Governors and Higher Ed

Winners include some whose views on public colleges have been controversial and others whose views have won widespread praise.

November 5, 2014

While higher education was talked about by gubernatorial candidates in many races this year, it is hard to see a clear pattern (at least on that issue) in the election outcomes.

In Pennsylvania, a governor who presided over deep cuts to higher education lost a re-election bid, while in Maine such a candidate won. Governors in Wisconsin and Florida who were involved in major fights with faculty groups in higher education won re-election. So did governors in California and New York State who increased funding for public colleges and universities. Gubernatorial races were predicted to be an area where Democrats might be strong on Tuesday, but Republican victories extended to many statehouses.

Election Results on "This Week"

Daniel J. Hurley, associate vice president for government relations and state policy at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and Christopher P. Loss, author of Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century, will discuss the election results and their impact on higher education Friday on "This Week," Inside Higher Ed's free weekly news podcast. Sign up here to be notified of new podcasts.

Here are some of the key races for higher ed:


Businessman Tom Wolf, a Democrat, defeated Republican Governor Tom Corbett in a race in which Corbett's cuts to education at all levels were a key issue. The 14-campus Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has faced numerous cuts in the last few years -- even as other states in the region were restoring funds to higher education.

Wolf criticized those cuts and his campaign platform called for several new programs in higher education. He discussed the "undermatching" idea (that academically gifted low-income students seldom land at top colleges) and said he would create a program in which students who score in the top 20 percent of seniors taking the SAT or who have earned a 3.75 grade point average in high school and whose family is in the bottom quartile of income distribution will receive information packets from the state about public colleges and universities and fee waivers on applications to those institutions.

He also pledged to support the expansion of programs to help veterans earn college degrees, and to encourage community college students to earn associate degrees and transfer to four-year institutions.


In Georgia, Republican Nathan Deal won re-election over Democrat Jason Carter in a campaign with considerable debate over the state's HOPE scholarships, which provide funds to students who graduate from Georgia high schools with a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.

During the campaign, Carter criticized Deal for budget cuts to education, but Deal pushed back by noting that Carter has proposed an income cap on HOPE eligibility during a period in which the enormously popular program lacked enough funds. The GOP aimed robocalls at voters warning: "We can't let Jason Carter cancel HOPE for Georgia families.” (While Georgians love the program, many educators have questioned HOPE for the large sums it grants relatively well-off students.)

Zell Miller, a former Democratic governor who led the effort to create HOPE scholarships, made television ads for Deal, citing what Miller views as a stronger commitment to HOPE than has been expressed by Carter.


Republican Governor Rick Scott won re-election over Democrat Charlie Crist, a former governor and a former Republican. In the race, both candidates claimed to have provided more money for higher education and to have fought to keep costs low.

Governor Scott has during his term made statements that angered many professors -- although he has also pushed for more support for research universities.

He has questioned the usefulness of liberal arts and social science degrees and talked about shifting money away from those programs toward STEM fields. He called out anthropologists in particular, saying the state doesn't need any more of them -- and his statements made him a symbol to many arts and sciences professors nationwide of government lack of interest in their fields.

He allowed a new university to be built, Florida Polytechnic University, despite concerns that the university system already had a large enough burden with its 11 institutions. He approved roughly $300 million in cuts to the university system in 2012, though that sum, plus more, was returned to the budget the following year.


Republican Scott Walker won re-election -- much to the dismay of faculty leaders. Walker led a largely successful campaign against unionization rights for public employees -- just as many campus faculty on University of Wisconsin campuses were voting for collective bargaining.

Governor Walker has pushed tuition freezes for public higher education -- a policy that is popular with many students and families. But he has also pledged to make cuts in various taxes in the state -- and if he is successful, some fear the impact such cuts could have on the availability of funds for higher education.


Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, easily won re-election. He proposed and won legislative approval for a plan to make two years of community college free. The program is just getting under way and is being watched closely by educators and politicians elsewhere. He has also pushed hard on trying new approaches on remedial education.

Big Wins, Narrow Win for Supporters of Higher Education

In California and New York, incumbent Democratic governors -- Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo -- won re-election by large margins, as expected. While higher education wasn't a dominant issue in either state, both governors could point to increases in support for public higher education, gains that followed very tight budget years.

In Connecticut, another Democratic incumbent, Governor Dannel P. Malloy, appeared to be on the verge of a narrow re-election win. He has pushed through major spending increases for the University of Connecticut, focused on expanding its research and teaching in science and technology fields.

Republican Governors in Blue States

In both Maryland and Massachusetts, states that are generally liberal in federal races (although Massachusetts has elected several Republican governors who are moderate on social issues), Republicans won on Tuesday.

In Maryland, Larry Hogan won on a platform of cutting taxes and government spending. He defeated Anthony Brown, the Democrat, who pledged to continue the policies of recent years, in which the state has been generous to public higher education.

In Massachusetts, the winner was Charlie Baker (although as of early Wednesday the Democrat had yet to concede). Baker has called for expanding online and three-year degree options, and grants to public colleges to expand co-op or internship programs.



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