying that he and Mr. Payne, as HEPC members, are individually responsible for HEPC’s $331 million in debt service, something of which Mr. Farrell said he was unaware until recently. He continued with an historical overview of HEPC from its creation in 2000. He said that have been carve-outs or exemptions to HEPC’s authority along the way, including Senate Bill 603 in 2005 which he worked on personally as Marshall University’s interim president. These carve-outs over the years lead to the question: do you put WVU and Marshall back in or do you leave WVU and Marshall out and have “Old Wild West” style fighting among the institutions? He said we need to address the “us versus them” mentality in West Virginia higher education. He agreed that the Governor wants to clean up inefficiencies and is asking the commission to identify ways we can do better. He expressed that HEPC has world-class PhD staff and that someone is needed who has national experience and credentials to guide these PhDs in their work. He said that every president would say they have gotten benefit from interactions with HEPC staff. He also pointed out that WVU’s proximity to Fairmont State, and Marshall’s proximity to West Virginia State, and the more extensive resources that WVU and Marshall have, are sources of concern for the regional institutions.
President Boggess said that she can not ask her staff at Concord to do any more than they are doing right now—they are being as efficient as they can be.
Mr. Becker briefly recapped the letter from President Hendrix. He agreed that declining population and enrollment constitute a crisis that has, in part, caused the composite financial index (CFI) scores of many West Virginia institutions to be low. He observed that there is a difference between policy work and services within HEPC, just as there are differences between the capacities and needs of the larger institutions and small institutions across the state. He assured the presidents that there was no way the subcommittee would propose a model that fails to serve their needs. He said higher education needs to use limited funds to increase efficiency and wondered if institutions working together, such as Concord and Bluefield State, could achieve greater efficiency. He said that we can not think in terms of win/lose but rather we have to build a new system together.
President Martin said that while Fairmont State, and likely Shepherd, may not use all of HEPC’s services, she feels she should advocate for her colleagues and their institutions. She also said that we need WVU and Marshall at the table to have rational discussions and make decisions, or else every institution will suffer.
President Boggess said, based on her experience in business, that there are differences between academe and business but there is at least one key similarity: the lack of flexibility confounds the ability of both academe and business to be innovative.
Mr. Becker said there are some things every institution does, including collecting tuition and conduct billing. At the same time, these institutions offer different programs and have different missions. He asked how we can serve the common needs among institutions while respecting their differences.
Mr. Payne asked the presidents to send him a one-page memo with their thoughts about streamlining bureaucracy and the areas in which they would like greater freedom. He said he would share his contact information so that every president could contact him to discuss all of these issues further.
President Jenkins said that he eliminated 2 + 2 programs and agreements with other institutions because West Virginia State suffered from these arrangements.
Mr. Becker, in response to President Jenkins, asked if West Virginia State is losing but the State of West Virginia is winning (because students are making academic progress), then how can we promote more winning while ensuring West Virginia State does not lose? Likewise, how can we promote more winning across all institutions while preventing losses at one institution?
Mr. Farrell said he would be addressing this point in his report from the collaboration subcommittee during the full commission meeting.
Mr. Payne thanked everyone for their participation and their helpful feedback. He said the subcommittee would take this feedback into account in its work. His expectation is that the subcommittee will have a proposal to share by the full commission conference call on 15 November.
Mr. Payne adjourned the meeting at 12:30 p.m.