Dear Commons Community,
Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, in a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, has advice for the next US Secretary of Education: “Listen more to the practitioners than to the philanthropists and corporate titans”. As reported in The Chronicle:
“Farewell, Arne Duncan!
As Secretary Duncan hangs up his jersey after seven years of leading the U.S. Department of Education, speculation is already underway about the next secretary of education. President Obama has selected Deputy Secretary John B. King, Jr., as acting secretary-designate, but the real focus is on the next administration in 2017 and beyond.
The higher-education policy issues for the next presidential administration are likely to remain much the same as current priorities: student loans and debt burdens, Pell Grants, cost, campus safety and sexual assault, access, accreditation, diploma mills, teacher quality, accountability. College students and presidents alike are grateful to Duncan for enlarging Pell Grants and improving the federal student-loan system, and we hope his successor will continue to champion student financial-aid solutions.
But on many other issues, particularly quality and accountability, the question is whether a new administration will continue Duncan’s style of broad criticism and onerous regulation of all higher education because of deficiencies in cases at individual institutions, or whether new leadership will establish a more nuanced approach to achieve mutually satisfying solutions to the challenges we share. We can hope for the latter, but so much depends on the experience and leadership characteristics of the secretary.
Higher education today is about so much more than traditional undergraduate education, and the new secretary must understand the big picture. The department’s own data warehouse reveals some of the depth and complexity of this industry, starting with the remarkable range of nontraditional characteristics of students and the vast array of academic programs across many degree and credential levels.
But the Duncan-era policies have tended to treat higher education almost like K-12 schools, assuming a monolithic curriculum taught to a largely immature student body across a defined period of time. Lost in the blender are the distinctive differences among students and programs and missions and institutional types that make American higher education the greatest learning and research system in the world….
We need the next secretary of education to express confidence and pride in American higher education as one of the most important assets of this nation, the steward of the American treasury of knowledge and innovation. We’ve heard more than enough rhetoric from the current Education Department about “shaming” colleges and “cracking down” on universities, threats that have simply managed to alienate many academics from the administration they once supported. Too often, the message the American public has heard is that college is a scary, violent, and expensive place that fails to educate students — a strange and misguided rant from an administration that also claims it wants to increase college access and degree attainment.
The next secretary of education needs to listen more to the practitioners than to the philanthropists and corporate titans who have a skewed view of the purpose of higher education. The outsized influence of a few major foundations, with their insatiable thirst for data, has inhibited the ability of real practitioners to get a seat at the table of policy formulation.”
President McGuire has presented a cogent description of what is needed in the USDOE. Arne Duncan indeed turned over much of his higher education agenda to corporate interests especially corporate-affiliated philanthropies.