9-19-05 - America's system of colleges and universities is famously decentralized, producing experimentation and variety, but making it hard to tackle big-picture issues such as access and affordability on a national scale.
On Monday, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings planned to announce a major initiative to address that problem: a commission charged with developing "a comprehensive national strategy for post-secondary education," according to remarks in an advance copy of a speech she planned to deliver at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
The commission will be led by Charles Miller, former chairman of the board of regents of the University of Texas system.
In her first months on the job, Spellings has focused largely on the No Child Left Behind Act for K-12 and more recently on Hurricane Katrina. But while the federal government accounts for less than 10 percent of K-12 spending, it generates about one-third of spending on higher ed, through research grants and the Education Department's financial aid programs.
Spellings said she was "not advocating a bigger role for the federal government in higher education" but said the country "needs a coordinated approach to meet rising enrollment numbers and new economic demands."