Speakers urge state panel to save higher education groups from the chopping block

By: - September 6, 2023 6:01 pm

Agencies like the Midwestern Higher Education Compact help Iowa's colleges and universities save millions, speakers told the Iowa Boards and Commissions Review Committee Wednesday. (Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch with background via Canva)

Iowa’s colleges and universities could lose money and avenues to speak at the state level if recommendations to reorganize, merge and eliminate certain state agencies are put into action, speakers told the Iowa Boards and Commissions Review Committee Wednesday.

Almost 70 members of the public gave remarks to the committee at its meeting about the functions of certain boards and committees and how it’s necessary for them to remain in place.

One organization brought up by multiple speakers was the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), a 12-state coalition that works to develop collaboration, best practices and cost-saving opportunities for post-secondary education institutions. The committee received a recommendation to eliminate the compact.


Rob Trembath, MHEC chief operating officer and general counsel, told committee members the compact shares the state’s commitment to saving money and increasing efficiency. The compact has helped Iowa entities save $20.5 million since the state joined in 2005.

“Some examples of where Iowa utilized MHEC contracts and programs this past year included MHEC technology contracts, where Iowa higher education institutions, K-12 districts and schools, state and local governments saved more than $656,000 by purchasing $7.29 million in technology, hardware, software and services through MHEC-negotiated contracts,” Trembath said.

Emily Shields, executive director of Community Colleges for Iowa, asked committee members for further discussion and analysis of the fiscal risks of leaving MHEC and the benefits it provides. In addition to discounted contracts through the compact, Shields said the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement helps Iowa’s colleges and universities provide education to students in other states.

Shields also requested more discussion on the Postsecondary Course Audit Committee, recommended for elimination, as it is part of the state’s requirement that colleges receive National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships accreditation, and that accreditation cannot be completed without the committee.

The Boards and Commissions Review Committee received preliminary recommendations from six subcommittees in late August on Iowa’s more than 250 boards and commissions. They made recommendations to eliminate 69 state panels, merge 52 into other bodies, reorganize or make other changes to 47 boards and commissions and allow the remaining 88 boards and commissions to continue operating as-is.

The committee was created as a part of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ agency restructuring bill and has until Sept. 30 to make its recommendations to the governor and Iowa Legislature.

Subcommittees recommended that the Community College Faculty Advisory Committee be eliminated, which Shields said would do away with the only direct avenue for community college faculty to have a voice in state education processes. With the Community College Council also being recommended for consolidation or merger and the State Board of Education for reorganization, she asked that there remain a focus on community colleges and would like to discuss more on how to achieve this goal.

“We appreciate the committee’s work to streamline government operations and we look forward to engaging in future discussions and recommendations, such as recommendation aid and licensing standards,” Shields said. “Iowa’s community colleges are well-positioned to offer ideas and context to Iowa’s licensing where it intersects with our educational programming.”


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Brooklyn Draisey
Brooklyn Draisey

Brooklyn Draisey is a Report for America corps member covering higher education. She previously worked for the Quad-City Times and The Gazette covering topics ranging from business to culture.