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The next governors of (from left) Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin and California

Even as many were gripped by the potential change in control of Congress, races for governor could be exceptionally important for public higher education. Governors appoint board members and have great influence over appropriations.

New Democratic governors in several states have ambitious plans for higher education.

California was assured a new governor next year because Governor Jerry Brown is stepping down after his second two-term tenure in office. Brown, a Democrat, restored much of the funding cut during the state's economic collapse under Governor Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Brown was a champion of higher education, but he also clashed with higher ed leaders, questioning the pay for campus leaders and the enrollment of out-of-staters.

He will be succeeded by Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who is the current lieutenant governor and was formerly mayor of San Francisco. In his current role, he is an ex officio member of the boards of the University of California and California State University systems, and he has used that role to criticize tuition increases, insisting that the systems need to function without them.

In his campaign, Newsom stressed the link between what happens early in a child's life and the progression through school to higher education. He has pledged as governor to create a program where every new kindergarten student in the state is given a savings account by the state to start the path of saving for college. Newsom has also spoken out about the need to address equity gaps early on to assure that students from all groups excel in higher education. He has called it "unacceptable" that of the 10,244 California high school students who took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science in 2016, only 27 percent were female, 15 percent were Latino and 1 percent were black.

The university and community college systems in the state, he said during the campaign, "operate in their own silos." To change that, he has vowed to re-create a coordinating board for higher education (a previous board was killed in 2011) "to set bold statewide goals and hold institutions accountable to them."

Newsom is not the only governor-elect to talk about the role of the state coordinating board.

Jared Polis, the Democrat elected in Colorado, has vowed to strengthen his state's board. "We will work with the Legislature to bolster the authority and resources available to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education so that it can do the job needed to save people money: to serve as the relentless watchdog of our institutions, recommend adequate funding of our institutions, and to insist that our institutions facilitate partnerships that will lower costs and increase access to academic programs currently out of reach to too many of today’s students," his campaign platform says.

Polis is also vowing to take steps to minimize textbook costs for students and to make it easier for them to earn a bachelor's degree in three years.

In Illinois, where state support for higher education has been minimal in recent years (and that's when the state actually managed to pass budgets), J. B. Pritzker, the Democrat elected Tuesday, is vowing improvements for public higher education. He has said that the state needs to provide programs to stop the trend of greater and greater numbers of Illinois students leaving the state for college.

In Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer was the Democrat who won Tuesday. She wants to require every 12th grader to create a "postgraduation plan" based on career and education goals. She also vows to create a scholarship program that would enable all state residents to attend two years of college without debt.

Walker Apparently Defeated in Wisconsin

As of early Wednesday morning, Governor Scott Walker, a Wisconsin Republican, appears to have narrowly lost his bid for re-election. Walker was involved in fight after fight with academics during his two terms in office. Higher education was not a dominant issue in the campaign of Democrat Tony Evers to unseat Walker, but Evers stressed his career in education (as a teacher, principal and state superintendent of schools).

Evers also pledged to undo the budget cuts that the state imposed (with Walker's encouragement). "As a member of the Board of Regents, Tony has seen firsthand the damage Scott Walker has inflicted on higher education in Wisconsin, cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from our UW System. When other states began reinvesting in higher education, Wisconsin chose not to and it’s resulted in fewer classes and quality educators for our kids.  Our possibilities are not limited; it’s time we look to the future," says the Evers platform.

Many professors said in recent weeks that they would have backed just about anyone against Walker. Among the disputes of the Walker era: his successful attempt to remove tenure protections from state statute, his criticisms that faculty members don't teach enough -- criticisms many said were based on incorrect data -- his push for deep budget cuts that have led to the elimination of many programs in the university system and his elimination of a state board to oversee for-profit higher education.

Republican Win in Florida

One of the gubernatorial races that attracted national attention was in Florida, where Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is a former U.S. representative, on Tuesday defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum, a Democrat who is mayor of Tallahassee.

DeSantis pledged if elected to promote the prominence of the state's research universities. He noted that one institution, the University of Florida, has made the top 10 list of public universities maintained by U.S. News & World Report. DeSantis said he wanted to be sure that one Florida public university moves up to make the top five. (It is unclear how DeSantis plans to have Florida topple the likes of the University of California, Berkeley, or UCLA.)

Gillum pledged in his campaign "making college debt-free."

A graduate of historically black Florida A&M University, Gillum had been expected to be an advocate for minority-serving institutions. Many supporters of black colleges viewed President Trump as insulting them when he tweeted support for Gillum's opponent and noted that DeSantis was "a Harvard/Yale-educated man."

The Winners and Their Pledges

States where gubernatorial races are blank indicate the race has not been called. An asterisk indicates incumbent.

State Winner Higher Ed Record/Platform
Alabama Kay Ivey* (R) Ivey pledges to build support for public schools.
Arizona Doug Ducey* (R) Ducey notes that he backed programs to make it possible for college students to graduate debt-free if they pledge to work as a teacher in the state.
Arkansas Asa Hutchinson* (R) Hutchinson pledges to continue support for program to provide computer science instruction in every high school.
California Gavin Newsom (D) He has been strong opponent of tuition increases at public colleges and universities. He pledges to have the state start a savings account for every kindergarten student to promote savings for college.
Colorado Jared Polis (D) Polis pledges to increase the authority of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to promote effectiveness and efficiency in higher education. He also says he will create financial incentives for colleges to use open educational resources in place of textbooks.
Connecticut Ned Lamont (D) Lamont says he will make community colleges tuition-free for state residents who pledge to live and work in Connecticut after graduation. Pledges to improve partnerships between employers and community colleges.
Florida Ron DeSantis (R) DeSantis says that he will push for greater prominence for the state's research universities.
Hawaii David Ige* (D) Ige says he will expand early college programs. Also, he pledges to keep in place regulations about sexual assault in higher education, even if the Education Department revises its approach to the issue.
Idaho Brad Little (R) Little proposes to allow colleges to keep all sales tax collected on their campuses. He also pledges to improve coordination between elementary and secondary education, and higher education.
Illinois J. B. Pritzker (D) Pritzker pledges major increases in state support for student aid, and to create new programs to help students with debt consolidate their loans. He vows to reverse a recent increase in Illinois students going out of state for higher education through new aid programs.
Iowa Kim Reynolds (R) Reynolds pledges to improve public schools and STEM education.
Kansas Laura Kelly (D) Kelly says she will work to restore cuts in state appropriations for public higher education
Maine Janet Mills (D) Mills pledges to focus on improving mentoring programs to encourage people to go to college, and finding ways to draw back into higher education those who have completed some college but lack a degree.
Maryland Larry Hogan* (R) Hogan pledges to continue efforts to limit tuition increases at public universities. He vows to continue a program allowing home owners to pay off mortgage debt and student debt at the same time.
Massachusetts Charlie Baker* (R) Baker, unlike his opponent, did not back a tax on large college and university endowments. He pledges to continue to support program that allows students to earn college degree for less than $30,000 over four years.
Michigan Gretchen Whitmer (D) Whitmer wants to require every 12th grader to create a "postgraduation plan" based on career and education goals. She also vows to create a scholarship program that would enable all state residents to receive two years of college without debt.
Minnesota Tim Walz (D) Walz pledges to have the state provide two years of tuition-free higher education for those from families who earn less than $125,000 a year. Pledges to recruit more minority K-12 teachers.
Nebraska Pete Ricketts* (R) Ricketts pledges to continue to work on career preparation and training for high school and junior high school students.
Nevada Steve Sisolak (D) Sisolak says he will work to reduce student debt.
New Hampshire Chris Sununu* (R) Sununu notes that he has pushed for increases in student aid and has backed a robotics education program.
New Mexico Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) Grisham pledges to develop research centers of excellence at public universities. She also says she will expand and improve job training programs at community colleges.
New York Andrew Cuomo* (D) Cuomo points to his creation of a plan, enacted by the Legislature, to provide tuition-free education for most families at public colleges and universities.
Ohio Mike DeWine (R) DeWine pledges to require all public colleges and universities to keep tuition levels flat for each entering class. He also vows to provide more aid to low-income students.
Oklahoma Kevin Stitt (R) Stitt says he will create a program to use technology to deliver Advanced Placement courses to rural high schools. He also pledges new efforts to recruit talented schoolteachers.
Oregon Kate Brown* (D) Brown notes that she has helped add funds for student aid generally, and for those attending community colleges in particular. She says she will continue to promote job training programs.
Pennsylvania Tom Wolf* (D) Wolf notes that he restored more than $1 billion in education cuts made by his Republican predecessor. He pledges to continue to focus on science, technology and mathematics education.
Rhode Island Gina Raimondo* (D) Raimondo points to her championing a plan, since adopted, to provide tuition-free community college. She also pledges to continue efforts to improve job training opportunities.
South Carolina Henry McMaster* (R) McMaster says he will push for computer science instruction in every school in the state.
South Dakota Kristi Noem (R) Noem says that she will push colleges to focus on affordability and on-time graduation. She also says she will work to simplify the process of applying for student aid.
Tennessee Bill Lee (R) Lee says he will improve high schools in rural areas with an emphasis on agricultural and vocational education so high school graduates are ready for jobs.
Texas Greg Abbott* (R) Abbott wants the state to require public colleges to grant college credit for edX courses. He says he will push to shift more state appropriations to be provided based on outcomes. And he pledges to make more credit from community colleges easy to transfer to four-year institutions.
Vermont Phil Scott* (R) Says he can continue to improve public education without property tax increases.
Wisconsin Tony Evers (D) Evers pledges to reverse higher education budget cuts and policies of the outgoing governor, Scott Walker.
Wyoming Mark Gordon (R) Gordon promises to focus education and research on technology, computer science, advanced manufacturing and engineering.


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