A Focus on Outcomes

March 10, 2009

President Obama is making a serious play to become the education president his predecessors have angled to be.

Two weeks after he challenged every American to get at least one year of college and proposed a 2010 budget that would significantly refashion the student loan and Pell Grant programs, the president plans to return to the theme of education as key to the country's economic future and its citizens' personal advancement.

A speech he will give this morning to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will mostly reinforce and expand on proposals he has already made -- such as locking in annual increases in the Pell Grant and aiming to significantly raise the proportion of American workers with college training. But senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the speech late Monday suggested that Obama would focus more than he has to date on the administration's intent to hold states and colleges more accountable for ensuring that students who enter college succeed once there.

"Helping students persist in college" will be a "hallmark of his higher education plan," one senior administration official said in describing the president's planned emphasis on the $2.5 billion grant program his 2010 budget would establish to prod states to develop or expand programs to increase student success and college.

One senior administration official on the call said that Obama would emphasize the need to improve college attrition rates, which the aide described as "poor." "We're looking at things like performance scholarships that are place to help students persist from year to year, [and] new programs for advising," for example.

The administration officials said that the president would also stress the need for states to develop and use data systems that can track the progress of students from preschool through college. Many states have systems for different pieces of their education systems, but relatively few states have integrated them into one common system and even fewer have refined them to the point that they produce useful data.

The guidelines that the Obama administration released Saturday to inform use of the federal stimulus funds for education reinforce this point; they require states, in applying for the funds, to assure that they will "establish and use pre-K-through-college and career data systems to track progress and foster continuous improvement."

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