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E Kamakani Hou higher education summit

Martha Kanter on Hawai‘i Efforts and the Federal Agenda

Addressing the summit on national perspectives, U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha J. Kanter said Hawai‘i can serve as a role model for other states.

“It is about preparing people for a great quality of life, a good job that’s going to sustain their families and the kind of social and economic engagement we need to move America forward.” —Martha Kanter

Watch the video of her presentation below.



Summarized highlights: Hawai‘i Efforts and the Federal Education Agenda

“It is evident that a new wind has already begun to shape what you are doing,” Kanter said. Leveraging the collective strengths of the university, its community colleges, the K-12 schools and pre-K efforts in a seamless system of education that prepares students to be college- and career-ready will “propel the economy here and the social future of your state and our nation.”

While the University of Hawai‘i’s performance outcomes for increasing the number of college graduates are both ambitious and achievable, meeting them requires both bringing in adults who have had little or no college and changing what happens to students as they move through the K-12 pipeline, she said.

To win a Race to the Top grant, states had to demonstrate both capacity for real, dramatic reform and the ability to achieve it, she noted. Hawai‘i’s application showed a broad commitment to student success, with overwhelming support from the university, community colleges, business, labor unions and others. It also demonstrated investment in data systems and use of data to improve student learning, she said, noting that a Harvard University report gave Hawai‘i an A for use of world-class assessment. “We need more modern assessments that use cognitive science analytics” and make use of the university’s intellectual capital to reduce testing time, give feedback to teachers and let principals figure out where gaps are and how to help more students succeed.

Hawai‘i knows its unique challenges best, she said, noting the state has both high concentrations of urban, high poverty students and geographically isolated rural communities. She called it “thrilling” to have an institution make serving Native Hawaiian a priority at a time when national leaders are having conversations about diversity and how to bring in people who are “behind” in educational attainment.

President Obama’s goal is for America to once again to have best educated, most competitive workforce in the world and to lead the world in college completion, she said. “Completion is everyone’s business and everyone’s goal” whether it’s students being ready for kindergarten, completing grade levels, graduating from high school or entering and completing college.

“Let’s not separate out work and education,” she added. Since nearly two-thirds of college students are going to have to work anyway, make it work that will propel them to achieve their goals, to finish each semester, graduate, do well on certification exams and “move into the workforce with a lot of laddered-up training.” Pell grants and federal work study give students the convenience of working on campus, she said. The business community can help with ideas on ways to leverage work opportunities and incentives so people keep propelling the workforce forward and become lifelong learners.

Two out of three jobs in Hawai‘i are going to require some college by 2018, she noted. President Obama’s goal is to increase the number of Americans who have two- or four-year degrees from a little less than 40 percent now to 60 percent over the next decade. That translates to 8 million more graduates over the next decade, she said. “We have to look specifically at what that means for every state and every institution.”

Texas looked at every student who had started a program at any institution of higher education in the state and reached out to find out why they left and if they could come back. They got back about half of the students who had had some college but didn’t get a degree. “That is what I would call the low-hanging fruit,” said Kanter. “We can bring people in, but the more fundamental issue is can we have a pipeline that doesn’t lose children along the way and can we bring in adults who never thought college was possible?”

The nation loses about 27 percent of students out of high school—about one every 22 seconds. “That’s 1.2 million students on the streets,” she said. “We cannot afford to lose that richness of thought, that human capital.”

In 2005, Princeton University Professor Cecilia Rouse calculated that each dropout costs the nation about $260,000 over his or her lifetime. At current graduation rates, 13 million more students will drop out of high school over the next decade, costing the nation $3 trillion, Kanter said. “That is a loss to our nation in terms of our productivity, our competitiveness, our ability to be innovative and our ability to transform to be number one.”

Kanter said she tells young people coming into the new administration they have to figure out how to create a college-going culture in every community that thinks college isn’t for them. The recently passed Reconciliation Act affords educational opportunity “for the top 100 percent” of Americans, she said. It

  • more than doubles Pell grants from 2008 to 2011, providing up to $5,550 to eligible students from low-income families.
  • expands the income-based student loan repayment program and, after 2014, allows borrowers to cap loans at 10 percent of discretionary income and forgives the loan balance after 20 years for those who make their payments (10 years for those in public service fields).
  • provides $2.55 billion over the next decade for minority serving institutions.
  • provides $2 billion over 4 years to community colleges to partner with community and business to help unemployed and Americans likely to become unemployed.
  • doubles the current funding for College Access Challenge grants to increase low income students.

“Low income students earn bachelors’ degrees at one-eighth the rate of their more advantaged counterparts (9 percent versus 75 percent by age 24),” Kanter said. Lauding University of Hawai‘i efforts to increase financial aid, she added: “We really need to communicate that, yes, this is possible, we have Pell grants, we have scholarships, we have loans.”

African American students earn bachelors’ degrees at half (18 percent) and Latinos at a third (11 percent) the rate of white students (34 percent), she added. “Completion is for everyone, I truly mean that. We need to look at those institutions where the gaps have been closed already; they’re aren’t many.”

At the heart of the completion agenda is the quality of the education being provided, she added. “There is so much research that we don’t apply to the classroom. We need to help teachers, professors be aware of who these students are. Every student is an opportunity, every student needs that chance to succeed.”

According to the Help Wanted report, nearly two thirds of the 46 million jobs that will be made available by 2018 will require workers with at least some college education. A third will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Eighty-nine percent of employers responding in the national study Raising the Bar said they want colleges and universities to put more emphasis on written and oral communication. About two-thirds also want more emphasis on science and technology, global knowledge, teamwork skills, cross cutural competencies and ethical decision making, noted Kanter. &#ldquo;We’ve got to make sure that our degrees mean that students have these kind of skills.”

“Teaching has never been more important,” she said, citing plans to launch a national campaign to interest undergraduates in the profession to help move the K–12 system forward. She closed by quoting Hawai‘i 2010 Teacher of the Year (and two-time UH almunus) Wima Chulakote, who tells his students “a focused mind is the most powerful force in the universe. You cannot lose unless you quit trying.”

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Roundtable Response

DJ Mailer and Jill Tokuda

Moderator Jill Tokuda asked each member of the response panel what struck them most about Kanter’s presentation. UH Professional Assembly Executive Director J.N. Musto said that while higher education has extended opportunities across the social spectrum, it has yet to do so across economic groups. Maui Economic Development Board President Jeanne Unemori Skog said reformers should consider the base community because one-size-fits-all solutions won’t work.

Kamehameha Schools CEO Dee Jay Mailer used a surfing analogy to call for student readiness: “Unless we have keiki sitting on boards waiting for waves, there will always be adults paddling” to catch the waves. Hawai‘i Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi was pleased to see parties stop pointing the finger at each other and focus on solutions. UH Manoa Vice Chancellor Reed Dasenbrock reminded participants that 18- to 22-year-olds are different and need to be educated differently. UH President M.R.C. Greenwood observed that the United States is the only place where people can “recycle” by returning to college after being away or experiencing life changing events.

How can Hawai‘i be a model for the rest of the nation? Toduka asked. Mailer said partnerships—between public and private institutions, business and non-profit—are key. She also called for recognizing the unique knowledge that comes from indigenous people. Matayoshi said teachers and principals pulling together raised test scores despite class days lost to furloughs. She also called for honesty, noting that setting tough standards in Hawai‘i meant not meeting them all.

Dassenbrock described a new automatic admissions practice at Manoa that contacts community college students before they graduate with their associate’s degrees to encourage them to continue toward a bachelor’s. Skog lauded business and industry for their willingness to be involved in many ways, from providing financial support to offering shadowing and internship opportunities.

How do you focus data to ensure that the needs of different types of students are met? Tokuda asked. Musto suggested nothing is really new: John Dewey was responding to an economic crisis; the STEM focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics is reminiscent of post-Sputnik concerns. Faculty need to know that addressing instruction is as important as generating knowledge and securing grants, he added.

Kanter suggested the need to focus on what is different—the number of students who speak a language other than English, the Internet, family structure, young parents. Highlighting the importance of access, Mailer called for flexibility and support systems and Matayoshi stressed the need for retaining rigor while adapting teaching to new technologies.

Greenwood and Skog defined roles for the community—in helping higher education identify the economic needs of the future and understanding current community needs so that programs are effective.

After an invitation to the audience elicited comments on the need for teachers to be trained in the subject areas they teach and a call for federal funding of the American Graduation Initiative, Tokuda closed with her “humble request for all you educators,” that they make sure students don’s lose the art of communication so they can talk to a brother, not just text him; write a love letter, not just email; and visit aging parents and grandparents, not just Skype.

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About Martha Kanter

Martha Kanter headshot

U.S. Under Secretary of Education since 2009, Martha J. Kanter oversees policies, programs and activities related to postsecondary education, vocational and adult education and federal student aid.

She is former chancellor of the Foothill–De Anza Community College District—one of the largest in the nation—and the first community college leader to serve as under secretary. She has also served as an alternative high school teacher in Massachusetts and New York; established the first program for students with learning disabilities at San Jose City College; served as a director, dean and vice chancellor for policy and research for the California Community Colleges; and vice president of instruction and student services for San Jose City College.

Kanter has served as a board member or officer in a wide variety of national, state and local organizations, including the League for Innovation in the Community College; Community College League of California; Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, Inc.; Peninsula Open Space Trust; Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley; Mexican Heritage Corporation; Rotary Club of Palo Alto; and the California Association of Postsecondary Educators of the Disabled. She was named Woman of the Year by California’s 24th Assembly District, Woman of Achievement by the 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. She received the Excellence in Education award from the National Organization for Women’s California Chapter. She was honored for diversity and community leadership by the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women, presented with the John W. Gardner Leadership Award by the American Leadership Forum–Silicon Valley and named Citizen of the Year by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce.

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 community colleges. 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.

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