U.S. Secretary of Education pick still to be decided

As the process of creating a new cabinet begins, the question of who President-elect Barack Obama will choose to be his Secretary of Education looms over higher education institutions. Many names are frequently mentioned in the media, and a few stand out from the crowd. University educational policy professor David Weerts said heâÄôs heard that former Secretary of State Colin Powell , who endorsed Obama a few weeks before Election Day , is one possibility. Former President KennedyâÄôs daughter and staunch Obama advocate Caroline Kennedy is also considered a possible candidate. Regardless of who is chosen, Educational Policy and Administration Department Chairman Darwin Hendel said he a personâÄôs background is what makes them qualified for the position. Hendel said that regardless of PowellâÄôs performance as Secretary of State, he doesnâÄôt think Powell, who founded the nonprofit childrenâÄôs advocacy group AmericaâÄôs Promise Alliance , is necessarily qualified to serve in the Secretary of Education position. While policy experience is important, College of Education and Human Development Associate Dean Mary Bents said she thinks Obama should be looking for someone who has a âÄúfull understanding of education.âÄù âÄúPeople only focused on one area without any other experience would be of concern to me,âÄù Bents said. Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan and New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein are two educators in the field who might also be contenders for the job. Bents said although candidates like Duncan and Klein have some of that educational experience, there havenâÄôt been any secretaries of education recently that âÄúhave an understanding of higher education issues in an in-depth way.âÄù Research institutions like the University could potentially benefit from an Obama-led Department of Education in big ways. Weerts said thereâÄôs now a possibility that âÄúfederal money is on the table againâÄù for the funding of stem cell research. The new administration could also affect provisions for student financial aid, such as increased support for Pell grants, Weerts said. With the current state of the economy, however, Weerts said it might be difficult for major changes to take place in higher education until other issues have been addressed. Bents said the new administration will likely place more emphasis than in the past on early education, and there might be more funding available for research in all fields of education. âÄúI believe that there will be more focus on access for individuals, more access to education,âÄù she said. âÄúWe’ve lost that to some degree over the last eight years.âÄù