“The Obama administration actually commissioned a big study [by a group led by the Global Perspective Institute, Inc. and AAC&U] on what higher ed should be in this democracy and then ignored it, did nothing with it,” she said. This was problematic in part because the experiences of many of his senior advisers and cabinet members were very unlike those of today’s students. Schneider pointed out that many senior officials’ backgrounds—and the president’s own background—were marked by elite education, presenting a disconnect between the administration and the needs and challenges of the typical student.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., the president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said he was rarely consulted before decisions had been made. “That’s a real issue that people need to be held accountable for,” he said. “You call us to tell us what you’re going to do—you don’t call us to ask for our input and ask us how this will affect our communities. You call to tell us what you were going to do and when it was going to be announced” and then seek endorsement of the policy on the backend, he said.
The administration, a spokesperson said, “takes issue” with the criticisms: “The Administration has continuously urged states to increase investments in all of their higher education institutions, including HBCUs.”
And to be sure, as Schneider noted, “the president helped turn national attention to the importance of postsecondary learning for all Americans. In a knowledge economy, that’s important.” The administration’s advocacy for community colleges has been unprecedented. “No one in the history of our nation has ... emphasized the value of community and our technical-college education like [President Obama] has,” American Association of Community Colleges President Walter Bumphus said. “We have been put in a spotlight never before shone on community colleges and I think folks have really started to see the value of [them].”
Workforce-development programs have also grown, as have opportunities in the broader scope of higher education, said Bumphus, who is also the former chair of the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin. And the president’s emphasis on college affordability is noteworthy, he said.
“I can’t ever recall a president who has not only focused on affordability but made funds available,” said Bumphus, who is particularly pleased with the president’s “focus on income inequality." In fact, Bumphus believes President Obama “will have a phenomenal legacy and will go down as maybe the greatest education president in the history of our country.”
Lots of people in the higher-education community seem to see things differently, however. Schneider disagreed with the idea that the administration has greatly expanded higher-education opportunities, saying it was very evident that the administration was “more interested in [K-12] reform than higher-ed reform.” Adding that “it was as though they simply closed their eyes to the abundant evidence that reform was needed on the higher ed side as well,” Schneider said the administration’s higher-education efforts were geared heavily toward improving access to education at the expense of student success.