“Doing What It Takes to Win America’s Future”

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Martha J. Kanter, Under Secretary U.S. Department of Education, was nominated by President Barack Obama on April 29, 2009 to be the under secretary of education and was confirmed by the Senate on June 19, 2009. Kanter reports to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and oversees policies, programs, and activities related to postsecondary education, adult and career-technical education, federal student aid, and five White House Initiatives on Asian mericans and Pacific Islanders, Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. To spur education, economic growth and social prosperity, Kanter is charged with planning and policy responsibilities to implement President Obama's goal for the U.S. to have "the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world by 2020" as measured by the proportion of college graduates over the next decade. Under Secretary Kanter and her team are keenly focused on improving college access, affordability, quality, and completion to implement President Obama's American Graduation Initiative.
In her first two years as under secretary, the successful implementation of the Direct Student Loan program resulted in a 50-percent increase in college enrollment, growing from 6 to 9 million students today who are Pell Grant recipients. Kanter and her team are working closely with postsecondary partners from across the nation to boost American innovation and competitiveness with an ambitious college completion agenda, teacher quality reforms, adult education program improvements, modernization of career-technical education, and a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor that has announced the first $500 million of a $2 billion federal investment to increase quality, graduation, and employment opportunities for community college students.
From 2003 to 2009, Kanter served as chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, one of the largest community college districts in the nation, serving more than 45,000 students with a total budget of approximately $400 million. She is the first community college leader to serve in the under secretary position. In 1977, after serving as an alternative high school teacher in Massachusetts and New York, she established the first program for students with learning disabilities at San Jose City College (Calif.). She then served as a director, dean and subsequently vice chancellor for policy and research for the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office in Sacramento. In 1990, she returned to San Jose City College as vice president of instruction and student services until she was named president of De Anza College in 1993, serving in this position for a decade until her appointment as chancellor.
Kanter has been recognized for her work numerous times, including being named Woman of the Year by the 24th Assembly District, Woman of Achievement by San Jose Mercury News and the Women's Fund, and Woman of the Year for Santa Clara County by the American Association of University Women. In 2003, she received the Excellence in Education award from the National Organization for Women's California Chapter. In 2006, she was honored for diversity and community leadership by the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women, and in 2007, the American Leadership Forum-Silicon Valley honored her with the John W. Gardner Leadership Award. In 2008, Kanter received the Citizen of the Year award from the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, Notre Dame High School in Silicon Valley honored her with the "Woman of Impact" award and, in 2010, Junior Achievement of Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay nominated her for the Business Hall of Fame. In 2011, Kanter was appointed to the U.S. National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a federal advisory committee to the Department of State that supports worldwide humanitarian development and values by coordinating efforts and delivering expert advice on issues of education, science, communications and culture.
Under Secretary Kanter holds a doctorate in organization and leadership from the University of San Francisco. Her dissertation addressed demographic, institutional, and assessment factors affecting access to higher education for underrepresented students in California's community colleges. In 1994, she opened the first Advanced Technology Center in California's community college system and promoted local and state policies to advance Foothill-De Anza's legacy of excellence and opportunity for California's expanding and increasingly diverse student population. She received her master's degree in education with a concentration in clinical psychology and public practice from Harvard University, and a bachelor's degree in sociology from Brandeis University. Kanter holds honorary degrees from Palo Alto University, Chatham University, Lakes Region Community College, Moraine Valley Community College and the Alamo Colleges.

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Martha J. Kanter, Under Secretary,  U.S. Department of Education

In her article, our special guest author explores the engagement of  America’s education system in  a heroic effort to guide millions of additional students through high school and college, even as millions of adults return to school seeking new skills and wider opportunities.  To retake the lead as “the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world,” we’ll need to produce an estimated eight million more new college graduates, beyond our current college-going growth rate.  And, this call comes at a time when, all across the country, institutions of teaching and learning and their partners are battling to meet dramatically increasing student needs with severely strained resources.  This effort is fully addressed in our lead article.


 Transforming Higher Education to Win the Future


In a speech at Georgetown University soon after taking office, President Obama said, “I want every American to know that each action we take and each policy we pursue is driven by a larger vision of America's future - a future where sustained economic growth creates good jobs and rising incomes; a future where prosperity is […] built by skilled, productive workers; by sound investments that will spread opportunity at home and allow this nation to lead the world in the technologies, innovations, and discoveries that will shape the 21st century. That is the America I see. That is the future I know we can have.”


Education reform – to ensure college and career readiness for all students – is central to the President’s vision for winning that future.  By 2020, he wants America to regain the position we held not long ago as the nation with the world’s highest proportion of college graduates.  He also wants every American to have at least one year of college, trade, or technical training.  These goals require not just improved student outcomes, but a dramatic surge in educational productivity, as well as a stronger and more comprehensive cradle-to-career education system, if the United States is to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.


America’s education system is engaged in a heroic effort to guide millions of additional students through high school and college, even as millions of adults return to school seeking new skills and wider opportunities.  To retake the lead as “the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world,” we’ll need to produce an estimated eight million more new college graduates, beyond our current college-going growth rate.  And, this call comes at a time when, all across the country, institutions of teaching and learning and their partners are battling to meet dramatically increasing student needs with severely strained resources.  


Reaching the 2020 goal will require transformational change.  Islands of excellence that are now the exception must become the norm. Promising solutions must be brought to scale. The 21st century must see the reinvention of higher education in the United States. Community colleges will be a significant contributor to this effort.  For over a century, community colleges have served as important gateways to higher education, focused on expanding opportunity for more first-generation college goers, low-income and minority students, learners with disabilities, and adult learners.  To help students fulfill their potential, they will need better-than-ever connections between community college and baccalaureate degree programs and far improved alignment between high schools and college.


I am honored to have served in the California Community College System (CCCS) at every level, from my time with San Jose City College starting in 1977, to my sixteen years as president of De Anza College and then chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.  Over the course of more than 30 years, I learned through experience in CCCS that all higher education stakeholders – students, faculty, staff, administrators and the community - share the responsibility to ensure that all students have equal access to the courses and services they need to achieve their education objectives and to complete their programs of study!


In my new capacity as the U.S. Department of Education’s first community college leader to serve as Under Secretary, my message to fellow iJournal readers – from Chief Student Services Officers and staff, to Community College Presidents, Chief Instructional Officers, Human Resource Officers and Chief Business Officers – is this: we’re all partners together in this most consequential effort.  And, despite the obstacles, we can achieve the change we seek.


Advancing an “Access-Quality-Completion” Agenda for Higher Education


At the federal level, we believe that increasing postsecondary access, improving quality, and accelerating college completion is the formula to help us meet the President’s 2020 goal, and place the American Dream within reach for what I call the “top 100%” of all Americans.


California’s community colleges are a vital part of a nationwide movement to reinvent higher education.  And, the Golden State’s emphasis on facilitating student transfer to baccalaureate programs is on target, and consistent with reform efforts in other states.  Two in three postsecondary education students attend two or more institutions of higher education before securing a baccalaureate degree.  One in five attends three or more institutions.   Yet too often, student and credit transition between institutions are difficult to understand and navigate.  We are encouraging every state to place a priority on developing coherent, navigable, and transparent transfer processes that decrease the cost and time students spend pursuing a degree, and increase their likelihood of completion. Right now, too many students take courses they didn’t need and take too long to get through!


Today’s unprecedented challenges and changes point the way to a new federal role – one that supports, amplifies and leverages the best ideas and high impact practices that lead to student success, from the grassroots level. Secretary Duncan has challenged our team to transform the U.S. Department of Education from a compliance-driven bureaucracy into an engine for state and local innovations that result in higher levels of student achievement than ever before.


In the past two years, we’ve taken many important steps to advance our access, quality and completion agenda. Direct lending, Pell grants and the extension of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, FAFSA simplification, and a total of $2 billion over four years in community college grant funds available through a new Department of Labor–Education partnership are enabling community colleges to take innovative steps to improve the quality, alignment and capacity of their courses, programs, delivery systems, as well as K-12 and university articulation, transfer, developmental education, and use of technology.  The return on these investments will be determined by the achievements of community college students as we work together to meet the 2020 goal in the months and years ahead. 


For 2012, the President has also proposed $123 million for a “First in the World” Competition to increase college completion and promote efficiency in higher education, by directing funds to programs with the strongest evidence base.  The budget also includes $1.25 billion over five years for a new College Completion Incentive Grants program to encourage States to make systemic reforms in their higher education systems and reward institutions that produce successful outcomes.  Participating States would set goals to increase the number of college completers, close achievement gaps for vulnerable student populations, align high school graduation requirements with participating institutions’ expectations for academic preparation, create stronger articulation agreements, ease student transfers, and match Federal funds or provide their own performance-based funding for institutions.


And, the Department recently released a College Completion Toolkit to give Governors, state leaders and institutions practical steps to promote and implement college completion policies and strategies.  It contains recommendations on actions to support community colleges and their higher education, K-12, adult education, and career-technical education partners in increasing quality, better connecting these important sectors, and enabling more students to earn certificates and degrees, as well as to transfer to universities and the workforce.


These are just some of the ways we’re working together to create a climate of change, build a culture of evidence-based decision-making, and multiply successful models that increase student success, all across the country. America’s community colleges are at the heart of all these efforts.


Community Colleges in the Spotlight


In October, President Obama and Dr. Jill Biden convened the first White House Summit on Community Colleges, highlighting the growing role community colleges must play in preparing students for success in the 21st century knowledge economy and our democratic society. President Obama has asked the nation’s community colleges to graduate or transfer about five million more students between now and 2020.


Over the past six months, the U.S. Department of Education hosted four regional Community College Summits and one virtual symposium to build awareness, partnerships, and recommendations to guide community colleges in better serving the nation’s students.  The summits addressed Transitioning Adult Learners to Community Colleges and the Workforce; Successful Transfer Programs; Partnerships between Community Colleges and Employers; and Exemplary Programs for Veterans, Military Members, and Families.


The response was tremendous; hundreds of people participated from 45 states.  The challenge now is to translate that energy into sustained momentum.  Leaders at the federal, state, and local level - higher education, business, labor, philanthropy and government - must work in partnership and take action to strengthen community colleges.


Our Department will be taking additional steps to shine a spotlight on evidence-based, high-impact practices that simultaneously bolster the quality of a community college education while also increasing retention, persistence, and completion of degrees and certificates. We also plan to bring the experiences, stories and recommendations of the community college summits to a broader audience to promote a greater understanding of the critical role of community colleges and build support and resources to scale up what works. Case studies, data, and illuminating research can all underscore how community colleges are meeting current challenges to help students succeed.  The information and guidance provided by community colleges will prove invaluable in formulating and responding to legislative proposals and considering policy changes to the Higher Education Act in the months and years ahead.


Yet in many respects, the most important actions to take today and tomorrow are in the hands of community college leaders.  At the local level, community college trustees, presidents, faculty, and staff need to seize this moment in time and this special opportunity to elevate the role of community colleges in pursuit of our access, quality and completion goals – even in the face of ongoing fiscal challenges.


Gaining Momentum Nationwide 


In regard to access, states and institutions are exploring ways to mitigate dramatic tuition hikes, from tuition and net-price freezes, to tuition locks for student cohorts, to indexing tuition to inflation. And, a variety of institutions and systems – including the University of California system – are implementing innovative administrative efficiencies to reduce expenses and centralize, streamline, and share costs and functions. These efforts model ways that higher education can control costs and increase productivity without sacrificing instructional quality. 


The time it can take to earn a degree also makes college more expensive for students, families, institutions and states, and threatens our completion agenda. We need to ensure smoother, clearly articulated transitions at all stages of the education pipeline and identify and invest in strategies to promote on-time and accelerated degree attainment while maintaining educational quality.


For example, since today about 44.5 percent of all community college students are not prepared for general education or career-technical coursework, we need research on and dramatic improvement in remedial education. We need evidence-based, world-class models for remedial courses that bring students from basic to college-level literacy in a fixed amount of time. Our goal is to work with scholars and practitioners to identify the most effective fast-track developmental programs that result in students completing freshman composition and calculus or statistics – the gatekeeper courses to associate and baccalaureate degrees. Recent studies from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University show that the community college assessment and placement system is broken. Community colleges like Chabot and Los Medanos have redesigned both the placement system and their developmental education programs, with promising results.


We also recognize that nearly half of all undergraduates, and nearly half of all first-generation and minority students, get their start in a community college. In some states, more than two-thirds of first-generation and minority students start at a community college. Our completion agenda embraces all of America’s learners. Nationally, our college-going rates are rising, but a completion gap persists among minority groups. African-American students earn bachelors’ degrees at half (18 percent) – and Hispanics at one-third (11 percent) – the rate of Caucasian students (34 percent).  Low-income students earn baccalaureate degrees at one-eighth the rate of their more advantaged counterparts (9 percent vs. 75 percent by age 24). In 21st-century America, we must disprove the myths that factors like race or poverty can determine a person’s destiny.


Some colleges have already achieved this aim. The Education Trust’s 2010 reports Top Gainers and Top Gap Closers highlight public institutions nationwide that have made the biggest improvements in narrowing or closing the gap, including several where completion rates for minority students exceed those of Caucasian peers. The gains by these institutions are examples for the nation. If closing the completion gap is possible in institutions in states like California, Maryland, and Florida, it should be a goal for every institution in those states, and for every state in America. Community colleges are essential to helping ever-more diverse student populations enter the path to higher education and preparing them to excel in baccalaureate and advanced degree programs.


A number of national foundations are assisting colleges and universities and professional associations with plans to set and meet college-completion benchmarks, including slashing the college-going and graduation gaps for low-income and minority students.


At the same time, we are seeing colleges and universities implement promising approaches to improving the quality of their courses, pedagogies, and delivery systems—from boosting student performance and success to enhancing quality-assurance and compliance processes, from being more transparent about costs and outcomes to using technology and innovative instructional models, and from lowering costs to increasing completion rates.


Also at issue are the next steps we can take, as a nation, to improve quality by reforming structures that reward institutions and students for hours in class as opposed to what is learned, examining degree qualifications frameworks, and modernizing accreditation processes for colleges and universities. We can no longer be content with models of accreditation that dictate process, inputs, and governance structures instead of results, innovation, and evidence.


Ultimately, we need institutions, states, organizations, and the federal government to drive quality improvements with better research and targeted investments in promising programs. We must also improve quality assurance by clarifying the often overlapping and confusing roles and responsibilities of the federal government, accreditors, states, and institutions.  And, we need increased transparency and clear accountability measures that explain how our students and institutions are doing.


Many states, institutions and consortia have begun to set completion targets and to report regularly on the progress they are making toward their goals. The best of these plans feature associate and baccalaureate completion, as well as transfer from community colleges to four-year colleges and universities—as opposed to just enrollment—as key metrics of higher education’s success in meeting the needs of students.  But more work must be done.


At the federal level, we will help support the development of statewide and institutional degree- and certificate-completion metrics, the tracking of progress, the improvement and interoperability of data systems, the reporting of annual and longitudinal data, and the identification of new opportunities and challenges along the way.


Just think of what we could achieve if each postsecondary institution would set annual completion benchmarks and focus on doing its part to meet the 2020 goal – and if each state would identify the annual increase in degree completion needed to meet the 2020 goal and devote energy and resources to that end!


California – Keeping Pace with Reform


In this regard, California can be proud of three very important recent efforts.


One is California’s Transfer Velocity Project. The RP Group conducted the Transfer Velocity Project between 2007 and 2009 with funding from, and in partnership with, the CCCS Chancellor’s Office.  The California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (CalPASS) provided additional research assistance.  The result is the most comprehensive community college transfer study to date.  The case studies on colleges with higherthanexpected transfer rates distinguished six institutional factors that send one clear message: transfer rates are higher at colleges where institutionwide efforts are designed to support all students in pursuing transfer goals.


Another effort we’re watching very closely is the CCCS’ “One Million Graduates by 2020” initiative, recommended as part of a report issued by the Commission on the Future – a panel of California chancellors, trustees, and faculty leaders.  We’re delighted at this clear step to support the 2020 goal.


Because it also tracks certificate attainment, this effort contributes to our broader completion agenda and the President’s challenge that every American finish at least one year of college. The group also plans to emphasize the need to close participation and achievement gaps among underserved groups, especially Latino students.  This, too, is vital to our nation’s success, and joins a wave of states setting their sights on dramatically improving degree attainment for minority students.


And, last fall, the California Legislature passed the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, which creates a transfer degree and guarantees junior status to those transferring between the community college system and the state college system.


Beginning with the 2011–12 academic year, community college students who graduate from an associate degree program with a C average or better will be guaranteed admission to a California State University (CSU) baccalaureate program.  The legislation will condition a community college district’s receipt of state apportionment funds on its development and granting of associate degrees for transfer.


Under the new law, public community colleges will also be required to offer associate degrees made up only of courses acceptable for transfer.  This is an important move to clarify for community college students which courses are transferable, so that they can focus on attaining the 60 units they will need if they wish to pursue a baccalaureate degree, and reduce or avoid the courses they take with nontransferable units.


The goal of the new law is to ease transitions, provide students with a clear path for progress, and reduce tuition costs by enabling students to take only those courses necessary.  It supports an access, quality and completion agenda.  The hope is that these measures will encourage 40,000 additional students to transfer to a four-year school, beyond the roughly 50,000 students who currently transfer each year. That would be a measurable contribution to the 2020 goal!


The law would also prevent transfer students to CSU from running up against additional course requirements beyond the 60 units juniors need to complete a bachelor's degree.  CSU will now be required to publicize its transfer-compatible majors. The legislation requests that the University of California’s Board of Regents approve the development of a similarly clear transfer system.


Recognizing that there are considerable challenges associated with implementing these measures, I still must commend California’s higher education systems for their valiant work.  These improvements are necessary, and they are helping the state keep pace with higher education reform nationwide.


Let’s take a closer look at other states’ efforts to promote student transfer.


Transfer and Completion Measures across the Country


Like California, Arizona lacks a single, unified higher education authority.  Yet both states are making strides to facilitate student transitions in the higher education pipeline.  Arizona’s General Education Curriculum (AGEC) is a common general education curriculum, totaling 35 community college credits in prescribed areas, and transferrable as a block.  Already, students with 35-59 credits – in other words, enough to complete the AGEC – are showing a significant difference in graduation rates.  Some 72 percent of AGEC completers had graduated by 2008, compared with about 55.7 percent of non-AGEC peers.


Arizona also has a unified statewide community college-university data system for tracking transfer students, so that policies can be data-driven.  And, similar to California’s ASSIST website, “AZTransfer.com” is an on-line system which provides important information, including course equivalencies and interactive major guides.


Arizona has established common courses for university majors, and, at least 2 courses (and often more) can be completed at a community college and applied to all three state universities for that major.  A 2007 study found that, over a 5-year period, Arizona transfer students, on average, reduced the number of university credits they needed to receive a baccalaureate degree by 12 credits, significantly streamlining time-to-degree.


In addition, the Arizona University System, including all 4-year institutions of higher education, has published a long-term strategic plan with detailed goals geared to advance the educational attainment of Arizona citizens to national competitiveness by 2020.  The plan includes ambitious targets to increase annual bachelor’s degree production, graduation rates, retention rates, and community college transfers as well as the number of community college transfer students who attain a bachelor’s degree.


Florida also has strong transfer measures. The state defines an associate degree as a transfer degree, and its data system provides an accountability report that includes the number of community college graduates with an associate’s degree who transfer to a 4-year institution within the State University System and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.  Florida also has a common college transcript, common course numbering, and transfer guarantee for credit-by-exam. 


Idaho has a robust statewide articulation agreement that includes common course numbering, automatic transfer for associate degree, and transferability of general education and education core courses.  Nevada has a Transfer Guarantee Program that ensures admission to universities and state colleges for all students who complete a transferable associate degree.  It offers common course numbering and an online catalog for students, and has transfer agreements in place between all Nevada System of Higher Education institutions, so that students may start at a 2-year college and complete a baccalaureate degree in same number of credits as students who start at 4-year institutions.


Ohio has one of the most comprehensive statewide policies, including a universal course equivalency system and guaranteed admission to state universities by students who complete an associate degree at a technical or community college, a common course numbering system, and inter-postsecondary institution credit transfer.  And, in January of this year, the Tennessee Legislature passed the Complete College Act of Tennessee requiring a single set of core standards for all community colleges – effective in the fall 2011 – that allows easy transfer between colleges and universities, includes “course maps” that outline specific courses students will need for an intended major, and guarantees transfer of those courses.


A number of other states have already implemented guaranteed transfer for associate degrees, including Hawaii, Louisiana, North Carolina, and West Virginia.  Washington has an associate of science transfer degree.  Other states that have a transferable general education curriculum include Alabama, Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, and Tennessee.


Our Shared Mission


Our students and our nation are counting on community colleges to help America meet the challenges of the 21st century.  Together, we must be courageous and think big about educating our next generation of learners and leaders.  Our institutions have the steadfast support of the Obama Administration – and the enduring gratitude of millions of students who walked through the open door of community colleges and emerged from the experience transformed.


Perhaps the President best captured the journey to reinvent higher education when he said, “There is no doubt that times are still tough.  By no means are we out of the woods just yet.  But from where we stand, […] we can see a vision of America's future that is far different than our troubled economic past.  It's an America teeming with new industry and commerce, humming with new energy and discoveries that light the world once more -- a place where anyone from anywhere with a good idea or the will to work can live the dream they've heard so much about.”


It is our responsibility as educators to overcome the obstacles, design the solutions, and create the transitions that will make that vision a reality. It is a difficult task, but if we succeed, the rewards will far outweigh the cost.


I am confident that we can fulfill our mission, and I am honored to join you in this work.