New House bill would unite 2 state higher education organizations

Kari Petrie

Concerned about the future of the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office, officials and employees debated Monday the House bill that would unite two state higher education organizations and allow the governor to appoint its new director.

The Higher Education Services Office is responsible for distributing educational grants to Minnesota students.

The meeting comes after the Minnesota State University Student Association asked that the office be eliminated for underestimating the need for state grants by $16 million.

The bill, introduced March 26, would also unite the Higher Education Services Office with the Higher Education Advisory Council – an organization including the University’s president and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ chancellor. It would also expand the current nine-member council to 16, while eliminating the Student Advisory Council.

The 16 members would include five citizens appointed by the governor serving five-year terms. Five student members, appointed by the governor, would serve two-year terms. The agency would also become a part of the governor’s cabinet.

Higher Education Services Office Director Robert Poch said the House hopes the reorganization will increase accountability by creating a single spokesperson for higher education. The governor-appointed director would serve as this spokesperson.

Ralph Brown, a member of the Minnesota Higher Education Services Council – the governing board for the Higher Education Services Office – said the plan was “a logical, natural expansion.”

Kathleen Vellenga, chairwoman for the council, said a representative for higher education is missing from the organization. She also said the reorganization could help with communication between public and private institutions.

Council member John Testa, however, said the reorganization would take control of grant money from the council and give it to the state.

“That’s the heart of the issue,” he said.

Testa said he also felt the reasons for reorganizing the Higher Education Services Office were weak.

Mary Hershberger Thun, a member of the council, said she felt a closer relationship between the state and the Higher Education Services Office would be positive.

Council members said they were also concerned about the larger size of the proposed board.

“That concerns everyone,” Vellenga said.

Council member Donald Sudor said he thinks eight or nine members would suffice to serve, instead of 16. He said everyone connected to higher education would be on the board.

Several members questioned how much a large board could get done. However, council member Brown felt differently.

“It is possible for a board to be large and effective,” he said.

Vellenga, concerned about the two-year term for the student representatives, said students might not be able to fully participate because of the time needed to understand the organization’s activities.

“It’s a token membership,” she said.

Vellenga suggested students serve a three- or four-year term.

Vellenga said she was going to try to get a meeting with Rep. Doug Stang, R-Cold Spring and Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, to express the council’s concerns and questions.

Kari Petrie covers Board of Regents and administration. She

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