WASHINGTON: A new communications team at the US Department of Education (DoE) is overseeing promotion of a recently launched initiative to improve the affordability and accountability of US colleges.
A media tour has kicked off that already has included a Q&A session on the conservative political blog Redstate.com and interviews on cable news channels. On the tour, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced on September 26 at the National Press Club new proposals to improve US higher education, including raising federal aid and creating a nationwide database to track the progress of students.
Spellings' tour will include an appearance on the game show Jeopardy, scheduled to air in November, playing against more traditional celebrities for a charity related to literacy.
The campaign is "really about making [Spellings] more accessible, not just to education reporters, but the public," said DoE deputy press secretary Trey Ditto. "Whether it's through blogging or what I would say is un-mainstream media like The Daily Show, we're trying to put a different spin on it. It's not just, 'Here's some regulation we're working on, but here's the education secretary as a person.'"
Along with appearances, public outreach will include "summits" this year and next with education and business leaders.
The quality of US higher education continues to be rated among the world's best, according to research from the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, but affordability ranks far below many other nations. The DoE's new effort is based largely on recommendations from a September 19 report on higher education commissioned by the department.
Overseeing promotion of the initiative is Lauren Maddox, recently confirmed by the US Senate as assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the DoE. Maddox previously worked at public affairs firm PodestaMattoon.
Also part of the new DoE communications team are press secretary Katherine McLane, a former communications advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA); and deputy press secretary Ditto, formerly of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.