Martha Kanter to Step Down as Education Department's Top Higher-Education Official

U.S. Department of Education

Martha J. Kanter, U.S. under secretary of education since 2009, is stepping down this fall. A former community-college administrator, Ms. Kanter plans to return to academe.
August 13, 2013

Martha Kanter, a former community college chancellor who became President Obama's top higher-education official four years ago, is leaving the Education Department this fall.

In an e-mail sent to her colleagues Tuesday evening, Ms. Kanter said she was stepping down as the under secretary of education and returning to academe "to build on the work and considerable outcomes we have achieved."

She wrote that she had assured Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that her staff would "continue to advance our ambitious statutory, regulatory, and administrative agenda," adding, "We can't afford to miss a beat as you all know."

Ms. Kanter, a former chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, is the latest in a string of high-ranking policy makers to leave the Education Department Her departure comes as President Obama is promising to "shake up" higher-education, and as the Education Department is preparing to reopen negotiations over its controversial "gainful employment" rule.

Ms. Kanter, who represented the president at numerous conferences and Congressional hearings, has been a steadfast presence at an agency that has seen considerable turnover in its higher-education offices. As the head of postsecondary education, adult, and career-technical education, and federal student aid, she has been the public face of the administration's effort to make the nation the world's leader in college completion.

Her four-year tenure covered the Education Department's transition to 100-percent direct lending of federal student loans, the issuing of controversial "program integrity" rules (including the gainful-employment rule), and the expansion—and subsequent contraction—of Pell Grant eligibility.

Ms. Kanter, the first community-college leader to serve as under secretary, also oversaw the creation of a new $2-billion job-training program focused on community colleges.

In her e-mail, Ms. Kanter wrote that "serving as your under secretary has deepened my understanding and appreciation of what 'service to improve the public good of our nation' really means. ... I could never have imagined a more exciting and challenging opportunity."