Dr. Kim Hunter Reed was unanimously selected this spring as the state’s ninth commissioner of higher education by the Louisiana Board of Regents, setting her on a path to take over the position in July. But when state lawmakers took up higher education issues in a third special legislative session, the Louisiana native knew she would have to return to her home state several weeks early. Reed flew in from Denver, where she had served as executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and started work the next day, quickly becoming a fixture in Capitol committee rooms throughout the June session. “I wanted to jump right in to try to work through those issues,” she says.
Reed’s willingness to lean into a difficult task came as no surprise to those who have worked with her throughout her career in education and government, during which she has earned a reputation as a relentless and high-energy advocate for higher education and workforce development issues. The Lake Charles native is now poised to lead the state’s higher education system into a new era. “I’m very excited to be back home,” she says. “I have so many friends and family in Louisiana. It’s a special place.”
Reed returns to Louisiana with a deep knowledge of the Board of Regents and the state’s overall system of universities and colleges. She chaired Louisiana’s higher education transition team in 2015, served as chief of staff and deputy commissioner for public affairs for the Louisiana Board of Regents, and as executive vice president of the University of Louisiana System.
She says she was initially drawn to the field by its creative energy and potential for impact. “It’s a field that touches the future and is in service to others,” she says. “You get to work with the young and young at heart to develop their talent through teaching and learning. It’s been rewarding for me.”
As executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, Reed led efforts to drive increased educational attainment and erase equity gaps that were identified in the state’s strategic plan for higher education. Before her stint in Colorado, Reed served in the Obama administration as deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education, leading postsecondary diversity and inclusion work, supporting strong student- and outcomes-focused policies and aggressive national outreach efforts. She also led the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Before serving in federal government, Reed was a principal at HCM Strategists, a public policy and advocacy consulting firm in Washington, D.C. She says that while her career has given her a broad range of experiences in higher education, Louisiana presents unique opportunities. “Some of the issues are universal in higher education, in terms of access, affordability, and equity,” she says. “But each state and each agency has its own unique challenges and opportunities. I’ve tried to learn a lot, listen a lot, engage and build relationships as I think about how to work collaboratively with our higher education leaders to develop a vision for our state to allow us to move forward.”
Reed says the opportunity to take over as Louisiana’s commissioner of higher education was attractive for both personal and professional reasons. For one, she had made a commitment to her daughter that she would try to get closer to home for her senior year in high school. “I’m thrilled to be able to make good on that promise,” she says.
But she also relished the opportunity to be “part of an aggressive plan to ensure that there is more opportunity for our citizens.”
“We have to ensure that more people have education and training in this knowledge economy,” she says. “I do believe that the best talent from Louisiana should be encouraged to come back home to the state to help Louisiana continue to grow and become more vibrant.”
Reed is a firm believer in and vocal advocate for the power of colleges and universities to drive economic development and workforce development through a variety of education and training initiatives. She says that state and education leaders need to think about talent development in broad and inclusive terms. That, she says, includes developing education and training solutions for a wide constituency, including traditional students and returning adults, single parents, and veterans. “We have to make sure every individual is on the path that allows them to reach their full potential,” she says.
“We will not have the state that we envision for our children, for our citizens, for our community, if we do not increase education and training, if we do not increase economic and workforce development,” she says. “We are the solution that we’re waiting for — so it’s up to us to work hard and bring about the type of change that will make Louisiana stronger and better.”
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