Higher ed appointee gets early start, awaits approval

by Stephanie Kudrle

Whether she’s working with the governor on the University’s budget or testifying to the Legislature about rising tuition costs, Susan Heegaard plays several roles in governing the state.

As the newly appointed Higher Education Services Office director, Heegaard serves as an adviser to Gov. Tim Pawlenty and works with the Legislature on higher education policy.

Appointed in February to lead the agency, she also works with universities and colleges throughout the state on issues such as bonding and financial aid.

In her new position, Heegaard said she has already been at work trying to organize the agency.

Heegaard said she has been looking at reciprocity, institutions’ demographics and national trends in education. She said she is committed to helping students and institutions with any of their concerns.

“I hope Minnesota will be considered a leader in higher education,” she said.

Pawlenty appointed Heegaard to her position, but she must be confirmed by the Senate before taking the job officially. Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, chairman of the Education Committee, said the committee will likely look at her appointment in the next 10 days.

He said he does not foresee a problem with Heegaard’s appointment, although the committee has rejected some of Pawlenty’s commissioners in the past.

“I haven’t heard of any concerns expressed at this point, but you never know what might come up at the hearing,” he said.

If the State Senate does not approve her appointment, Kelley said Heegaard will not be able to continue the job.

Heegaard said her job was created this year. The previous agency director was independent from the governor’s office, but Heegaard serves as an official cabinet-level member of Pawlenty’s staff.

She said she is learning how to balance the different aspects of her job.

When working with the Legislature on higher education issues, she said one of her duties is to present the governor’s agenda. Because of that, she said, she might relate more with Republicans.

“But I try to be even-handed and work with both sides,” she said.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul and chairwoman of the Higher Education Budget Division, said Heegaard has not been overly partisan in the past and does not anticipate any problems with her position as Pawlenty’s adviser.

“It’s really important for the governor to have somebody at the table who tells him to remember the higher education,” she said.

Heegaard’s appointment did surprise her though, Pappas said.

“I had envisioned somebody that would have a little more stature in the higher education community,” she said.

But she said Heegaard will be a competent leader for the agency.

Kris Wright, director of the Office of the Student Finance, said the University works closely with the Higher Education Services Office, and does not see the relationship changing with Heegaard’s appointment.

“We’re going to continue to look at the best ways to fund higher education and take care of student needs,” she said.

Wright said the agency might be run differently now because of Heegaard’s connection with Pawlenty.

Heegaard said she has a good relationship with the University and is eager to talk with students about higher education issues.