Rising tuition costs are far from the only impediment keeping Arizonans from completing a college degree.
Often, students are not prepared when they graduate high school for higher level work at universities and community colleges. And for adults, class schedules are not flexible enough for them to get the classes they need.
The U.S. Department of Education is attempting to make significant progress during the next 18 months to increase access to higher education for all students. As part of that effort, the federal agency held a summit in Tempe on Tuesday to gather ideas on how to achieve that goal.
U.S. Undersecretary of Education Sara Martinez Tucker, the government’s top higher education official, oversaw the meeting. A collection of officials from public universities and community colleges, forprofit colleges and businesses attended.
On Monday, Martinez Tucker met with Valley parents and students to learn about their concerns. The undersecretary said the concerns — poor preparation and skyrocketing costs — are similar to those voiced at previous meetings in the Kansas City area and Seattle.
“The frustration the students have, the frustration the parents have is pretty universal,” said Martinez Tucker.
Last year, the government’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education called on academia to overhaul itself.
The commission concluded that universities have raised their prices, but never required themselves to measure how well they educate. Martinez Tucker said that, while some reforms will come when Congress reauthorizes the Higher Education Act this year, most improvements should come at the local level.
In response, many schools, including Arizona State University, have joined a movement to make higher education more accountable.
Betty Capaldi, ASU’s provost, directed every department to devise ways to measure its effectiveness for this coming school year.
Many within academia have expressed concern that the federal government will tell universities how to operate and judge themselves.
Not so, Martinez Tucker said. “We’re over-regulating our campuses.”
Universities must work with elementary and secondary schools to help ensure high school curriculum gets students ready for college or to join the work force.
Kristin D. Conklin, an education department official, said colleges “have a whole lot to do with high schools.”