In First Speech, Riley Divulges Few Details About Policies
WASHINGTON--In his first public appearance since Senate confirmation, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley hinted that the Clinton Administration would take a collaborative approach to education policy.
"We're going to try and look at education in all the agencies and see if we can formulate education policy throughout,'' Mr. Riley told an audience of 500 at the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
"What I'd like to see is education policy presided over by Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the White House and not Dick Riley and Madeleine M. Kunin in the Education Department,'' he said.
Mr. Riley, who was accompanied by Ms. Kunin, the former Governor of Vermont who has been tapped as deputy secretary, may also have offered some clues as to how he will work with education's vested interests.
Rather than offer prepared remarks, Secretary Riley, introduced as "our listener of the day,'' preferred to hear four college presidents share their concerns, and then respond.
"He said he wanted to come here and listen,'' said Richard F. Rosser, NAICU's executive director. "Isn't that an interesting change?''
Student Aid Is Topic
The leading topic of the 70-minute session was student aid. Mr. Riley said that President Clinton is committed to "more accessibility and affordability for college for our people.''
He said Mr. Clinton's proposed National Service Trust, through which students would exchange community or national service for tuition vouchers or student-loan forgiveness, will be the vehicle to achieve college access.
However, Mr. Riley said, decisions have not yet been made on such sticky issues as the role of loans made directly to students by the federal government, an income-contingent repayment option, and the Pell Grant program.
"These are very alive issues now, and they're being talked about in the halls of Congress, they're being talked about in our halls, and in the White House,'' said the former Governor of South Carolina.
David L. Warren, the president of Ohio Wesleyan University, asked the Secretary to consider including college students--not just precollegiate or postcollegiate servers--in the service participant pool.
"What's been missing ... is a discussion of the college sector,'' said Mr. Warren, who said he has been involved in planning the service trust.
But on the day of Mr. Riley's appearance at the îáéãõ meeting, The Washington Post reported that the service trust, which was originally envisioned as a program involving as many as 200,000 participants in its first year, will be introduced as a much smaller pilot program because of the high cost of a larger program.
Mr. Riley declined to comment on the newspaper's report in an impromptu session with reporters following his talk.
Pell Grant Shortfall
The Secretary also said he hopes to take action by the end of fiscal year 1994 to improve budgetary estimates and eliminate the recurring problem of shortfalls in the Pell Grant program.
"It's trying for me to have to worry about paying back before I start investing,'' he said.
Congress makes appropriations for the grant program each year based on Administration projections, which usually prove to be too low. In past years, the department has reduced the amounts of individual grants accordingly, or Congress has included funds to cover the gap in the budget for the following fiscal year.
When the fiscal 1993 budget was being drafted last year, however, lawmakers included only $242 million for the fiscal 1992 shortfall, even though the gap was $1.6 billion. Congress also restricted the department's options by forbidding reduction of individual grants in last year's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
Mr. Riley said a $653 million shortfall for the current fiscal year has been added to the $1.4 billion shortfall that lingers from fiscal 1992. He raised the possibility of reducing the maximum Pell Grant available or narrowing eligibility standards.
"We're looking at less money rather than more money,'' Secretary Riley said, "or tighter eligibility requirements rather than less tight eligibility requirements.''
He called a proposal by the National Commission on Financing Postsecondary Education to raise the maximum Pell Grant from $2,300 to $4,000 "not humanly possible with the [fiscal] situation we have now.'' (See story, page 11.)
Mr. Riley also addressed complaints that he is filling jobs slowly, saying that "it's a very difficult time to get busy people, people who are important in their fields'' to change jobs.
Mr. Riley said he hopes to foster an atmosphere in which career civil servants will work closely with political appointees.
Mr. Riley said he has already been in touch with agency heads at the Labor Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Agriculture Department to talk about federal policies affecting children and students.