Hickenlooper appoints Obama administration official to head higher education

After a six-month search, Gov. John Hickenlooper has named a former undersecretary of education in the Obama administration as the new head of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Kim Hunter Reed will start on Feb. 15. Her appointment will require state Senate confirmation.*

For the past year, Reed was a member of the Obama administration as an undersecretary of education in charge of post-secondary diversity and inclusion. She also led the White House initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which dates back to 1980 and has been renewed by presidential executive order several times since then. The initiative seeks to strengthen historically black colleges, which serve more than 300,000 students at 102 colleges located in 19 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Reed previously served as chief of staff for the Louisiana Board of Regents and executive vice president of the University of Louisiana system, and as a principal for a Washington, DC public policy firm that specialized in higher education outcomes.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Louisiana State University and a Master of Public Administration degree from LSU’s college of business. She has a doctorate in public policy from Southern University, a historically black college in Baton Rouge.

In a statement, Hickenlooper said her “knowledge of best practices in higher education and her extensive experience in innovative ways to make college more accessible – as well as her focus on student success – will benefit all Coloradans.” Hickenlooper told reporters today that Colorado is lucky to get Reed. “States don’t usually get someone of her caliber.”

Sen. Angela Williams of Denver, one of two African-American women in the state Senate, said she is pleased by Reed’s appointment. “I know she did great work under President Obama’s administration,” Williams told The Colorado Independent. “This is a superb pick by the governor…she has a broad and extensive background in higher ed and working on the diversity and inclusiveness team will be a complement to our state.”

Both Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora, the committee’s ranking (senior) Democrat, said they were unaware of Reed’s appointment until informed by The Colorado Independent. That committee is expected to hold a confirmation hearing on Reed’s appointment.

Reed holds another set of qualifications that puts her ahead of many of the department’s leaders in the past 18 years: extensive experience in higher education.

The head of the Department of Higher Education is the only cabinet position that has job requirements set in state law. It’s just one line in the statute: “qualified by substantial training and experience in the field of higher education.”

Reed’s predecessor was Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, a former college president who led the department in a dual role. Garcia announced last March he was leaving the administration to become the executive director of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education in Boulder.

Until the Hickenlooper administration, that statutory requirement was pretty much ignored. Republican Gov Bill Owens and Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter both selected department heads whose experience was limited to teaching college courses as part-time faculty. Both argued that that was enough experience to meet the requirement. The Senate, which is responsible for confirming those nominations, rarely made an issue of it.

But that lack of experience by previous heads of the department sometimes led to bitter battles between the state’s public colleges and universities and those who led the department.

In one notable example, Owens appointed Tim Foster, a former Republican House Majority Leader, to lead the department. Foster, who is now the president of Colorado Mesa University, tangled with higher ed leadership, but in his first year no battle was more public than his views on faculty research.

Foster told a joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees that faculty needed to spend more time in the classroom and less on research, saying that “not that much new knowledge is being created…We don’t fund research. We fund teaching.”

The University of Colorado Board of Regents publicly dressed Foster down in a meeting, pointing out that research grants pay for a larger share of higher education costs than does the state.

Prior to Owens, Democratic Gov. Roy Romer appointed several renowned higher ed administrators as Department of Higher Ed executive directors.

Photo credit: Kim Hunter Reed, via LinkedIn

Correction: The original story said Reed would be the first African-American to lead the department. The Department’s first executive director, appointed in 1984 by Gov. Richard Lamm, was Blenda Wilson, an African-American who had previously served as a dean at Harvard. The Independent regrets the error and thanks Jim Jacobs, formerly of the Department of Higher Education, for the historical background. 

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.


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