President Obama last week nominated Eduardo M. Ochoa, the No. 2 official at Sonoma State University, to be assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education. Ochoa, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Sonoma since 2003, and a professor of economics at institution as well, has spent most of his career in the California State University system, previously serving as business dean at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona and as a professor and chair of economics and statistics at California State University at Los Angeles. The assistant secretary for postsecondary education historically has been the federal government's top higher education official. But if the Senate confirms Ochoa's nomination as assistant secretary, he would join an unusually crowded group of higher education policy makers at the Education Department -- most of whom are Californians. In addition to Under Secretary Martha J. Kanter, who was chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District, the department's upper ranks also includes Robert Shireman, who has since March been serving as deputy under secretary, a new position in this administration that did not require Senate confirmation. Daniel Madzelan, a long-time career official in the department, is acting as assistant secretary.