Washington — Diane Auer Jones, who resigned in May as the Education Department’s assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said today that she believed the department and Education Secretary Margaret Spelling’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education missed the mark in their discussions of college access.
Speaking as part of a panel discussion at the National Association of Scholars’ annual conference here, Ms. Jones said Ms. Spellings seemed focused on promoting the access of students to the college of their choice — a framing of the issue that put the focus on selective institutions that serve relatively few low- and middle-income Americans.
“If we really care about access, then we should do something about community colleges,” but not nearly enough additional federal money was spent in this area, Ms. Jones said. In her Education Department post — as well as in other positions she has held, as a National Science Foundation program officer and as a Congressional staff member dealing with research — she found that “there is no political bang for your buck when you fund community colleges,” mainly because they are viewed as state and local entities and their students are too busy to be much of a political force, she said.
On a related note, Ms. Jones — who is now president of the Washington Campus, a consortium of 16 university business schools — said she felt Secretary Spellings’s commission had placed too much of the blame for students’ academic difficulties on colleges and did not adequately consider students’ responsibility for their own educational success.
“We can’t beat colleges and universities up when retention rates are low and when people either fail or leave,” she said. Many students who struggle in college lack the preparation and discipline to be there, she said, but our society seems to assume that they belong in college nonetheless.
“Let’s find other options for the 18-year-olds who aren’t ready for college,” she said, suggesting that the country might be well served if the federal government did more to promote apprenticeships, community-service jobs, and other alternatives.
Echoing comments she made to The Chronicle in the weeks following her resignation, Ms. Jones said the Education Department had placed too much emphasis on job training provided by colleges, and not enough emphasis on liberal-arts education. “Higher education is not, and should not be, job training,” she said. “Job training should be extra.” —Peter Schmidt