Friday, October 9, 2009

2009 ACCT Leadership Congress: Education Under Secretary Martha J. Kanter Stresses Cooperation, Completion

Pledging to work with ACCT and other groups to “help frame policy that makes sense,” U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Martha J. Kanter told ACCT 2009 Leadership Congress attendees Friday that the Administration’s $12 billion American Graduation Initiative will require finding ways to “get millions more students to come to college and get through college successfully. That is what we have to do.”

Kanter, who served as chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District from 2003 to 2009, said that she and Education Secretary Arne Duncan share a common vision of a “well-articulated, seamless system of lifelong learning,” encompassing early childhood education through high school and college, as well as adult education and vocational and technical programs.

Yet a full two-thirds of the graduates or certificate holders needed to meet the AGI's 60 percent goal by 2020 will have to be drawn from “the 75 million Americans who have little or no college,” Kanter said. “That’s an enormous challenge” -- especially since only one in four underserved students who start college graduate in under six years, she said.

Funding for the AGI is included in H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, which the House of Representatives passed in September. The Senate version of the bill is expected to be made public soon.

Kanter stressed that “about half” of the grant funding included in the bill will go to access and completion proposals, “so we have many more students successfully go through our institutions.” She added that such initiatives “will have to be evidence-based. We need the accountability behind us to show that federal and state investments are paying off.”

Kanter also outlined increases in Pell Grants and other financial aid, as well as the transition to the federal direct student lending program, expected to be completed by next year. Part of the estimated $87 billion in savings from the transition will be invested back into a wide range of education initiatives, Kanter said.

During a Q&A session with other Department of Education officials later in the day, Kanter told attendees that under the current versions of the AGI legislation, the Department of Education would have the responsibility for defining accountability measures. Kanter said she envisions a “report card-like” system, and called for higher education leaders “to think about what the government needs to know about lifelong learning and how to explain it.” She also pledged to publish criteria for AGI grants for comment to help ensure they will be “fair, objective, and take into account the variations around the country -- rural, urban, and where the underserved communities are.”

Kanter reminded Congress attendees that the Obama Administration’s historic investment in higher education is driven by a simple vision. “[The President’s] goal of widely shared prosperity is something that every trustee, every community college president, and everyone in this audience believes in,” she said. “You’re in charge of supporting and increasing our democracy. This is our work. This is what we’re doing when our students cross the stage.”

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