For someone who came into office passionate about K-12 issues, Arne Duncan will leave a big imprint on higher education. After nearly seven years as U.S. secretary of education, Mr. Duncan announced last week that he would step down in December.
During Mr. Duncan’s tenure, the department eliminated banks from the student-loan system, simplified the process of applying for financial aid, and expanded options for income-based repayment of student loans. It toughened regulations to curb recruiting abuses by for-profit colleges and aligned with the White House to push for greater consumer information in all sectors of higher education.
The way that students can obtain federal aid is now clearer, the terms for repaying student loans are more flexible, and information about colleges’ costs, their financial challenges, and their students’ outcomes is easier to find.
It’s no surprise, then, that assessments of the secretary tend to include the terms “accountability” and “transparency.”
Many observers credit Mr. Duncan, 50, with changing the culture of the department. “He presided over a really crucial shift,” said Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, an advocacy group, “from a focus on schools and lenders to a focus on students and borrowers.”
By all accounts, Mr. Duncan has deferred to colleagues on the details of most higher-education policy making. But he was more than ready to personally upbraid colleges over rising prices and low graduation rates, their handling of cases of sexual assault, their lax academic standards for athletes in big-time programs, and their resistance to greater oversight — often to the discomfort of higher-education leaders accustomed to Democratic secretaries of education who promised more money and fewer questions…read more