By Bo Roberts

As the sand runs out on the Bill Haslam gubernatorial time clock, there were two major accomplishments during his eight years that few recognize, but which will change the culture of state government and higher education.

Gov. Haslam’s major achievements, particularly in education, have rightly been praised in these pages and nationally, as well. A prime example is the bold and innovative Tennessee Promise program. Originally created as an initiative offering free tuition to Tennessee community colleges and colleges of applied technologies, the Promise program was later supplemented with ReConnect, permitting adults to start or return to those institutions without paying. Further, our state has also been lauded for its rate of academic achievement in grades K-12.

The changes I am referring to were accomplished, quietly and without much fanfare, early on in Haslam’s administration.

First is the TEAM Act that updated and altered the state’s longstanding Civil Service laws to allow state managers to actually reward those who demonstrated quality performances while sending messages to those who weren’t. It sounds so simple, but many in management fought or resented it because, heaven forbid, it made them manage. For example, it was much easier to make across-the-board increases in salaries than to make judgement calls about skill sets.

Only time will tell how effective and impactful that culture-changing act will be applied and what the results are, but, the fact is, that Gov. Haslam and his administration addressed the issue and instituted a more effective management system throughout state government with its 43,500 employees.

The second major shift in the way state business is conducted has affected all levels of public higher education. The First to the Top Act (passed through the bipartisan efforts of former Governor Phil Bredesen and a GOP-controlled General Assembly) was not only fully embraced by the incoming Haslam administration, but served as a launch pad for a series of other comprehensive education initiatives….demonstrating a rare case of policy triumphing over partisanship or ideology.

First to the Top altered the allocation of funds formula for higher education so that it was based (GASP!) on production or successes of those students. How many of those students who started, actually got a degree or a certificate at that campus? Surprise… institutions which suddenly began doing a better job would be rewarded more than those which did not ….another culture-altering change which led many to applaud and some to shudder.

Added to those changes, Haslam and the General Assembly appropriated (for the first time in years) more actual dollars to implement this new formula. Plus, with the encouragement from higher education advisor Randy Boyd (now coincidentally serving as interim president of the University of Tennessee), the Drive to 55 initiative seeking to increase the number of college graduates in Tennessee hit the road at full speed.

Hopefully, in my eyes at least, these improvements will be reinforced, studied, measured and possibly even improved upon in future administrations and general assemblies.

Kudos and thanks to Gov. Haslam and his administration for not only addressing these issues, but for taking definitive action to improve our state. No governor is perfect, and none will be, but Bill Haslam is a good and decent man who faced challenges head-on in his own genteel manner and made a difference for many generations to come. Thanks, Bill.

Bo Roberts is a Nashville marketing consultant and a self-professed state government geek.