Commissioner Noe Ortega
February 26, 2023
I have found that round numbers often provide a nudge to pause and reflect. I recently passed the 100-day mark since I began as the Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education, and I’m taking it as an opportunity to offer some thoughts on my first three months and where I see us going from here.
Dr. Ortega served as Pennsylvania Secretary of Education from 2020 to 2022, and prior to that, he spent eight years at the University of Michigan, where he held several academic and administrative roles.
B.A. in Political Science from St. Edwards University
M.S. in School Counseling from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christian
Ph.D. in Higher Education Policy from the University of Michigan.
After officially moving into this new role, the phrase “drinking from a fire hose” was one that I have heard frequently. It’s true that I have learned a lot since November 1. Getting up close and personal with the Massachusetts higher education landscape, getting up to speed with the Board of Higher Education’s initiatives, and meeting a range of stakeholders has been one of the most exciting ways I’ve spent my first 100 days. Perhaps the most considerable challenges have been learning how to accurately pronounce the names of Massachusetts’ cities and towns.
If I had one word to describe my time so far in Massachusetts it would be “invigorating.” I find inspiration daily in my work. The broad support for higher education by leaders in the Commonwealth is something that makes everything else possible. Every state higher education executive officer should be so fortunate to have these forces working in their favor.
What stays with me from [my campus] visits are the times I met with students and heard what is on their minds. Of all our stakeholders, students are the ones I work for most directly.
One of my highlights since I started in November has been the opportunity to visit several of our public institutions’ campuses and see up-close the incredible work being done there. I have met with presidents, administrators, staff, and faculty and have come away consistently impressed. What stays with me from those visits are the times I met with students and heard what is on their minds. Of all our stakeholders, students are the ones I work for most directly. They will feel the impact of our efforts in a profound way. I hope to continue these discussions with students throughout my time as Commissioner.
Governor Healey represents so many firsts for Massachusetts and a reminder our Commonwealth continues to grow and evolve. Both Governor Healey and Senate President Spilka have expressed interest in exploring the possibility of making community colleges more affordable. Anticipated new funds from the passage of the Fair Share Amendment have changed the idea of what is possible. I expect that public higher education will be on the forefront of policy discussions in the State House and beyond.
Strategic messaging, public engagement, and coalition building are all high on my agenda. I am eager to start the process of communicating the priorities and work of the BHE and the DHE to Massachusetts at large. The plans and proposals put forward by the Board are suitably ambitious for this moment and will need support and engagement not only from within the higher education community but also from a broad range of stakeholders.
In conclusion, thank you to everyone who has made me feel so welcome during my first 100 days. I can’t wait to continue building on the strong foundation you all have helped me put down.