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Spellings Calls for Giving Parents More Accessible and Comprehensive Information on Colleges

Note the last line: Ms. Spellings did not take questions at the meeting. Are colleges of ed just going to sit back in silence, hoping she will go away? Or hoping their Congressional representatives will save them? When will we get some resistance going?

The No Child Left Behind Act, which covers elementary and secondary education, should be a model for colleges as they try to close the minority-achievement gap in higher education and try to provide comprehensive information to students and parents considering college, the U.S. secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, said on Monday.

"One of our biggest challenges is a lack of compatible and comprehensive measurements -- the kind of information parents have come to expect" from grade schools, Ms. Spellings said in a speech at the annual meeting here of the American Council on Education.

Colleges and states should use "common languages and metrics" to measure their performance and to publicize information such as tuition plans, academic workload, and work-study programs, Ms. Spellings said in the speech, her first on higher-education issues since her confirmation as secretary last month.

"That way," she said, "both traditional and nontraditional education consumers can make smart choices, based on information, not anecdote."

The U.S. Education Department is also working to improve the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, commonly known as Ipeds, in order to provide more accessible and relevant information. Ipeds, which is based on reports that colleges are required to file, forms the only central national database of a range of key higher-education statistics, and it is widely used by federal and state policy makers.

Ms. Spellings cited several problems with the system, including its inability to easily track the actual cost of attending each institution after student aid has been considered.

Ms. Spellings called President Bush's budget for the 2006 fiscal year "truly a reform budget," with plans to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500 over the next five years, to $4,550. The president's budget would also close the $4.3-billion shortfall in the Pell Grant program.

Higher-education advocates say the proposed changes in the Pell Grant program would be a step in the right direction, but some question whether they would come at the expense of several other popular student-aid programs that would be eliminated under the president's budget.

Ms. Spellings did not take questions at the meeting.

— Silla Brush
Chronicle of Higher Education


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