Top Obama Higher Education Official to Step Down

Martha Kanter serves as undersecretary of education, overseeing higher education policies and programs.

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Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter will step down to "return to academia," she announced late Tuesday.

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Martha Kanter, who has served as the Obama administration's top higher education official for more than four years, announced Tuesday night that she will step down from her post.

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In an email sent to her colleagues, Kanter said she will be resigning from her position as undersecretary of education this fall to "return to academia," The Huffington Post first reported. Before becoming under secretary in 2009, Kanter was the chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in Northern California, one of the largest community college districts in the nation, serving more than 45,000 students.

"Serving as your Under Secretary has deepened my understanding and appreciation of what 'service to improve the public good of our nation' really means," Kanter wrote in the email. "The promise and power of delivering good government to our students and families is a tireless, phenomenal effort, often with few external rewards if done honestly, fairly and well. What unfolds each and every day never ceases to amaze me, even now. I could never have imagined a more exciting and challenging opportunity."

In her current position, Kanter reports to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and oversees programs and policies related to higher education, as well as career and technical education and financial aid.

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During her tenure, she oversaw the implementation of the Direct Student Loan program in 2010, putting an end to bank-based lending when the Department of Education began issuing all new student loans.

Kanter's departure comes at a time when President Barack Obama has vowed to "shake up the system" of higher education by looking to improve college access and affordability.

"Families and taxpayers can't just keep paying more and more and more into an undisciplined system where costs just keep on going up and up and up," Obama said in a speech at Knox College in July. "We'll never have enough loan money, we'll never have enough grant money, to keep up with costs that are going up 5, 6, 7 percent a year. We've got to get more out of what we pay for."

Over the last several months, a string of high-ranking higher education officials have announced plans to leave the department. Some worry that the continued departure of policy experts will create a leadership vacuum.

Most recently, David Bergeron, who served as Duncan's chief adviser on higher education issues, announced his departure in March after serving in the department for more than 30 years.

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But Kanter said in her departure memo that she intends to help the department find a replacement to "ensure a seamless transition."

"I remain committed to achieving the goals for our nation's postsecondary students, institutions and communities: access, affordability, quality and completion," Kanter said. "I will continue to pursue these ends during this transition period and beyond."

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