Martha J. Kanter is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Higher Education and Senior Fellow at the Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy at New York University. Her academic interests include: The Confluence of Access-Equity-Excellence; The Intersection of Policy and Politics in American Higher Education; and The Contributions of America’s Community Colleges to the Nation’s Social Fabric, Civic Future and Economy.
Previously, Dr. Kanter was nominated by President Barack Obama on April 29, 2009, confirmed by the Senate on June 19, 2009 and served as the U.S. Under Secretary of Education from 2009 to 2013.
Kanter oversaw all federal postsecondary statutory, regulatory and administrative policies and programs, including the $175B annual federal student aid programs, adult education, career-technical education, international education and 6 White House Initiatives (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Educational Excellence for African Americans, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, American Indian/Alaska Native Educational Excellence, and Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships).
To spur education, economic growth and social prosperity, Kanter was charged with planning and policy responsibilities to implement President Obama's goal for the U.S. to have "the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world by 2020" as measured by the proportion of college graduates through the decade. Under Secretary Kanter and her team focused on improving college access, affordability, quality and completion to implement President Obama's American Graduation Initiative.
In her first two years as under secretary, the successful implementation of the Direct Student Loan program resulted in a 50-percent increase in college enrollment, growing from 6 to 9 million students today who are Pell Grant recipients. Kanter and her team worked closely with postsecondary partners from across the nation to boost American innovation and competitiveness with an ambitious college completion agenda, teacher quality reforms, adult education program improvements, modernization of career-technical education, development of the international education strategy, and a robust partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor to distribute a $2 billion federal investment to increase quality, graduation and employment opportunities for community college students.
From 2003 to 2009, Kanter served as chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, one of the largest community college districts in the nation, serving more than 45,000 students with a total budget of approximately $400 million. She was the first community college leader to serve in the under secretary position. In 1977, after serving as an alternative high school teacher in Massachusetts and New York, she established the first program for students with learning disabilities at San Jose City College (Calif.). She then served as a director, dean and subsequently vice chancellor for policy and research for the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office in Sacramento. In 1990, she returned to San Jose City College as vice president of instruction and student services until she was named president of De Anza College in 1993, serving in this position for a decade until her appointment as chancellor.
Kanter has been recognized for her work numerous times, including being named Woman of the Year by the 24th Assembly District, Woman of Achievement by San Jose Mercury News and the Women's Fund, and Woman of the Year for Santa Clara County by the American Association of University Women. In 2003, she received the Excellence in Education award from the National Organization for Women's California Chapter. In 2006, she was honored for diversity and community leadership by the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women, and in 2007, the American Leadership Forum-Silicon Valley honored her with the John W. Gardner Leadership Award. In 2008, Kanter received the Citizen of the Year award from the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, Notre Dame High School in Silicon Valley honored her with the Woman of Impact award and, in 2010, Junior Achievement of Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay nominated her for the Business Hall of Fame and, most recently, she was honored for her service with the 2013 Federal Student Aid Collaborative Partnership Award and received a leadership recognition by the American Association of Colleges and Universities where she serves on the Board of Directors.
From 2009-2013 she also served as vice chair of OECD’s Education Policy Committee’s Bureau and represented the U.S. as a delegate to the Education Policy Committee of the OECD. From 2011 to 2013, Kanter served on the U.S. National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a federal advisory committee to the Department of State that supports worldwide humanitarian development and values by coordinating efforts and delivering expert advice on issues of education, science, communications and culture.
Kanter holds a doctorate in Organization and Leadership from the University of San Francisco. Her dissertation addressed demographic, institutional and assessment factors affecting access to higher education for underrepresented students in California's community colleges. In 1994, she opened the first Advanced Technology Center in California's community college system, and promoted local and state policies to advance Foothill-De Anza's legacy of excellence and opportunity for California's expanding and increasingly diverse student population. She received her master's degree in education with a concentration in clinical psychology and public practice from Harvard University, and a bachelor's degree in sociology from Brandeis University.