About the Agency
The Alabama Commission on Higher Education, a statewide 12-member lay board appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House and confirmed by the Senate, is the state agency responsible for the overall statewide planning and coordination of higher education in Alabama, the administration of various student aid programs, and the performance of designated regulatory functions. The Commission seeks to provide reasonable access to quality collegiate and university education for the citizens of Alabama. In meeting this commitment, the Commission facilitates informed decision making and policy formulation regarding wise stewardship of resources in response to the needs of students and the goals of institutions. The agency also provides a state-level framework for institutions to respond cooperatively and individually to the needs of the citizens of the State.
The origin of the Commission can be traced back to the findings of the Alabama Education Commission of 1958. This group was the first investigative body formally to recognize the need for the coordination of higher education in Alabama. Citing concern over the future direction in the growth and development of higher education, the Commission stated that “an agency…for the study and research in the interest of the coordination and development of higher education should be established to collect information, review and analyze programs and costs, and to otherwise provide a reliable source of information and to make recommendations respecting all aspects of higher education.” Although not followed, this recommendation became the basis for further consideration of the concept of a coordinating board a decade later by the 1968 Alabama Education Study Commission.
Acts 1969, Special Session, No.14
In the spring of 1969, Governor Albert Brewer introduced a package of education reforms based on the findings of these two groups to the Legislature during a special session. This package included a call for the creation of a commission on higher education, “which would be responsible for advising the Legislature on matters concerning all aspects of higher learning from the junior college to the graduate level.” On May 14, 1969 during a called Special Session, the Legislature passed Act 14, which created the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. The Commission in its original form was an advisory agency lacking any regulatory authority over any board or institution.
Transfer of 1202 Functions and the Alabama Student Assistance Program to ACHE
In 1976, the Commission gained some important new responsibilities when Governor George Wallace transferred the functions of both the Alabama 1202 Commission and the administration of the Alabama Student Assistance Program from the State Department of Education to the Commission. Between 1976 and 1998, nine other student assistance programs have come to be housed at the Commission.
Throughout the 1970’s, the question of how much authority the Commission should have continued to be an issue. During this time, various committees were created to look at higher education governance. Most of these committees’ recommendations were ignored until the end of the decade. In 1979, Representative Leigh Pegues introduced a bill which ultimately became Act 79-461. This act provided the Commission with approval authority over new programs of instruction, regulatory authority over nonresident institutions operating in Alabama, and approval authority over off-campus instruction. The Act also strengthened the Commission’s role in planning and mandated that overrides of the Commission must be by separate bill.
One of the more significant higher education reforms in Alabama took place in March 1994 when the Articulation and General Studies Committee was created by an act of the legislature. The act gives four specific charges to the committee: 1) develop a statewide freshman- and sophomore-level general studies curriculum to be taken at all public colleges and universities; 2) develop and adopt by a statewide articulation agreement for the freshman and sophomore years for the transfer of credit among all public institutions of higher education in Alabama; 3) examine the need for a uniform course numbering system, course titles, and course descriptions; and 4) resolve problems in the administration or interpretation of the articulation agreement of the general studies curriculum.
Loss of Guarantee Agency Status
In 1995, the United States Department of Education designated the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance (KHEAA) as the official guarantee agency for Alabama institutions participating in the Federal Family Educational Loan Program. This action led to a substantial reduction in the Commission’s role in the student aid arena.
Acts 96-509, 96-771, 96-539 and 96-557
In 1996, Governor Fob James called for significant reforms in education. It was at this time that the Commission was given the responsibility of developing a student unit record data base, developing a faculty unit record system, and overseeing the collection of facility master plans from each institution. Probably the most far reaching higher education reform measure called for the review of all existing academic programs based on legislatively mandated program viability standards. This reform measure ultimately led to the consolidation or termination of over 1,000 programs.
Article I: Origin
The Alabama Commission on Higher Education was created by Alabama law: Acts 1969, Ex. Sess., No. 14; Acts 1979, No. 79-461; Acts 1982, No. 82-486; Acts 1993, No. 93-369; Acts 1994, No. 94-202; Acts 1995, No. 95-255; Acts 1996, No. 96-497; Acts 1996, No. 96-509; Acts 1996, No. 96-539; Acts 1996, No. 96-557; Acts 1996, No. 96-771; and Acts 2000, No. 2000-409 (Codified; Code of Alabama, Title 16, Chapter 5).
Article II: Purpose
The purpose of this organization shall be to promote an educational system that will provide the highest possible quality of collegiate and university education to all persons in the State able and willing to profit from it; and to provide for continuous study, analysis, evaluation, planning, reporting, and recommendations as a basis for long-range planning with established priorities on a statewide basis to assure a sound, vigorous, progressive, and coordinated system of higher education for this State.
Article III: Members
The twelve members of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education are appointed and confirmed as set forth in Code of Alabama, 16-5-2 and 16-5-3 and are charged with representing no particular institution nor region but rather are deemed members at large, serving the best interests of the entire system of higher education in the state.
If any member of the Commission shall not be in attendance at three consecutive regular meetings for reasons other than personal illness, family illness, or a Commission approved absence, that member may be requested by the chairman to submit his or her resignation to the appointing authority.
The Commission may invite or designate representatives of the various postsecondary education segments or institutions to sit with the Commission during regular meetings for the purpose of ensuring that perspectives and concerns of the educational community might be made known to the Commission. Such advisory representatives shall be free to participate in deliberations but shall have no vote on formal Commission business.
Article IV: Officers and Committees
The Commission shall annually elect from its membership a chairman and a vice-chairman. Such election will be held at the closest regular meeting of the Commission after August 1 of each year. Elections shall be presided over by the chairman, or in the chairman’s absence, the vice-chairman. The election of officers shall require the concurrence of a majority of all members of the Commission. The election shall be determined by a voice vote or a show of hands of Commission members present. No officer shall be elected to the same office more than two consecutive full terms. Terms of office shall begin October 1, following the election. In the event of a vacancy in one of the offices, written notice shall be given to all members and a special election shall be held at the next regular meeting following the occurrence of the vacancy. Should a vacancy occur in the office of the chairman, the vice-chairman shall become interim chairman and shall preside over the special election to elect a chairman. Officers in a special election shall take office immediately upon election and shall serve for the remainder of the unexpired term and one full term thereafter unless such member elects to give up such office, is elected to another office on the Commission, or a vacancy occurs in the appointment occupied by the officer.
There shall be committees appointed by the chairman as deemed necessary by the Commission. Committee chairs and vice-chairs shall be appointed by the chairman of the Commission. The Commission may under certain circumstances, and/or as desired, meet as a committee of the whole. The chair of the committee of the whole will be the vice-chairman of the Commission. Committees shall meet as needed to review all matters before the Commission, but no action is to be considered final until and unless adopted by the full Commission in a public meeting.
Additionally, there shall be an Executive Committee of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education to consist of the chairman, vice-chairman, and such other commissioners as appointed by the chairman, the number of which shall not exceed four.
The Executive Committee is empowered to act on behalf of the Commission between regular scheduled meetings of the Commission with said action being subject to ratification by the full Commission at a regular or special meeting held in accordance with all laws requiring open and public meetings.
The Executive Director shall be the secretary of the Commission. He shall present the minutes of the previous Commission meeting to the Commission at least ten days prior to the next regularly scheduled meeting. The chairman or other presiding member shall witness Commission approval of minutes by appropriate notarized signature.
Article V: Meetings
The Alabama Commission on Higher Education shall hold regular meetings as provided by the annual adoption of a calendar of regular meeting dates. Special meetings may be held at any time by call of the chairman or by call of six of the membership or upon call by the Governor. The Commission shall abide by the Alabama Open Meetings Act, as it may be amended from time to time. The Commission shall meet at least once every three months. The chairman shall preside over all meetings of the Commission. In the absence of the chairman, the vice-chairman shall preside. In the absence of both the chairman and the vice-chairman, the chairman shall designate a member to preside. Roberts’ Rules of Order will be used as a procedural guide for conducting all business, unless they conflict with the Commission’s stated bylaws.
An agenda which lists those items on which action is expected at the meeting shall be published in advance of the meeting date as required by law and shall be distributed to the Commission members, the president of each postsecondary education institution, the chairman of the governing board of each such institution, and the public upon request. The Commission will meet as often as seems desirable on the campuses of the institutions of higher education in the state.
A majority of the members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum for the purpose of conducting official business. No vote may be taken on any matter which requires Commission action unless a quorum is present. Commission action shall be determined by a voice vote or a show of hands of Commission members; however, any Commissioner may request a roll call vote on a specific matter and/or the chair may request a roll call vote if the outcome of a voice vote or a show of hands is in question. A show of hands vote or a roll call vote may become necessary if an action requires more than a simple majority vote. Proxy voting shall not be allowed. Commission members must be physically present in order to vote.
The positive recommendation of a new instructional program, new unit of instruction, research, or public service, or a new public institution of higher education (as provided in Code of Alabama, 16-5-4(b)) shall require the concurrence of a majority (7) of all the members of the Commission.
A new instructional program, new unit of instruction, research, or public service, or a new public institution of higher education that receives a negative recommendation by a majority vote of Commission members present may be reconsidered after one year provided that in the judgment of the Commission substantive changes indicate the need for reconsideration.
A new instructional program, new unit of instruction, research, or public service, or a new public institution of higher education that receives a favorable vote of a majority of the members present, but which falls short of receiving a favorable vote by a majority of the members of the Commission, may be reconsidered at the next regularly scheduled meeting.
At the Commission’s discretion, a “consent agenda” may be used to expedite action on common issues; however, any Commissioner may request that a specific issue(s) be held from the consent approval for further review and/or action.
Expenses incurred by Commission members in the performance of their duties shall be reimbursed at the rate authorized for state employees.
The Commission shall approve the Commission’s annual budget request prior to the fiscal year for which it is effective. The Commission shall establish such personnel policies regarding staff personnel as deemed necessary. Such policies may be established by resolution at any regular meeting or at any special meeting.
Bylaws amended by the Commission February 19, 1988; July 21, 1989; October 8, 1999; June 16, 2000; and September 19, 2008; September 12, 2014.
Below are the responsibilities of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.
- approves new units of instruction. This includes new institutions, mergers, branch campuses, colleges, schools, divisions and departments.
- approves any new academic programs.
- approves off-campus instruction.
- facilitates planning for higher education. This includes developing a statewide plan.
- reviews and makes recommendations concerning existing programs.
- prepares a Consolidated Budget Recommendation to the Governor and the Legislature.
- collects and compiles information concerning higher education in the State.
- administers student assistance programs.
- conducts studies on higher education issues and makes recommendations to the institutions, the Legislature and the Governor concerning its findings.
- provides a state-level framework for institutions to respond cooperatively and individually to the needs of the citizens of the State.
- reviews institutional facilities masterplans and report to trustees and the Legislature.
- maintains an electronic student unit record system to provide accountability on student progress.
- oversight for the programmatic review of private and public institutions operating as foreign corporations in Alabama in accord with the regulatory authority assigned to the Commission by statute.
- serves as the state portal for Alabama’s participation in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA).
The Commission is not responsible for:
- the appropriation or allocation of funds.
- the termination of existing programs or existing units of instruction outside the program viability process.
- the approval of new construction projects.
- the establishment of tuition and fees.
- recommending/enforcing policies concerning enrollment parameters. This includes: setting enrollment caps; limiting the number of out-of-state students; setting residency requirements; or setting admission standards.
- setting faculty work loads or salaries.
- the hiring and firing of personnel at the institutions.
Code of Alabama: Section 16-5-5 – Commission to analyze and evaluate education needs; advisory and consultant groups; Council of Presidents.
The commission, in consultation with the agencies and institutions concerned with higher education in this state, shall analyze and evaluate on a continuing basis the present and future needs for instruction, research and public service in postsecondary education in the state, including facilities, and assess the present and future capabilities. The use of advisory groups and consultants, as deemed desirable, may be used to meet these needs in order to provide the highest possible quality of collegiate and university education to all persons in the state able and willing to participate. One such advisory committee shall be the Council of Presidents, consisting of the president of each public four-year institution of higher education, the State Superintendent of Education and the presidents of three public two-year institutions of higher education, to be selected by the Superintendent of Education. (Acts 1979, No. 79-461, p. 816, & sect; 5.)
Major Advisory Groups:
- Council of Presidents
- Council of University Chief Academic Officers
- Council of Graduate Deans
- Higher Education Information Advisory Group
The Commission is responsible for statewide long-range planning for postsecondary education. The plans that result from this process include statewide objectives and priorities and are intended to be derived from the continuous study, analysis and evaluation of Alabama higher education. Ala. Code §16-5-6 (1975).