Jeb Bush seeks common ground in higher education

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Thursday the partisan divide isn’t as wide when it comes to improving the nation’s higher education system as it is in many other areas.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who like Bush is often mentioned as a potential 2016 president candidate, accepted Bush’s invitation to appear at a conference he is co-hosting on global higher education issues. It begins Monday in Irving, Texas.

“This isn’t a political conference,” Bush, a Republican, said in a telephone interview when asked why he invited Clinton, a Democrat who served as secretary of state.

“There’s a real consensus in our country that higher education is hugely important and if we can find ways to improve quality and lower costs and provide greater access in the United States and around the world, it’s hard to argue against that,” Bush said. “The question is, how do you do it?”

Bush said it’s good that at the federal level and in many states there are discussions about ways to improve higher education. He noted that among full-time college students, about 60 percent of students graduate within six years.

“Initiatives that focus on better outcomes and helping students get the courses they need to garner degrees of relevance quicker are a very good thing,” Bush said. “There’s no question about it.”

He said he hasn’t seen the specifics of a higher education ratings system under development by the Obama administration that could potentially use measures such as graduates’ salaries.