Education Secretary Arne Duncan took a couple of field trips to Maryland last week.

During his first outing, to the University of Maryland–Baltimore County campus, he delivered a speech outlining the Department of Education’s plan for remediating what has become higher education’s damaged value proposition. On his second visit, to the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, he and Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the Obama Administration’s plan to launch a limited pilot program under which Pell Grants would be available to federal and state prisoners.

However, as is often the case that involves the highly charged debate on higher ed, what was left unsaid speaks volumes.

Secretary Duncan covered a lot of ground in his UM-BC address. He talked about his belief that “every hard-working student in this country must have a real opportunity to achieve a meaningful, affordable degree.” To help realize that goal, he wants to hold colleges and universities accountable for their academic outcomes—the extent to which students successfully complete their degrees within six years, given that nearly half of all college students fail to do so within that time.

He may have been referring to students whose applications are approved even though they aren’t “college ready” (according to a recent survey by Acheive, just 14% of college instructors stated that today’s high school graduates are adequately prepared for “what came next”), those who would be better served by vocational schools (the secretary makes no mention of these or investing in apprenticeship programs, for that matter), or whose financial circumstances are so tenuous that they are at heightened risk of dropping out for that reason alone (even though the government’s easy-money loan programs may exacerbate that situation). Nor did he spell out what “accountable” means in real dollars and cents.

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Mitchell D. Weiss