Education Secretary Margaret Spellings plans to announce a commission charged with developing "a comprehensive national strategy for post-secondary education," according to an advance copy of a speech she is scheduled 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 public schools. But although 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 that she is "not advocating a bigger role for the federal government in higher education" but that the country "needs a coordinated approach to meet rising enrollment numbers and new economic demands."
Spellings will outline the commission's instructions only generally, saying it would tackle issues such as affordability and how well colleges prepare students for the global economy.
The announcement comes amid concerns that the relative independence of U.S. colleges and universities -- often a strength -- can be a disadvantage in competing with other countries. "I think it's very important that we raise to a national level and a federal level a discussion about what's happening to our competitiveness," said David Longanecker, executive director of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. He said the Higher Education Act making its way through Congress is focused on narrow issues of efficiency in financial aid.
The commission is expected to make recommendations by Aug. 1. Members include former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt (D); David Ward, president of the American Council on Education; and Jonathan Grayer, chairman and CEO of Kaplan Inc., the education and test-prep company, which is owned by The Washington Post Co.
-- Associated Press