The recent midterm elections brought New England two new governors. Rhode Island elected its first woman chief exec in Gina Raimondo (D). Massachusetts elected Charlie Baker (R), a former Harvard Pilgrim CEO and official in the Weld and Cellucci administrations. Otherwise, the New England corner offices cautiously welcomed back incumbents: Democrats Dannel Malloy in Connecticut, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire and Peter Shumlin in Vermont, and Republican Paul LePage in Maine.
In higher education, a national pickup in Republican governorships and legislative chambers “will result in lawmakers placing an enhanced focus on state-provided inputs (funding) and the institutionally generated outcomes of public colleges and universities (degree production, graduation rates, etc.),” according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). “Fiscally conservative lawmakers will ask what the state is receiving back from its investment in higher education, and how students, graduates and employers are benefitting in the process. Performance-based funding and other metric-driven accountability systems will receive continued attention.”
The national newspaper Education Week offered a poppier rundown of the midterms and education policy, noting for example, that "the teacher unions had a really tough night," and "Arne Duncan and the Obama team at the U.S. Department of Education are in for a rough ride."
Ultimately, New England's winners may envy their vanquished opponents who will be spared the tasks of governing in an age of sneaky budget gaps, job market mismatches, an aging population and growing uncertainty in the region’s once-untouchable industries: the so-called “eds and meds.”
Connecticut. Connecticut voters re-elected Malloy over Republican Tom Foley in a rerun of the 2010 election. Nancy Wyman (D) was re-elected lieutenant governor. Before becoming governor, Malloy was mayor of Stamford for 14 years—the longest serving mayor in the city’s history. Before that, he was assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, New York.
In the Connecticut General Assembly, the House and Senate stayed Democratic, although Republicans picked up 10 seats in the House. Senate President Don Williams retired and joined Connecticut’s largest teachers union. Current Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney is expected to succeed Williams as Senate president. In the House, Speaker Brendan Sharkey was re-elected for another term, For the first time, GOP lawmakers chose a woman to be minority leader with Rep. Themis Klarides replacing former Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, who did not seek re-election.
Following his reelection, Malloy ordered nearly $48 million in emergency budget cuts, including about $7 million to public colleges and universities to help close a projected $100 million deficit.
In his first term as governor, Malloy reorganized the public higher-education system, making massive cuts to the system. He subsequently restored most of the cuts to the system’s state universities and community colleges by funding Transform CSCU for more than $125 million, which was later cut.
Malloy also succeeded in passing additional initiatives in his first term, including "Go Back to Get Ahead,'' a program designed to help students who left college without finishing their degree, to return to the classroom. In an effort to make higher education accessible to all Connecticut residents, the state was among the first to pass a version of the DREAM Act, which provides that undocumented students will have access to an affordable higher education.
Malloy also secured $1.5 billion to expand educational opportunities, research and innovation in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines over the next decade at the University of Connecticut. He received the support of state lawmakers to subsidize a genomic medical research institute on the campus of the UConn’s Health Center. The institute, which recently opened, will be operated by the Bar Harbor, Maine-based Jackson Laboratory to transform medicine by improving healthcare, lowering costs and increasing lifespans. The partnership between Jackson Laboratory and UConn’s Health Center and the research institute is the basis for a statewide plan to build a bioscience industry cluster. Malloy has predicted that the bioscience cluster will create some 4,000 bioscience jobs alone while spinning off 2,000 more jobs in related fields.
Malloy has been a strong supporter of precision manufacturing vocational programs at three community colleges to better equip workers and businesses for success in the manufacturing industry.
To reduce student debt, he has proposed creating a student loan tax credit to allow residents to take up to a $2,500 tax credit on student loan interest, allowing students to refinance student loans at lower rates and increasing the Governor’s Scholarship Program to give high-achieving students additional student aid.
Voters made no changes in Connecticut’s congressional delegation.
Maine. Maine voters reelected LePage to a second term. LePage, the former mayor of Waterville, Maine, and a former member of the Waterville City Council, also worked as general manager of a discount store, Marden’s Surplus and Salvage.
Asked at a debate about deep cuts at the University of Southern Maine, LePage said the University of Maine System “needs to reinvent itself.” He suggested looking at the University of Maine at Fort Kent for its outreach to high-school students as a model. He also said he thinks the state’s community colleges should focus on trades as opposed to liberal arts.
On student debt, LePage has expressed interest in the “Pay it Forward” model which originated in the state of Oregon. However, the plan has never been implemented in Oregon due to a lack of funding. On remedial education, LePage noted that 55 percent of students who enter community colleges need remedial education in math and English. He supports a proficiency-based diploma.
LePage’s midterm challenger, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D), proposed “Maine Made” which would build Maine’s economy partly by making the sophomore year at any school in the University of Maine system tuition-free. It would cost $15 million a year, which Michaud suggested, would help address the college debt issue. He also proposed lowering in-state tuition by 25 percent.
Challenger Eliot Cutler, an Independent candidate for governor, proposed a “Pay it Forward, Pay it Back” plan. Students would attend a public two-year or four-year college tuition-free and pay a small portion of their income for approximately 20 years into a state fund. The state would have to borrow money initially but eventually, the plan would become self-sustaining.
Democrats maintain control of the Maine House of Representatives while Republicans control the Senate. Maine is the only state where the Legislature elects the constitutional officers of attorney general, secretary of state and the treasurer (though a rejected 2013 bill called for the statewide election of the secretary of state and treasurer every two years and the attorney general every four years). Legislators elected former state Rep. Terry Hayes, a Democrat-turned independent, state treasurer. Democrats re-elected Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and Atty. Gen. Janet Mills.
Michaud’s old Maine 2nd district congressional seat will now be held by Bruce Poliquin (R), who defeated New England Board of Higher Education chairwoman, and former state senator, Emily Cain (D). Poliquin will serve on the House Financial Services Committee.
Massachusetts. Bay State voters elected Baker (R) to be governor over Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley (D) in the narrowest race for Massachusetts governor in the past half century.
Baker appointed Steven Kadish to be his chief of staff. Kadish was senior vice president and chief operating officer of Northeastern University and executive vice president and chief financial officer at Dartmouth College.
Karyn Polito (R) was elected lieutenant governor and ran Baker’s transition team. Baker also appointed education reformer and charter school advocate Jim Peyser to lead his transition team. Peyser is managing director of New Schools City Funds in Boston and former chair of the state Board of Education. Baker appointed University of Massachusetts Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan and Phoenix Charter Academy Network founder Beth Anderson to chair the transition committee on schools.
Baker wants to pursue more online learning, three-year degree programs and expanded co-op programs as part of a larger plan to reduce the cost of higher education while increasing access for students. He said he would direct the state Board of Higher Education to establish a competitive grant program for public colleges and high schools to set up or expand co-op programs where students can earn academic credits through courses and work experiences with local employers which he says would produce a cost savings of 25 percent.
Less than a month after the election, The Boston Globe called on Baker to “not only protect the Commonwealth’s competitive advantage in tech, but address regulatory roadblocks and cultural issues that could limit the sector’s future job-creation potential.”
Baker will succeed two-term Gov. Deval Patrick, who did not run, and according to reports in the Globe, is considering an offer to be a scholar at MIT. (The path from New England governors' offices to academia is well-worn by Michael Dukakis (Mass.), Walter Peterson (N.H.), Bruce Sundlun (R.I.) and others.)
In another highlight of the Massachusetts gubernatorial race, Evan Falchuk, who ran as the United Independent Party candidate, earned nearly 72,000 votes—more than the 3 percent needed to be recognized as an official party in terms of election and fundraising laws.
In the Massachusetts legislature, Democrats continue to control the House and Senate. Republicans added seven new lawmakers in the House, increasing the number of Republicans to 34. The Massachusetts Senate added two Republicans, increasing their ranks to six. Senators will elect a new chamber president to replace Sen. Therese Murray (D) who did not seek re-election. The favorite is Sen. Stan Rosenberg (D), whose district includes the college-rich Pioneer Valley.
Massachusetts 6th congressional District will now be represented by Seth Moulton (D), replacing fellow Democrat John Tierney who served for 18 years, including a stretch as New England’s only member of the House Education and Workforce Committee.
New Hampshire. Granite State voters re-elected Hassan for a second term. Hassan’s late father, Robert C. Wood, was a president of UMass and U.S. secretary of housing and urban development. Her husband is the principal of Phillips Exeter Academy. She will face the challenge of working with a legislature controlled by Republicans. The House elected Shawn Jasper as speaker. A coalition of Democrats and Republicans came together to reject the choice of the Republican caucus, former speaker Will O’Brien after a series of votes.
When the legislative session gets underway in January, Hassan will face an uphill climb in funding public higher education. Funding for the University System of New Hampshire was cut by 50 percent in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. In September 2014, University System Trustees voted unanimously to submit a funding request to the governor and state legislators that restores state support to 2009 levels. In exchange, the System would freeze tuition for two more years. The system is requesting $100 million in 2016 and $105 million in 2017.
Hassan also restored funding to the New Hampshire Community Colleges, which allowed tuition to be cut by 5 percent. Hassan said the state needs to focus on keeping New Hampshire students in the state in the face of students opting for less expensive higher education options out-of-state.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen defeated challenger Scott Brown, who had earlier beat Coakley to represent Massachusetts in the Senate, but then lost to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D). New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district will be represented by Frank Guinta (R), who defeated incumbent Carol Shea-Porter (D).
Rhode Island. Former State Treasurer Raimondo was elected to be the state’s first woman governor. A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Raimondo clerked for U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood and served as senior vice president of fund development at Village Ventures before co-founding Point Judith Capita. In 2010, she was elected general treasurer of Rhode Island, where she implemented comprehensive pension reform.
During the campaign, Raimondo proposed:
- Creating a new scholarship fund for any academically qualified student who lacks financial resources and wants to pursue a post-secondary degree at one of Rhode Island’s public colleges. To be eligible, a student must have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. The scholarship would cover all tuition and fee expenses after all other financial aid is applied. The scholarship fund is based on The Tennessee Promise, which offers “last dollar” scholarships that are intended to bridge the gap after all financial resources are exhausted. The cost is estimated to be between $10 million and $15 million a year. The new funds would come from the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority’s reserves.
- Creating a loan-forgiveness program for Rhode Island students who have graduated from one of the state’s colleges or universities with student debt and continue to live in the state. Business will have access to a talent pool in exchange for paying off some of the students' debt. The program is based on New Hampshire’s “Stay Work Play” initiative.
- Opening an office at the Community College of Rhode (CCRI) dedicated to bringing businesses to the table to identify the needs of employers and design curricula that reflect those needs, while equipping the college with programs, equipment and facilities needed to put students on a pathway to a job in a high-demand industry.
- Doubling the graduation rate at CCRI by working with administrators, counselors and educators to identify why the school’s graduation rate is so low. A model initiative to accomplish the latter is the Accelerated Study in Associates Programs (ASAP) at the City University of New York (CUNY).
Raimondo has also proposed establishing an innovation institute that would translate ideas from Rhode Island colleges and universities into products manufactured in the state.
Daniel McKee (D) was elected lieutenant governor, succeeding Elizabeth Roberts (D), who was term-limited. In the Rhode Island General Assembly, Democrats maintain control of the House and Senate. Republicans picked up six seats in the House, while the Senate remained unchanged.
Vermont. While Shumlin won the governor's race over Republican Scott Milne, he did not receive 50 percent of the vote. The Vermont constitution provides that in such instances where no candidate achieves 50 percent the election is decided by the Vermont General Assembly, which is overwhelmingly Democratic. The formal election of governor will be the first order of business as lawmakers begin a new session.
Lawmakers and the governor will have to tackle an unanticipated shortfall of $17 million. This follows a previous shortfall during the past summer of $31 million. State agencies will have to reduce their budgets by an additional $15.5 million. Revenues are off by approximately $12 million, according to Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding, who coincidentally was tapped to become the next chancellor of Vermont State Colleges (VSC).
There is little doubt that Shumlin will have to rework his agenda for the coming year. In higher education, the governor initially proposed a $2.5 million increase in the allocation to the University of Vermont, VSC and the Vermont Student Assistance Corp—a move which would have kept tuition rates at Vermont public institutions frozen for the current academic year and expanded of dual-enrollment and early-college programs. However, in August of this year, the funding increase was eliminated due to a budget shortfall, and appropriations for VSC and UVM will be level-funded.
Plans to address student debt are likely to be put on hold. Previously, Shumlin suggested the possibility of students getting two tuition free years of college. The savings would come from two areas: college dual enrollment and a scholars program that provides for reimbursement of tuition for students going into STEM fields.
Ballot questions. Among New England ballot questions, Massachusetts voters chose not to repeal the casino law. They also approved guaranteed paid sick days for workers, echoing national election trends that saw large Republican wins coupled awkwardly with victories for populist causes such as minimum wage hikes.
Rhode Island voters OK’d bond issues for a new engineering building at URI, while Maine voters OK’d $50 million in state borrowing included in six bond questions—one to build a research facility devoted to research on genetic solutions to cancer and age-related diseases. LePage, however, has delayed release of voter-approved bonds in the past.
In D.C.: Nationally, Republicans won a majority in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former governor of Tennessee and U.S. secretary of education in the George H. W. Bush administration, is expected to chair the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Rep. John Kline (R-MN) is expected to continue chairing the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. He has proposed reducing the number of questions on the FAFSA to two and prioritizing deregulation of higher education. Republicans are likely to fight the administration’s plans to create a “college ratings system” and use a “gainful employment rule” to target the for-profit sector.
The Education Dive newsletter recently posted a piece on "10 ways a Republican-led Congress could impact higher ed in 2015."
The National Association of State Boards of Education offered a state-by-state analysis of changes in membership of state boards of education, noting, among other things, Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s August announcement that he wouldn’t seek a second term.
The messaging and spinning is partly done. The fat lady has sung. Now it's time to govern.
John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education. Carolyn Morwick handles government and community relations at the New England Board of Higher Education and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures.