As Arne Duncan, one of the longest-serving Secretaries of Education, announces his forthcoming resignation, observers are starting to reflect on his impact on education policy in the nation. Duncan will most likely be remembered more for his focus on K-12 education, not surprising given his background as the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, third-largest school district in the country. In that domain, he was known mostly for extending the Bush-era focus on accountability via testing. And it was that focus that led him to be reviled by many in traditional K-12 schools. As education historian and commentator Diane Ravitch wrote in the Huffington Post recently, “It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education.”
Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, recently released a set of policy proposals to address the rising cost of college. While there are many good aspects to her plan, there are also some problems with it. In a recent op-ed on the website of The Conversation, I analyzed Secretary Clinton’s plan and some of the barriers to its enactment.
As in many years recently, the United States Supreme Court waited until the last week of its term to issue decisions in a number of highly-visible cases. It has been one of those weeks when, if I was at my desk, I found myself with a browser tab open to the New York Times homepage, and I was constantly refreshing my screen to see if there were any updates. One of these cases relates directly to education; another affects many of the members of our College of Education community.
The most relevant case for many of us in education was the decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case challenging the University of Texas’s use of affirmative action in undergraduate admissions. Fisher was the first major case involving affirmative action in higher education since the Court upheld its use in Grutter v. Bollinger 10 years ago. Abigail Fisher, a white woman, applied for admission to the U. of Texas in 2008 and was denied admission. She sued the university, claiming that its use of race in its admissions process disadvantaged her and was a major factor in being denied admission. She and her lawyers claimed that the use of race in this fashion violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Last month I described my testimony at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on getting better information about college. One of the topics mentioned by a few of the House committee members was the issue of the return on the investment in college as measured by what students are earning today. There has been much interest in getting better data about what graduates of different colleges earn when they enter the labor markets, so that prospective students can get an idea of what the return on their investment in postsecondary education will be.
While measuring the return on investment (ROI) of attending different colleges sounds like a good idea, in reality it is a complex and challenging task. To calculate an ROI, one has to have accurate data on both the value of the investment as well as the value of the return, or the earnings that the investor receives from her investment. While we have lots of data on the cost of attending different colleges, including some data on net prices (as I described in my testimony), we have very little accurate, reliable, and comprehensive data on what the graduates of different colleges earn.
Earlier this week I testified at a hearing held by the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce. The hearing, titled “Keeping College Within Reach: Enhancing Transparency for Students, Families, and Taxpayers,” examined what type of information about colleges is available to students interested in enrolling in postsecondary education, and what can be done to improve the quality of the information.
This is one of a series of hearings being held in both the House and the Senate in preparation for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), the primary legislation that outlines the federal government’s role with respect to postsecondary education. The HEA was last reauthorized in 2008, and is due to be reauthorized again this year.
When I co-taught a graduate seminar in educational policy, my colleague and I would often use examples from the news media. We would discuss with our students the frequency with which educational issues are discussed in the news, and why. Education is a topic that is often at the forefront of discussion among the general public as well as policymakers, and because of this, it merits attention from the media.
Even with all this focus I am still struck, however, by the high volume of stories about education you will find in the press. I often start my day at work by looking online at some key media for stories about education. This may include the websites of The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Education Week. On rare occasions, I actually get to read the hard copy of these publications, and yesterday was one of those occasions. I was flying to Boston, so I grabbed The New York Times to take with me on the plane.
This week I gave a keynote address at the American Marketing Association Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. The meeting in New Orleans had approximately 1,000 attendees, most of whom were marketing and communications professionals in colleges and universities, the remainder largely representatives of firms that sell marketing services and products to higher education institutions. The organizers were encouraging attendees to tweet throughout the conference, and one of the sponsors was offering a prize to tweeters (though it wasn’t clear whether the prize was going to the most prolific tweeter, the most salient, or perhaps the luckiest).
My talk was the luncheon keynote, and the lunch was a Thanksgiving meal – just what every after-lunch speaker wants, a large dose of tryptophan delivered to the audience. I joked to the person introducing me that they might as well have put a football game on the large screens flanking the stage, that way everyone could have just gone to sleep. But undaunted, I embarked on my talk titled, “Higher Education Under Attack: Why Doesn’t Anybody Like Us and How Should We Respond?” While I have given a number of keynotes in the past, and I’m sure throughout some of the recent ones people were tweeting, this is the first time that there was active encouragement of tweeting.
Last summer, I wrote a post about the Freeh Report, the investigative report commissioned by the Board of Trustees of Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The report painted a damning portrait of the leadership of the university and the steps those leaders took to conceal the child abuse perpetrated by Sandusky. I wrote an op-ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education when the report was released, outlining my disappointment with what had transpired.
This past week, word came out of Harrisburg of the indictment of former Penn State President Graham Spanier, on eight charges, including five felonies. The felony charges include obstruction of justice, perjury, and conspiracy, all related to Spanier’s part in the active covering up of Sandusky’s abuse of children that was allegedly reported to Spanier in 1998 and 2001.
This week I had the opportunity to testify at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The hearing was titled “Making College Affordability a Priority: Promising Practices and Strategies.” This committee of the Senate, long chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts until his death a few years ago, has held a number of hearings on the topic of college affordability in recent years in response to concerns raised in the media, by students and parents, and by policymakers at the state and federal level. The committee is now chaired by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, with Mike Enzi of Wyoming the ranking minority member. The hearing came in the middle of a vacation I had planned in New York City, where I was attending a number of Broadway shows. This was certainly a very different type of theater experience.
This was my first time testifying to a Senate Committee; my three previous trips to Capitol Hill as a witness were on the House side of the Capitol. I was joined on the panel by three college presidents: Steven Leath of Iowa State University, Jim Murdaugh of Tallahassee Community College, and Thomas Snyder of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana. Also on the panel was Carol Twigg, president of the National Center for Academic Transformation.