Otter endorses higher ed ‘CEO’ proposal

Gov. Butch Otter says he will take a proposal for a higher education “CEO” to the 2018 Legislature.

The CEO could be an “agent of change” that can overhaul the university system, and help Idaho improve its stagnant postsecondary completion rates, Otter said during a State Board of Education meeting Thursday afternoon.

“The status quo is not going to get us where we need to go,” he said.

Otter said he will spell out details Monday, when he opens the 2018 legislative session with his State of the State address.

The proposal for a “CEO” — in this case, a “chief education officer” — has been in the winds for several months.

Gov. Butch Otter discusses the higher education “CEO” proposal with State Board of Education members Thursday.

After Otter’s 36-member higher education task force concluded its work in September, seven business leaders on the task force floated the CEO proposal.

In a speech in December, Otter promised to present a plan “to structurally change exactly how we run higher education in the state of Idaho.” Otter didn’t specifically endorse the CEO’s position at that time. But days later, Idaho Business for Education sent out an email to its statewide membership, saying Otter was on board with the idea.

The CEO’s job would be to look for ways to consolidate and streamline functions across the state’s eight college and university campuses — functions such as personnel, IT or purchasing. Supporters of the CEO proposal say these cost savings could be put into college scholarships or other programs to support students.

In joining the push for a CEO, Otter said he is not criticizing the state’s current higher education leadership. But with the state also searching for three new college and university presidents, he said, Idaho has a good opportunity for restructuring.

Otter’s task force presented a dozen recommendations to overhaul the higher education system — although the CEO proposal did not actually come from the entire task force.

The task force included Otter’s State Board appointees, university leaders, business representatives and six legislators.

More reading: A closer look at the education-related questions and issues facing the 2018 Legislature. 

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