New Faces, New Directions in Public Policy
BY JEANNE C. MILLER AND MARCIA KENNARD KIESSLING
President Barack Obama and his appointees in the Department of Education are bringing new challenges to the nation’s higher education leaders and are offering promising solutions to current concerns. President Obama’s priorities for higher education are apparent in his recent appointments and his early responses to current economic conditions.
Arne Duncan, the newly appointed Secretary of Education,
has spent most of his career as the chief executive officer of the
Chicago Public Schools. Previously, he ran a non-profit foundation that helped fund college educations for a class of inner-city children. In both settings, he expressed his commitment
to raising standards in K– 12 while addressing accessibility to
higher education. His own educational background includes
graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University and
tutoring in a program for inner-city children that was run by
In his confirmation hearings, Duncan said that education is
the “civil rights issue of our generation, the only sure path out
of poverty and the only way to achieve a more equal and just
society.” Consistent with his commitment to accessibility and
affordability of education, Duncan has challenged the nation’s
institutions of higher education to stop the rise in tuition and
other costs. In addition, he wants the federal government to
develop incentives and offer monetary rewards for colleges
that are successful in controlling costs.
Secretary Duncan and President Obama are also focused
on college completion rates of United States students. Compared to many other countries, the United States ranks near
the top in the proportion of students who attend college. Yet
it ranks much lower in the proportion of students who finish
college. The inability of institutions to track students who
transfer, stop out, and otherwise leave the traditional category
of first-time, full-time freshmen affects these statistics. At the
same time, there are concerns about privacy if a federal tracking system of students is established. Duncan has stated that
he will work with states to develop tracking systems, but will
not create a federal system.
Martha J. Kanter, chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California, has been nominated by
President Obama to serve as Under Secretary of Education, the
federal government’s top postsecondary education position.
The responsibilities of this position include overseeing policies,
programs, and activities related to postsecondary education,
vocational and adult education, and federal student aid. Kanter’s
nomination is a reminder that community colleges will play an
important role in fulfilling the president’s vision for all citizens
to attain a year or more of education beyond high school.
Community colleges will play a major role in retraining the
nation’s workforce in this time of layoffs and job losses.
Kanter’s career spans experience in high school, community
college, and community college systems. Her educational philosophy includes ensuring universal access and equal opportunity for under-represented and under-reported students,
clearly in line with President Obama’s interest in increasing
the educational attainment of America’s citizenry. Kanter is
particularly interested in simplifying financial aid, increasing access to college, and strengthening the bridge from high
school to college, especially for underprepared students.
Kanter’s efforts to increase access and student success have
included using technology to make educational resources fully
available, as reflected in her involvement with the Community
College Consortium for Open Educational Resources and
the Community College Open Textbooks Project. Colleagues
describe her as an inclusive and effective organizational leader
who leads by asking questions that guide the discussions and
decisions of colleagues.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
The most immediate indicator of the new administration’s
investment in education is The American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act, more commonly referred to as the stimulus
package. As part of the $787 billion package, Pell Grants were
increased, higher education tax credits and 529 savings plans
were expanded, and an additional $200 million for the Federal
Work Study Program provided more than 800,000 students
and their families immediate financial relief. It is important to
note, however, that stimulus money is not indefinite; rather,
it is limited to two-year provisions, so students and administrators must take advantage of these funds now. For more
information, view the latest public policy pages on the NASPA
website at www.naspa.org/divctr/pp. LE
Jeanne C. Miller is associate vice president for student life at SUNY
College at Oneonta and chair of NASPA’s Public Policy Division.
Marcia Kennard Kiessling is assistant vice chancellor for student
activities, diversity, and special projects at the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte and Region III representative for NASPA’s
Public Policy Division.