Kim Hunter Reed on 041818

Kim Hunter Reed was chosen Commissioner of Higher Education on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

Kim Hunter Reed, a Colorado educator who has spent most of her career in Louisiana, was picked Wednesday to be the next Commissioner of Higher Education.

Reed, 52, was selected by the Louisiana Board of Regents after a months-long search.

She will be the first African American to hold the job.

"This is an honor, this is an opportunity," Reed told Regents moments after she was selected.

"I want you to know I will take this responsibility very seriously," she said. "You will have my best work every day."

The finalists for the job were Reed; Robert Donley, executive director and chief executive officer for the Iowa Board of Regents and Paul D. Turman, system vice president for academic affairs for the South Dakota Board of Regents.

All three underwent public and private interviews with the board on Wednesday.

All three also met with higher education, business and other leaders in the days leading up to the decision.

The Regents oversee higher education in Louisiana, including the boards that run LSU, Southern, the University of Louisiana System and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

The new commissioner, who faces confirmation by the state Senate, is expected to be paid about $350,000 per year.

Reed is currently executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, a job she has held for 14 months.

The agency has a $3 million annual operating budget and provides statewide coordination of higher education policy and does strategic planning.

However, Reed previously held high-profile jobs here in Louisiana, which made her the favorite to become the next commissioner.

"You have deep roots here in Louisiana," Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a brief ceremony in his office. "I believe it is a perfect fit."

Reed worked at the Board of Regents for eight years earlier in her career.

She was chief of staff for the board from 2008-12 and deputy commissioner for public affairs from 2000-04.

In addition, she was executive vice president for the University of Louisiana System from 2007-08, an adjunct professor at Southern University in 2008 and held two posts at Southeastern Louisiana University from 1995-2000.

Reed, a native of Houston who grew up in Lake Charles, was also an aide to then Gov. Kathleen Blanco from 2004-07.

She was first the governor's director of policy and planning and then deputy chief of staff.

The new hire will succeed Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo, who is set to leave his post on June 8.

Rallo is paid about $385,000 annually.

Louisiana colleges and universities have been battered by funding problems for nearly a decade amid state budget troubles.

Last year funding held steady for the first time in several years, and even a standstill budget was seen as something of a victory.

Former state Senate President Randy Ewing, a member of the Board of Regents who lives in Quitman, noted the challenges faces by colleges and universities when he nominated Reed to be commissioner.

During her public interview, Reed said she would spend her first 90 days on the job getting acquainted with the work and meeting with education stakeholders.

She said she would stress access to education as a way to combat Louisiana's longtime poverty.

Edwards said Reed understands the link between higher education and economic development.

"You get that," he told her.

How colleges and universities will fare starting July 1 is unclear.

The Legislature is grappling with that issue now, and the House is set to debate a proposed operating budget on Thursday.

Some higher education leaders will be on hand to watch the debate.

The issue should be resolved by July 1, and another special session is possible to craft a budget deal between Edwards and the Legislature.

Reed has a Ph.D.. in public policy and higher education policy from Southern University.

She also has a master's degree in public administration and a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism, both from LSU.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.