President Mark D. Gearan was recently quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education in a feature article about the White House’s College Opportunity Day of Action that will convene leaders from around the nation to engage in a summit focusing on increasing college access and opportunity for disadvantaged students.
The College Opportunity summit follows an inaugural event in January 2014 held at the White House, which Gearan also attended and focused on the national dialogue around opportunity and access to education.
“I’m very pleased that the administration is putting this issue squarely front and center,” says Gearan in the article. “I’m glad the first one wasn’t a one-off.”
At the summit on Thursday, Dec. 4, an action plan developed by HWS that introduces outreach programs and support for students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education will be formally unveiled.
The full article from the The Chronicle of Higher Education follows.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
White House Summit on College Opportunity, Take 2: Bigger, Broader, But Still Secretive
Kelly Field • Dec. 3, 2014
When college leaders convene here on Thursday for the second Summit on College Opportunity, they’ll notice a few changes from the inaugural event, held in January.
Most obvious will be the size of the event. Twice as many people are expected to attend the second summit, which has been moved from the White House to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to accommodate the crowd.
Less visible, but equally significant, is how the guest list came together. For the first summit, the White House approached certain colleges and asked them to submit commitments to expand college access; for the second, it issued a broad call for proposals, inviting all institutions to apply. While not everyone who responded got an invitation, many more college leaders did this time around.
At the first summit, the emphasis was on access, though the “commitments” were wide-ranging. This time, the focus is on completion and collaborations, both among colleges and between pre-college and higher education.
Taken together, those changes should make the second summit more inclusive-and, the White House hopes, give it a bigger impact-than the first.
One thing that isn’t changing much is the format. As in January, there will be speeches by President Obama and the first lady, panels made up of higher-education leaders, and breakout sessions where participants can share ideas. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will also speak this time.
Sidelined No Longer
In January the commitments ranged from “small bore” to “sweeping,” as the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, put it.
One university, for example, pledged to explore “a personalized text-messaging campaign” as part of a plan to encourage underrepresented students to take courses in the STEM fields. On the more ambitious end, a college said it would work with a local housing authority “on a project to end homelessness by supporting housing vouchers for qualified low-income college students.”
The guest list, which included more than 100 colleges and 40 nonprofit groups, featured representatives from nearly every type of institution (for-profit colleges weren’t invited). Those who attended said they left feeling inspired and motivated to act.
But elite private institutions were overrepresented, and some community and lesser-known private colleges felt that they had been given short shrift. They grumbled that the administration was overlooking their longstanding contributions to access in favor of “new” efforts by more prestigious colleges.
Among the loudest critics at the time was Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, a Roman Catholic institution of 2,500 students less than four miles from the White House. In an opinion piece in The Chronicle, she argued that the White House “only wanted colleges that the administration could take credit for goading into action.”
“The planners missed a great opportunity to bring together old practitioners and new promisers,” she wrote.
Ms. McGuire met with White House officials after the event to voice her concerns. This time around, she got an invitation.
In an interview on Tuesday, a White House official said the administration had deliberately tried to include all sectors of higher education in the second summit. He promised a “broadly representative” event.
Kim A. Wilcox, president of the University of California at Riverside, will be among the first-time attendees. He said he was pleased the administration had looked beyond “the usual cast of characters” and was emphasizing larger-scale collaborations this time around. Smaller efforts by individual institutions aren’t going to make a big difference when it comes to completion, he said.
“It’s easy for some schools to say they’re going to double the number of Native Americans when they have four or five,” Mr. Wilcox said. “But if we’re going to change the national numbers, we’ve got to do it with digits with lots of zeros behind them.”
Ms. McGuire said she was pleased to be included this time, but she still wished the event weren’t so shrouded in secrecy. As with the first summit, the White House has admonished attendees not to talk to reporters until after the event.
“They’re running the show, so they’re entitled to control their message,” she said. “But when the message is that we want more colleges and universities to make access possible, I don’t see anything secret about that.”
“I keep wondering,” she added, “why it has to feel competitive and exclusive when everybody needs to be doing this.”
Show or Substance?
Thursday’s summit comes as Mr. Obama prepares to release his controversial college-ratings plan. In the days leading up to the event, there’s been speculation that the president might even unveil the ratings at the summit. But the White House official said there’s nothing to the rumor.
Combining the two would certainly have been efficient. After all, it’s not often that the president of the United States and college presidents are in the same room.
But releasing the ratings at the summit would have soured a feel-good event, creating conflict where the White House is seeking collaboration. Ultimately, they are flip sides of the administration’s accountability agenda: The summit aims to encourage colleges to improve; the ratings, to embarrass them into doing so.
Privately, some colleges leaders dismiss the summit as political theater, a dog-and-pony show designed to demonstrate that the administration is “doing something.” For the most part, however, colleges have welcomed the attention. They argue that there’s no microphone bigger than the president’s for highlighting issues of college access and completion.
“I’m very pleased that the administration is putting this issue squarely front and center,” said Mark D. Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in New York. “I’m glad the first one wasn’t a one-off.”
So what of the promises made back in January? Since the first summit, the White House has hosted a series of smaller gatherings with leaders of elementary, secondary, and higher education to discuss the progress they have made on their commitments. One goal was to connect people working on similar issues; another was to recruit more institutions to the effort, the White House official said.
On Thursday the administration will release a “progress report” detailing steps that colleges and groups have taken so far.
Brice W. Harris, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, said the summit had to be something of a spectacle to get people to tune in to complicated debates about college access and completion.
“If you’re going to capture the attention of elected officials, and the public more broadly, you’d better have some theatrics,” he said. “The power of the White House is to cause people to pay attention to what’s important.”