State Postsecondary Governance Structures and Community College Trustees

Decisions about postsecondary education policies and goals are largely driven by how states divide up responsibilities through their governance systems and among various boards and agencies.

Decisions about postsecondary education policies and goals are largely driven by how states divide up responsibilities through their governance systems and among various boards and agencies.

As community college board members, understanding your state’s postsecondary governance system may help you more successfully navigate the policy and decision-making processes to advance your institution’s programs, practices and priorities.

Let’s use the goal of improving students’ opportunities to transfer to four-year colleges as an example. Depending on your state’s governance structure, you may be able to work with a statewide board that can coordinate transfer agreements across institutions. In the absence of a state-level entity, you may need to collaborate with other system and institutional boards on these arrangements.

Types of Postsecondary Governance Structures

Governance structures are a mix of coordinating and governing boards at the state, system and institutional levels. Administrative/service agencies, advisory boards and membership organizations also may play important roles in the postsecondary landscape. While no two states have the same postsecondary governance configuration, the structures fall within general models. To learn more, see Education Commission of the States’ high-level analysis of state governance structures.

Postsecondary systems may be composed of any combination of community colleges, technical colleges, and four-year institutions. Examples of types of systems include:

  • Dedicated system for all or most community colleges, such as in California and Virginia; 
  • Combined system for community colleges and four-year institutions, such as in New York and Utah;
  • Combined system for community and technical colleges, such as in Louisiana and Washington; and,
  • Combined system for community colleges, technical colleges, and four-year institutions. Minnesota is one of the few states with this type of system.

All of these systems are overseen by governing or coordinating boards, and the community college campuses may or may not have local boards. Finally, there are several states, including Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Texas, that do not have community college systems.

Resources for Trustees

Education Commission of the States recently released a comprehensive set of resources related to state postsecondary governance structures. Our data visualization uses top-level graphics as an entry point into postsecondary governance systems and links to the individual state profiles and an in-depth 50-State Comparison.

You might begin with the state overviews section of our 50-State Comparison that provides a snapshot of governance systems across the country. The main section includes details about statewide and major systemwide coordinating and governing boards, including information about the number of board members, and their selection process and composition (click here and here for a printable PDF version). In addition, you can easily view all the database sections for your state and other states in the individual profiles. Learning about other state’s structures may help you more fully grasp your own governance system.

Our a high-level analysis(referenced above)summarizes information about state postsecondary governance models, coordinating and governing boards and administrative/service agencies, and the appointing authority of higher education executive officers.

Lastly, if you are interested in knowing more about the governance systems in neighboring states, check out similar analyses of the higher education compacts: Midwestern Higher Education Compact, New England Board of Higher Education, Southern Regional Education Board and Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. You can access the summaries from this webpage.

In your role as community college trustees, you may benefit in several ways from understanding how authority and decisions are divvied up within your state’s postsecondary governance system. This knowledge may help you clarify and carry out your responsibilities vis-a-vis other policy and education leaders while striving to improve the success of every student at your institutions.

Mary Fulton is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Education Commission of the States. She can be reached at

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