Martha J. Kanter was nominated by President Barack Obama on April 29, 2009, to be the under secretary of education and was confirmed by the Senate on June 19, 2009. Kanter reports to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and oversees policies, programs and activities related to postsecondary education, adult and career-technical education, federal student aid, and six White House Initiatives-Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Educational Excellence for African Americans, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. To spur education, economic growth and social prosperity, Kanter is 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 over the next decade. Under Secretary Kanter and her team are keenly 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 are working 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 and a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, which has announced the first $500 million of 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 is 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. In 2011, Kanter was appointed to 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.
Under Secretary 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.