President Barack Obama has named Martha Kanter, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, as undersecretary of education -- a key position that will give Kanter a chance to pursue on a national level her longtime goals of redressing educational inequality and improving quality.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kanter will go to Washington to focus on higher education, with emphasis on improving graduation rates, particularly among low-income and minority students.
"We want to simplify financial aid, increase access to college and strengthen the bridge from high school to college, especially for the under-prepared students," Kanter said Wednesday following the White House announcement of her nomination.
"That is a major initiative. Every high school, every family, every college and university has a role to play."
Kanter said she aims to use federal resources to provide incentives for student success. Increasing educational access for underserved and often ill-prepared students has been Kanter's passion for decades.
"We'll see what states and institutions are doing -- see what's been working and do more of that and reframe what isn't working and get rid of that.
"I see it so simply and we've created such complexity."
Obama has set a goal of raising college-graduation rates among 25- to 34-year-old Americans from 40 percent to 60 percent.
Community college students account for 46 percent of undergraduates in the United States. Of those, 35 percent are minorities and 39 percent of community college students represent the first generation in their family to go to college, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
Foothill-De Anza is one of the nation's largest community college districts, serving more than 44,000 students -- dwarfing the enrollments of Stanford, San Jose State University and even the University of California, Berkeley.
Kanter began her career in special education, earned a doctorate in 1989 and, working in various policy and administrative positions, became known as a leader in statewide and national community college circles. She was president of De Anza College for 10 years before being named chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza district in 2003.