NAICU Washington Update

Cardona Confirmed as Secretary of Education; Other Key Positions Filled

March 04, 2021

This week, the U.S. Senate confirmed Dr. Miguel Cardona as the 12th Secretary of Education by a vote of 64 to 33. (Also see NAICU President Barbara Mistick’s statement on Secretary Cardona’s confirmation.) This vote concluded a month-long process from when the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held its first congressional hearing regarding Cardona’s nomination.  As that process was unfolding, the Biden Administration was also busy filling other key education positions.  

Secretary Cardona began his career in Connecticut as a fourth-grade teacher in the City of Meriden, the same district where he attended school. He later became a principal and then assistant superintendent of the district before being named Connecticut’s state commissioner in 2019.

The Biden Administration has also chosen many top policy experts to serve in key senior roles in higher education.  Below is a summary of several of the new higher education staff in the Administration.
  • James Kvaal – Kvaal has been nominated to be the Under Secretary of Education. This role, which requires Senate confirmation, is the top advisor on higher education policy at the Department.  Kvaal, who currently serves as president of The Institute for College Access and Success, has a wealth of knowledge regarding higher education policy. His experience also includes previous roles in the Department of Education and on Capitol Hill.  
  • Michelle Asha Cooper – Asha Cooper was selected to serve as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Postsecondary Education. With more than 20 years of experience in postsecondary education at the federal level, and having worked at the Council on Independent Colleges and King’s College in Pennsylvania, she understands the general needs of the private, nonprofit college sector.  
  • Ben Miller – Miller has been named a senior advisor to the Chief of Staff for the Secretary of Education. His most recent position as Vice President for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress, has given him a great deal of visibility in Washington higher education circles. 
  • Melanie Muenzer – Muenzer was selected to serve as the Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary of Education. She most recently served as the Associate Vice President and Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives at the University of Oregon. 
  • Rich Williams – Williams is the Chief of Staff in the Office of Postsecondary Education. Williams most recently served at the Pew Charitable Trusts as an officer for the project on student borrower success and before that was a key higher education staff member on the House Committee on Education and Labor. 
  • Carmel Martin – Martin, who was a senior policy advisor for the Biden campaign, is serving as the Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Economic Mobility. Previously, Martin served as the assistant secretary for policy and budget at the Department of Education during the Obama Administration and executive vice president for policy at the progressive think tank Center for American Progress.  She also held several education staff positions in the United States Senate.
  • Katherine Valle – Valle is a higher education policy advisor for the Domestic Policy Council in the White House. Valle recently served as the Director of Education Policy for the House Committee on Education and Labor and led the higher education team on the committee for Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA).  


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