Commission forwards higher-ed budget recommendations to Legislature, Governor

The Coordinating Commission at its Oct. 14 meeting approved its 2015-2017 budget recommendations for the University of Nebraska, State College System and the state’s community colleges.

The Commission now forwards those recommendations to the Legislature and Governor for their consideration before they approve higher-education budgets during the upcoming Legislative session.

The State Constitution and statutes require the Commission to review the budget requests of the state’s public postsecondary institutions. The Commission also is required by statute to make recommendations on the institutions’ capital construction budget requests. The Commission approved these recommendations at its Oct. 14 meeting, as well.


Governor appoints retired UNL professor to commission

Gov. Dave Heineman has appointed John Bernthal, a retired professor and department chair at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to fill the 1st District vacancy for the Coordinating Commission.

Before retiring in 2011, Bernthal was a professor and served as chair of the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also has served in leadership positions in professional associations and is the past president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Bernthal earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wayne State College, his Master of Arts from Kansas University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin.

The commission is governed by an 11-member board of commissioners, who serve staggered six-year terms. Six commissioners represent each of the state’s supreme court districts and five serve as at-large members. The 1st District covers Lancaster and Seward Counties.

The Legislature is still required to approve the governor’s appointment of Bernthal. Because the Legislature is not in session, however, Bernthal can serve as a voting member of the commission until he is confirmed.

Nebraska joins national distance learning agreement; CCPE to serve as portal agency

Nebraska has been approved for participation in a national reciprocity agreement that will streamline the process for institutions to offer distance learning courses to out-of-state students.

The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) is an agreement among member states that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by postsecondary institutions based in another state. SARA is overseen by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) and administered by four regional education compacts—the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), in Nebraska’s case.

Nebraska legislation has designated the Coordinating Commission as the state’s portal agency for SARA, meaning Nebraska institutions will apply to the Coordinating Commission to participate. Once approved, the institutions can offer distance learning courses to students from states also participating in SARA. Without SARA, institutions must apply to each state for approval before they can offer distance-learning courses to its residents.

Nebraska, through the Coordinating Commission, received approval to participate in SARA from MHEC’s Executive Committee and now becomes the eighth state in the country to join SARA.

Nebraska institutions can apply to participate in SARA via the Coordinating Commission’s website at

SARA is funded by a $2.3 million grant from Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025.

For more information on Nebraska’s participation in SARA, please contact Jason Keese at the Coordinating Commission: 402-471-0023 or

Commission hires Baumgartner as new Executive Director



Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education has hired Dr. Michael Baumgartner as its next Executive Director.

The Commission voted unanimously to hire Baumgartner after interviewing him in Lincoln on July 11.

Baumgartner currently serves as Chief Financial Officer for Complete College America, a national nonprofit organization that works with states to increase the number of Americans with quality career certificates or college degrees and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations.

Prior to joining Complete College America in 2011, Baumgartner was Executive Deputy Director at the Illinois Board of Higher Education, where he was responsible for the Board’s planning, budgeting, information systems, grants, and office financial administration functions, including the supervision of the fiscal affairs staff, the information systems staff, the grants staff, and the fiscal officer. Before Illinois, Baumgartner served as Associate Director for Facilities and Financial Affairs at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education from 2000 to 2005.

He earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University, Bloomington, his M.A. in Political Science from Ohio State University, and his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Missouri, Columbia.

Baumgartner replaces Dr. Marshall Hill, who resigned in August 2013 to become executive director of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. Dr. Carna Pfeil has served as Interim Executive Director since Hill’s departure. Prior to this, Pfeil was the Commission’s Associate Director for Finance and Administration.

Baumgartner’s start date is still being negotiated.

New report focuses on enrollment, tuition and fees, and financial aid

The Commission recently approved the latest of many reports it issues, Nebraska Postsecondary Enrollment, Tuition & Fees, and Financial Aid: 2013 Supplemental Data Report

This report focuses on enrollment, tuition and fees, and financial aid for Nebraska’s public postsecondary institutions. A few of the report’s key findings:

  • Overall enrollment in Nebraska, despite an increase during the previous decade, has stagnated and even declined during the past few years. This mirrors a nationwide trend.
  • Tuition rates at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln grew at an average annual rate of 8.7 percent from 2003 to 2012. For the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years, the University of Nebraska and State College System have instituted a tuition rate freeze.
  • Although Nebraska residents represent 86 percent of the students receiving financial aid at public institutions, they receive 76 percent of the financial aid granted.

The Commission approved the report at its May 1 meeting.

Visit the Commission’s website for a full listing of its reports and presentations.


Final “Legislative Update” offers rundown of session’s higher-ed bills

The Nebraska Legislature adjourned April 17 after debating and passing numerous higher-education bills. The Coordinating Commission offered testimony on 10 bills and monitored their progress throughout the session. The Commission also worked with several senators and their staff as they researched and drafted legislation.

Read a more detailed summary of the Legislature’s higher-ed bills in the Commission’s final Legislative Update of the 2014 session.

CCPE begins search for new executive director

The Coordinating Commission has formally begun its search process for a new executive director.

The Commission is filling the vacancy left by Dr. Marshall Hill, who resigned in August 2013 to accept another higher-education position in Colorado. Since then, Dr. Carna Pfeil has served as the Commission’s interim executive director. Pfeil was associate director for finance and administration and has been with the Commission for more than 20 years.

Those interested in learning more about the executive director position and the search process should visit the Commission’s website.