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WASHINGTON -- The Education Department is slowly filling its long list of second-term vacancies, naming a consultant and a deputy under secretary on higher education issues who will shape federal policy in the coming years.

Jeff Appel, a special assistant in the department's office of planning, evaluation and policy development, has been appointed to be a deputy under secretary, working with Under Secretary Martha J. Kanter.

Before that, he was on the staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce under Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who was chairman from 2007 until 2011. Appel has worked on financial aid issues for several years in his department role, where he was mostly unknown to the broader public but built a reputation as a thoughtful problem-solver with a wealth of knowledge on financial aid.

Jamienne Studley, president of Public Advocates, Inc., and the former president of Skidmore College, will join the department as a senior consultant on higher education policy, also in Kanter's office. Studley is also the chair of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, the panel that advises the education secretary about accreditation.

The Obama administration has shown a continuing interest in the role and viability of accreditation.  In December 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked the advisory panel to recommend possible changes that might be made in the national system of higher education quality assurance (a review in which Studley was deeply involved.). Then, in his State of the Union address in February, President Obama called on Congress to either prod accreditors to weigh quality and “value” in their decisions, or to create an alternative accreditation system that would bypass traditional routes. Congress has chimed in as well, suggesting accreditation will be a major issue when it takes up the Higher Education Act for reauthorization in the coming years.

The choice of Studley suggests the department’s interest in the accreditation issue continues.

Studley, who is leaving Public Advocates and moving to Washington for the role, said her issue portfolio hasn’t been determined yet.

“It’s such an inflection point for so many issues in higher education, with the Higher Education Act reauthorization in development and an active regulatory agenda, that I don’t think I can be more specific,” she said Tuesday afternoon.

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