Higher ed panel wrestles with tough questions

Big ideas were in the air Tuesday as the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee started its formal review of subcommittee proposals for the future of the state’s colleges and universities.

Among them were such sticky issues as:

  • What’s an “adequate” level of state tax support for colleges and universities?
  • Should communities be allowed to raise taxes to supplement the funding of local colleges?
  • Should state support be given directly to students rather than institutions?
  • Should college funding be tied to outcomes like student retention and graduation rather than enrollment?
  • Can direct student funding and outcome-based funding somehow be combined?
  • Should the state have more power to regulate individual institutions?

While discussion on those and other issues was lively, the committee didn’t vote on or rank the 22 recommendations made by four subcommittees. Those groups studied the broad issues of access to higher education; the mission and organization of the state system; the pipeline from K-12 and higher ed, and financial sustainability.

What the panel discussed

View the slides that the committee used to guide its meeting, including time lines, the committee’s mission, a list of the challenges facing higher ed and a cross reference of the four subcommittees’ 22 recommendations with the strategic plan’s five major goals.

Department of Higher Education staff had wanted committee members to do an initial ranking of the subcommittee recommendations. But the members decided they didn’t want to do that, instead instructing staff to prepare a first-draft report that will be circulated among the group and then discussed at its next meeting in late September.

Despite the lack of decisions, the discussion of key issues was lively and some of it highlighted the divides in the higher ed community.

There was much talk about budget challenges, with Co-Chair Jim Lyons saying, “We’re talking about the financial survivability of higher education in this state.”

One subcommittee has recommended $760 million a year in tax support as the minimum needed for higher ed. But several members noted that $1 to $1.5 billion is a more realistic number if the state wants to improve quality and accessibility.

Committee members also fretted about whether the public would support tax increases for higher ed. “Somebody’s got to be making a much stronger case for higher education as a public good. … I don’t think people in Colorado buy that right now,” said Don Elliman, a top gubernatorial advisor who’s an ex officio member.

Several campus leaders sat in on the meeting, including University of Colorado President Kay Norton, who said, “It’s great to have discussions about what would happen if there an additional revenue stream.” But, she added, college presidents have “to focus on a reality that is quite different.”

Colorado State University Chancellor Joe Blake

Joe Blake, Colorado State University chancellor, agreed that current financial pressures are the top priority for campus leaders.

Norton also was cool about the idea of a stronger state regulator role: “We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about governance and regulation except to wish it would go away.”

Tim Foster, president of Mesa State College, said, “I don’t think you need more regulation, but more collaboration” among institutions

Metro State President Steve Jordan repeated his familiar argument that the state needs to expands its middle-tier, four-year campuses to serve new kinds of students. “You have to rethink the missions of some of these institutions” to focus on undergraduate education, he said, mentioning the University of Colorado’s Denver and Colorado Springs campuses.

Absent from the session was CU President Bruce Benson, who’s recovering from hip replacement surgery. Benson previously has raised multiple concerns about some financing ideas floated by the steering committee, fearing they would harm CU, especially its graduate medical programs. (See this letter for details on CU’s concerns.)

The steering committee has five broad goals for its work:

  • Identify ways to improve the pipeline to higher education for both young and adult learners.
  • Reduce geographic, economic and demographic gaps in higher education access, retention and completion.
  • Strengthen links between K-12, higher education and the state’s economy.
  • Ensure future financial stability and affordability of the higher ed system.
  • Make recommendations for governance reform.

Considerable time during Tuesday’s meeting at the Auraria Higher Education Center was spent reviewing how the various subcommittee recommendations fit under those five goals.

The 14-member panel, created by Gov. Bill Ritter late last year and then formalized by a 2010 law, next meets on Sept. 22 to review the proposed draft report.

The final report is due to the governor and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education Nov. 4. In late September, the panel plans to hold four or five public meetings around the state, as well as to discuss the report draft with CCHE members and campus governing boards.

Related: Texas higher ed study group wrestles with similar issues

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede