Plan of attack for higher ed

Caroline Lautenbacher

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings thinks it’s time for sweeping changes in higher education, but David Creamer, Kent State senior vice president for administration, argues Spellings is solving yesterday’s problems.

“The plan fails,” Creamer said. “It is still looking at education the way it has historically.”

Spellings spoke last week in response to the commission report released in September. In her speech, Spellings made three main points:

Unit Record Database

Spellings’ first plan of action is to develop a unit record system to track and measure the performance of colleges. The prototype would use identification numbers rather than Social Security numbers to link students anonymously with their transcripts, Spellings said.

The system would be designed for colleges to better generate information about retention and graduation rates and allow departments for the first time to track the academic progress of transfer students.

“It should be helpful to provide information to deal with particular needs,” Creamer said.

The plan has been criticized by key members of Congress from both parties, but this hasn’t stopped Spellings from pursuing the plan.

“Lots of folks in the public systems that I’m aware of are crying for this ability to go to their state legislatures and make the case for resources,” she said. “They are crippled by the lack of information as well.”


The second point Spellings’ report pushes is the necessity for an increase in a need-based aid. Spellings is fighting to increase the average Pell Grant award to cover 70 percent of the average in-state tuition.

The Federal Pell Grant doesn’t have to be repaid and is awarded only to undergraduate students. In the 2004 to 2005 award year, the maximum award was $4,050.

“The Pell Grant would have covered 100 percent historically,” Creamer said. “70 percent of just average tuition is not going to create access that it is needed to create.”

Spellings also announced the department is working to streamline the financial aid process. Her first goal is to cut the application time in half and also notify students of their aid eligibility earlier.

“The financial aid process is getting better,” Creamer said, “but students are not knowledgeable to what they are doing and signing up for.”


In her last point, Spellings wants to move toward more emphasis on learning. Spellings also proposes that Congress provide matching funds to colleges, universities and states that collect and publicly report student learning outcomes.

“We don’t want students to leave here ill prepared to compete for what comes after,” Creamer said. “Education is what prepares you for life-long goals.”

The commission report is calling on colleges to use measuring tools such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment and the Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress.

Spellings has already taken steps to put the commission’s recommendations into effect. She has announced her agency will hold a series of regional public hearings to discuss how it might adopt the commission’s recommendations administratively.

“Education is lifelong,” Creamer said, “but it has to recognize the education needs.”

Contact Student Affairs reporter Caroline Lautenbacher at [email protected].