While much has been studied and written about college and university trustees and regents—and postsecondary education governance—the role of the higher education trustee as policy advocate is relatively new. Not new as an advocate for the institution they govern, but new as an advocate for the whole of public postsecondary education.
In Colorado, public colleges and university trustees and regents have come together to form the Colorado Trustee Network (CTN), a coalition of appointed and elected leaders who are working together to elevate the issues of greatest impact to the students and institutions in Colorado: affordability, equity, and the alignment between education and the workforce. Few efforts nationwide have been able to create a collective approach to advocacy that involves individuals who, by nature, are positioned to work independently of one another.
CTN was formed in early 2021 by cochairs Elaine Gantz Berman and Sarah Kendall Hughes, two education advocates who have spent years in the K-12 education space and observed the power of independent advocacy groups. Berman and Hughes have seen that independent advocacy groups are often perceived as a ”thorn in the side” of the same groups they are advocating for, but they have also been enormously successful in bringing about the needed reforms and increased funding for public education. They further observed that while there was a strong advocacy voice for K-12 education in Colorado, the state lacked a collective voice for higher education. Thus the creation of a coalition of public college and university trustees was a logical starting point. CTN is the foundation for building a unified voice on issues that impact the state’s public higher education system and Colorado’s learners who desire to pursue a postsecondary education in the state.
In just the past four months, CTN has hosted multiple events to both educate and inform trustees across the state. CTN partnered in early 2021 with the Colorado Department of Higher Education to organize, facilitate, and execute a Trustee Summit. The annual trustee convening included discussions with national experts and local voices intended to provide context for both national and state trends in higher education. CTN also hosted a session on the Colorado funding formula through an equity lens, which sought to lay a foundation for understanding the complexities of public support for postsecondary education. Later in June, CTN will host Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) for an overview of federal stimulus legislation and how funds can be used to support postsecondary education in the state.
Although in its infancy, CTN has garnered support from every public college and university in the state. A Founding Committee of trustees was formed from every public institution—or system—in the state. In their capacity as founding members, these trustees have agreed to look beyond the priorities of their own institution and broadly advocate for what is best for all students in Colorado. To date, CTN has recruited more than 80 percent of public college trustees in the state to the network.
As CTN grows, its success will rely on its own convening power as well as the national, statewide, and local relationships that influence policymaking and policy implementation. Collectively, a CTN goal is to ensure Colorado’s funding allocation formula drives outcomes for all learners, particularly those who are first-generation students and those from underserved communities. CTN will also seek opportunities to address systemic issues that underpin the state’s growing equity gap and seize opportunities to align postsecondary education to workforce and talent objectives. While none of these issues or challenges are new to Colorado higher education, they are new to a collective voice now serving as champions for needed change on behalf of all learners.
As they were developing the concept for CTN, the Founding Committee sought to understand other models in states that would give them some direction for this new initiative. However, while they found remnants of past attempts, there was not a current model to use as a template for the new network. To date, CTN may be the only comprehensive statewide trustee network in the country, reaffirming the combination of innovation, collaboration, and a degree of ruggedness that makes Colorado unique.
To learn more about the Colorado Trustee Network and follow its development, visit their website: https://www.coloradotrusteenetwork.org/.
Alison Griffin is a founding member of the Colorado Trustee Network and the chair-elect of the Board of Trustees of Colorado Mesa University.
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Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.