'TWEAKING TIME IS OVER'; the Bush Administration Launches a New Commission to Examine the Nation's Colleges and Universities Aimed at Collecting Big Ideas. What Should They Address? Student, Education and Business Leaders Offer Their Views

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Byline: BETH KORMANIK

After focusing almost single-mindedly on K-12 education during his first term -- most notably through the No Child Left Behind Act -- President Bush and his administration are turning to colleges and universities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings created the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, a group of university administrators, business leaders and policy experts. The commission will focus on four key areas: Accessibility, affordability, accountability and quality.

The goal is to deliver an action-oriented report by Aug. 1.

At a time when a bachelor's degree or higher is the ticket to high-paying jobs, it is becoming more difficult to get into college, tuition is increasing beyond the rate of inflation and students, employers and alumni are questioning the quality of their education, according to Charles Miller, the Houston businessman and philanthropist who is chairman of the commission. Miller discussed the commission's work with education reporters in Nashville this fall and said it's time for big ideas.

"Tweaking time is over," he said.

With the cost of Medicare and homeland security eating bigger portions of government spending, Miller said significant additional public money will not be available for higher education. One solution he likes is boosting the role of the private sector.

Miller also supports increased testing of college students to measure their critical thinking skills, although he stopped short of advocating a No Child Left Behind-style policy for higher education.

The Times-Union asked local education and business leaders and students to write about the educational issues vital to Northeast Florida and areas they would like to see the commission address. Their responses are featured here.

beth.kormanik@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4619

CASEY HAMPTON

News Editor, Jacksonville University Navigator

'COLLEGES SUCH AS JU MAKE PEOPLE LIKE ME MORE READY FOR THE WORLD'

Life as a private college student is an entirely different world than in the public education system. I wouldn't go so far as to say that my education at Jacksonville University is better than an education, say, at the University of North Florida. But for students like me who were not eligible or were not developmentally ready for a big college such as UNF, JU was a great option.

America's future lies with people my age, and what they are doing with their lives. We should not limit ourselves strictly to public universities. Contrary to what some may believe, there is more than one college here in Jacksonville. JU has changed my life, and the close and individualized attention that I have received has made me a more educated and enlightened person.

In the process, I have fallen in love with Jacksonville and plan to stay here after graduation. In that respect, I will contribute to the vitality of the First Coast and try to make my community a better place, all because I was afforded the right to attend a post-secondary institution that happened to be private.

The U.S. Department of Education is developing a "comprehensive national strategy for postsecondary education that will meet the needs of America's diverse population and also address the economic and workforce needs of the country's future." The result is people like me can actually be ready for the real world. Northeast Florida is a rapidly expanding area of our state and the Southeast United States, and colleges such as JU make people like me more ready for the world that lies ahead and better prepared to deal with the challenges it holds.

I wish more of the private sector could see the benefit of putting their donations in private education. It lessens the burden of the public school system, gives more students the opportunity to go to college, and it strengthens the institution for generations to come. …