UNM-Taos Executive Director, Kate O’Neill was one of only 18 college and university directors from across the nation recently invited to attend a meeting in Chicago sponsored by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) serving over 350 Hispanic serving institutions.

The event was an opportunity for O’Neill to meet with President Obama administration Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. The objective was for the Secretary to discuss the President’s higher education agenda and gather feedback from attendees on the proposals.

O’Neill said that it was a rare opportunity to actually participate in the national conversation on where educators want to go in terms of higher education. “It was well worth the time and energy invested in order to be there at the table,” she said. “Those of us who are passionate about education and who have regard for the integrity of the educational enterprise need to be at the heart of these conversations. There are so many variables, such as motivation, curiosity, creativity and different learning styles, that ‘no child left behind’ and ‘teach to the test’ have left out of the equation. But in rethinking education, we can’t just throw everything out. We’d still be missing the boat if we did that.”

Secretary Duncan shared with the group that President Obama wants to move education forward as much as possible in the time he has remaining in office. One idea that the administration is putting forth is rating colleges and universities in order to better inform students of their options in terms of financial aid, degree programs and career pathways. “The Secretary emphasized that this was not a ranking system of best and worst institutions such as the U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of colleges and universities, but rather a system similar to bond ratings, where you create categories based on such variables as cost of tuition, time to complete and the overall performance history of the institution,” O’Neill said.

"It was thrilling to be a part of that level of thinking," she said. “It wasn't just a photo op. Secretary Duncan made it clear that he wanted us to be practical but at the same time think outside the box and give him real feedback about how we are to move education forward.”