Harrison Keller, UT’s deputy to the president for strategy and policy, was selected as the next Commissioner of Higher Education of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on Wednesday.
Keller is a sixth-generation Texan and has over 20 years of experience in public and higher education. He previously served as UT’s vice provost for higher education policy and research, where he founded college preparation initiatives such as OnRamps and Texas OnCourse. Prior to that, he served as the director of research for Texas Rep. Tom Craddick, according to a press release sent out by the board.
“I admit it was a difficult decision because I’m excited about the work that I’m doing at UT Austin,” Keller said. “But, for me, this was a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to serve our state.”
Keller said in the long-term, he hopes to advance the competitiveness of higher education in Texas by increasing research and development opportunities. Keller also said he hopes to increase degree productivity by raising the number of secondary certificates and additional credentials offered by academic institutions.
“We have a long way to go to be able to meet the goals that we set for ourselves as a state and to ensure that Texans have the opportunities, the credentials and the preparation that aligns with future workforce needs,” Keller said.
The coordinating board works closely with policymakers, the governor’s office and higher education institutions across the state to work on issues of higher education, such as administering financial aid programs, Keller said.
“Harrison understands the arc of the possible political reality,” said Stuart Stedman, board chair of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “He also understands that there are certain parts of higher education that are maybe not as effective as they could be.”
Keller received his master’s and doctorate degrees in philosophy from Georgetown University, which he said helped train him for the work he does today.
“In education policy in particular, we actually get to wrestle with issues about how opportunities are available for all students,” Keller said. “We think about … what kind of education is going to prepare for our state and for our nation.”
Stedman said the board was looking for someone who was knowledgeable about higher education and the political process, and understood Texas as a whole to fill the role.
“There was no issue in higher education that I discussed with him that he wasn’t familiar with and in most issues he was deeply familiar with in a very nuanced level,” Stedman said. “He still impresses me.”
Keller is the sixth commissioner since the board’s founding in 1965. He will succeed Raymund Paredes, who stepped down after 15 years, and will assume the position starting Oct. 1, according to the press release.
Gov. Greg Abbott said in the press release that he is pleased with the board’s selection.
“With his strong higher education background, we look forward to his leadership and his support in developing and working toward important initiatives to advance postsecondary education and workforce readiness for our citizens,” Abbott said in the release.