Summit on Access to Higher Education Held at PhilaU

Several Philadelphia area college and university presidents met with U.S. Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter on campus in July for a summit on improving access to higher education.

The meeting was organized by President Stephen Spinelli Jr., Ph.D., with U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah, who was unable to attend the meeting in person, but participated for several hours by conference call.

Kanter discussed President Obama’s strategic plans for higher education, including improving the percentage of Americans who graduate from college to the best in the world by 2020. “Education is necessary for a vibrant democratic society,” Kanter said. “It’s not only about preparing students for jobs or restoring our place as first in the world, we need Americans who are prepared for informed, effective participation in democratic life. And we need educated Americans with the capacity to solve the most pressing problems of our time.”

The meeting convened the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s Regional Colleges and Universities President’s Council, which includes the presidents of nearby institutions of Villanova University, the Community College of Philadelphia, Harcum College, Moore College of Art and Design, Mercer County Community College, the University of Delaware, Rosemont College, DeVry University, Peirce College, Rutgers University, Saint Joseph’s University and more—all of whom were in attendance. President Spinelli welcomed the guests on July 22 for a morning of discussion with Kanter and Fattah.

In addition to Kanter’s presentation, the presidents discussed Congressman Fattah’s proposed Communities Committed to College initiative and the current efforts of the Department of Education to increase access to college for young students. The Communities Committed to College initiative would seek to build community-based scholarship trusts to help qualified students attend college, and as Undersecretary of Education, Kanter has worked on several initiatives of her own to increase college access. Kanter talked about expanding the Pell grants program for low-income students seeking financial assistance to attend college, as well as simplifying the FAFSA form for students seeking federal higher education loans.

The meeting resulted from an idea conceived several months prior when Congressman Fattah spoke before the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s Regional Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Council. Congressman Fattah thought a deeper discussion about the issue of college access was warranted and he asked to bring a member of President Obama’s Administration to join the discussion.

After the summit, Fattah thanked Philadelphia University for “organizing such a wonderful event.” “It is important to remain in dialogue with regional college leaders such as President Spinelli and others in the attendance at the discussion,” Fattah said. “I hope that the spirit of cooperation will continue from that meeting to spur more dialogue and inform policies to aid students in gaining access to college.”

Undersecretary Kanter was appointed to her current role in April 2009 by President Obama, and has since worked closely with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on education policies pertaining to postsecondary education, as well as adult and career technical training, federal student aid and education initiatives for minorities. Congressman Fattah is currently serving his 9th term in the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania’s 2nd District.

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