State higher education agencies and leadership recognized for dedication and innovation
Portland, OR – The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) has announced the organization’s 2023 SHEEO Excellence Awards recipients. The awards recognize the leadership, dedication, and innovation of exceptional SHEEOs, agency staff, and agencies at a time when state postsecondary policy is increasingly linked to student success and, in turn, states’ economic and social prosperity.
- The Exceptional Leader Award recipient is Michael P. Meotti, executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council.
- The Exceptional Agency Award recipient is the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
- The David L. Wright Memorial Award recipient is Tracey Cook, chief fiscal officer, University System of Georgia.
Reflecting on the SHEEO Excellence Awards, Dr. Robert Anderson, president of SHEEO, said: “SHEEO is proud to acknowledge the dedication of all our state higher education executive officers, their agencies, and agency staff members. The hours worked, the ideas generated, and the tenacity demonstrated by these individuals and agencies to help address the needs of students and promote equitable educational outcomes are worthy of praise. We are honored to recognize the winners of this year’s SHEEO Excellence Awards.”
Exceptional Leader Award
The Exceptional Leader Award is presented to a current state higher education executive officer from a member agency who has shown exceptional leadership, a commitment to higher education, a contribution to the greater good, and service to the SHEEO Association within the last year.
This year’s recipient of the Exceptional Leader Award, Michael P. Meotti, is the executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council. Meotti has extensive experience in higher education policy, finance, and innovation, dedicating his time and expertise in multiple states and for myriad organizations. Meotti became the executive director of WSAC in 2016. In this role, he works with partners across higher education, elected officials, employers, organized labor, and community-based groups to increase student access and success. Meotti previously served as commissioner of higher education in Connecticut and as executive vice president of the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. He has shared his experience and leadership with others, serving two terms on SHEEO’s executive committee, and as commissioner of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), where he also serves on the executive committee.
Under Meotti’s leadership, Washington developed the Regional Challenge Grant program to build partnerships between state and community leaders to increase postsecondary enrollment and credential completion for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, English language learners, students with disabilities, and foster and homeless youth.
Meotti oversaw implementation and expansion of the Washington College Grant (WA Grant), considered a model for need-based state financial aid programs and named the most equity-focused free college program in the country by the Education Trust. Meotti also helped lead efforts to secure a highly competitive federal grant through the Good Jobs Challenge to establish the Washington Jobs Initiative, which aims to support Washington’s robust career-connected learning system, increase diversity and equitable outcomes in the workforce, and connect Washingtonians to good-paying, high-demand jobs.
“It has been a privilege to work alongside Michael Meotti during the past four years to find innovative solutions to increase the number of Washington adults obtaining some type of postsecondary credential to improve their chances for success in a rapidly changing economic environment,” said Jeff Vincent, WSAC chair. “The launch of Washington’s Regional Challenge Grant initiative during the last 12 months is an excellent example of Mike’s leadership in this area. I want to personally congratulate Mike for receiving this well-deserved recognition by his peers.”
According to Paul Francis, WSAC member and executive director of the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges, “Mike’s accomplishments at the Washington Student Achievement Council include successfully advocating for full funding for the Washington College Grant—one of the most generous state aid programs in the nation. He has also successfully built bridges with K-12, higher education, nonprofit, and community leaders across the state to pilot new regional partnerships to grow college enrollment. And he was a valuable partner in working alongside college and university leaders, the governor’s office, and state agencies to ensure that teaching and learning continued during the COVID-19 pandemic while retaining our focus on health and safety. Congratulations, Mike, on this well-deserved recognition!”
Exceptional Agency Award
The Exceptional Agency Award is presented to a member agency whose innovative actions, policies, or practices advanced student success in their state; which displayed exceptional governance practices; overcame exceptional challenges; or displayed other meritorious attributes within the last year. SHEEO has selected the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board as this year’s awardee.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) is leading the way in advancing higher education and driving the state’s economic competitiveness. Texas is one of a few states that immediately prioritized federal stimulus funds through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund for higher education. GEER investments in Texas totaled more than $360 million dollars, demonstrating an investment that is critical to Texas’ economic recovery and future competitiveness.
Texas recently unveiled its ambitious strategic plan for higher education, Building a Talent Strong Texas. This comprehensive plan expands on the successes of its previous initiative, 60x30TX, by emphasizing the value of credentials earned and providing greater opportunities for Texans, including working adults, to earn degrees, certificates, and other credentials that lead to meaningful careers. Texas is the first state to condition its postsecondary completion goals on the value of credentials earned, and the plan focuses on three measurable, data-driven goals: 1) attainment of postsecondary credentials; 2) postsecondary credentials of value; and 3) research, development, and innovation.
Over the past several years, Texas has undergone significant modernization efforts to redesign its data infrastructure so it is modern, flexible, and meets the needs of users. Texas has also built a world-class advising tool to help students access and persist through higher education with technology-enabled college and career planning. The My Texas Future tool makes the planning experience more personal, meaningful, and connects to students’ goals and aspirations—all while rooting their decisions in practical information like real-world earnings and regional job demand.
During the 88th Texas legislative session, THECB was able to secure a once-in-a-generation commitment to higher education, with legislative investments of more than $5 billion over the next two years. As part of this historic session for higher education, Texas celebrated the signing of House Bill 8 (HB 8) into law, which codified an innovative new model to fund community colleges in Texas. The new model moves to an outcomes-based approach and rewards colleges for awarding degrees, certificates, and other credentials of value.
These outstanding achievements have positioned the THECB as a role model among SHEEO agencies.
“Texas is raising the bar for higher education opportunities, and I am proud we are being recognized with SHEEO’s Exceptional Agency Award,” said Commissioner for Higher Education Dr. Harrison Keller. “Texas is making a strong commitment—in policy and funding—to help more Texans achieve credentials of value so they can contribute to, participate in, and benefit from our world-class economy. I’m proud of the achievements we’ve made over the past several years and look forward to what we will continue to accomplish.”
“The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is honored to have received this special recognition from SHEEO,” said Chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Dr. Fred Farias. “Texas has set out to achieve bold new goals in Building a Talent Strong Texas and in doing so, more Texans will be able to achieve greater economic mobility and prosperity.”
David L. Wright Memorial Award
The David L. Wright Memorial Award is named in honor of the late David Wright, an esteemed colleague and leader in state higher education who served in the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, and the Florida Governing Board. This award recognizes a current SHEEO agency staff member from a member agency who embodies the exceptional commitment, work ethic, and ethical practices of David Wright and made outstanding contributions to their agency. This year’s David L. Wright Memorial Award is presented to Tracey Cook, chief fiscal officer for the University System of Georgia and treasurer to the system’s governing Boarding of Regents.
Cook brings extensive experience and effective leadership to her position, including over 30 years in higher education. Prior to joining USG, she worked as a senior auditor for KPMG and as controller at Morehouse College in Atlanta. She joined USG’s Atlanta Metropolitan State College before taking a job with the fiscal affairs team in USG’s University System Office. In total, she’s been with USG for 20 years.
Cook and her team within the Office of Fiscal Affairs make the USG’s mission of knowledge possible. They impact Georgia students by prioritizing the goal to keep the state’s 26 public colleges and universities affordable and obtainable. This includes working with an over $10 billion annual budget to support more than 48,000 faculty and staff and more than 334,000 students across the state. Under her guidance, the system has consistently maintained strong financial ratings while staying focused on student success. The board for the 2023-34 academic year has approved a budget that for the sixth time in eight years includes no tuition increase—a record that makes Georgia the seventh lowest in the nation among its peers for tuition and fees.
Just one example demonstrating Cook’s work ethic is that, despite her own workload to accomplish day-to-day responsibilities, she goes above and beyond to support the chief business officers at all the institutions. Tracey has been instrumental in helping institutional staff navigate the university system.
Sonny Perdue, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, shared, “Tracey is always the first to credit her team for any success, but I don’t think anyone is more deserving of this award. Her leadership has kept USG moving forward no matter the challenges, and her humility and positivity have made working with her a pleasure. While her smile and laugh make her fun to work with, she gives 100% and that shows in the success of our institutions and students.”
Learn more about SHEEO Excellence Awards, including past winners at https://sheeo.org/membership/sheeo-awards/.