When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that all the state's higher education institutions, except the University of Connecticut, should be governed under a single board, he pointed to Minnesota as an example of a similar system.

Some wonder if that was such a good idea.

Minnesota's higher education system took years to develop and wasn't quick to achieve the cost efficiencies, said Aimes McGuinness, senior associate with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems of Boulder, Colo.

"The first few years were rocky," said McGuinness.

A lost vision

Minnesota college officials were called on to juggle management and merger responsibilities at the same time. Lost in the shuffle was the big picture: An overall vision for the state.

Others wonder if changing Connecticut's governance structure at all is necessary.

There is no magical governance structure, said Scott Jaschik, an editor of Inside Higher Ed, an industry publication.

Jaschik can point to good state systems that put all units under a single board and good ones where colleges work independently.

"Governance changes get proposed with the idea of fixing some problem. It might or it might not. I wouldn't view them as a magic bullet," said Jaschik.

Malloy's office says change is needed and it's important to get the ball -- and the debate -- rolling.

UConn would remain separate

Malloy's plan would merge the four-campus Connecticut State University System with the state's 12 community colleges, online Charter Oak College and the Board of Governors for Higher Education. The University of Connecticut would continue to function independently.

In 2010-11, the state is estimated to spend $3 billion on higher education. UConn and the UConn Health Center account for roughly two-thirds of that expense. Together, systems impacted by the potential merger get about $400 million from the general fund this year.

Malloy wants a system that will direct more money toward the classroom, and less on operations. There would be a Board of Regents for Higher Education and a chief executive officer who, in addition to managing the system, would be tasked with developing a plan to help more state residents get college degrees and good jobs.

"We need to adapt to a broad and changing economy and this will help us do that," said Malloy.

Beyond the savings

Colleen Flanagan, a Malloy spokeswoman, said the governor looked at a number of models and points to Minnesota only because, like Connecticut, it has a large land grant research university, along with regional four-year campuses and a number of two-year colleges. All but the research university are under a single umbrella.

McGuinness, who has been involved in higher education governance issue for three decades, said bold action is sometimes justified. But he suggests before it reorganizes, the state should figure out what it wants to accomplish and not simply do it because it wants to save money or because state officials think one particular unit has been mismanaged. A number of lawmakers have questioned raises given to administrators in the CSUS system in recent years.

State Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti said Malloy's approach is based on what makes sense for the state, not an attempt to copy what another is doing.

Malloy suggested Minnesota "to let people know there are many ways of managing public higher education," he said.

Minnesota's merger occurred in 1995. Five years later, a report conducted on the Minnesota State Colleges and University said the system was still "a work in progress."

Instead of three separate governing boards and three chancellors, there is now one board and one chancellor for the entire system. The system started with 54 campuses. It now has 32, including 25 two-year colleges and seven state universities. It serves close to 300,000 students.

Linda Kohl, a spokeswoman of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities said the biggest savings came from consolidating the states community and technical colleges -- something Connecticut has already done.

There were also economies of scale.

There is now one legal department, one auditing department, and one registration system.