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US: Secretary of Education announces action plan for US higher education

In September 2005, the ACA Newsletter – Education Europe reported on the formation of a Commission on the Future of Higher Education in the US, charged with developing a comprehensive national strategy for postsecondary education. Following on the Commission’s presentation of its findings last month, the US Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling has now released an “Action Plan for Higher Education: Improving Accessibility, Affordability and Accountability”. The plan responds to some of the major shortcomings identified by the Commission, and largely follows its recommendations.

Amongst others, the plan includes the following actions under its three main headings:

  • Accessibility: e.g. strengthen K-12 (Kindergarten through 12th Grade) preparation and align high school standards with college expectations and increase access to college-preparatory classes;
  • Affordability: increase need-based aid, streamline and simplify the financial aid process;
  • Accountability: work with a consortium of states to build on the 40 existing higher education information systems and create a higher education information system that pulls together privacy-protected student-level data;

The third action line in particular created controversy, for it was interpreted as a limitation of institutional autonomy and student privacy. However, it remains to be seen how far it will be possible to implement it: as the State Department underlines in a reaction to the media, the Secretary’s plan is voluntary.

Action Plan for US higher education: press release
Action Plan for US higher education: fact sheet
Action Plan for US higher education: myth vs. fact
Commission on the Future of Higher Education: final report
Commission on the Future of Higher Education: highlights of the final report