Increasing Transparency and Accountability for Students

Higher education remains the most important investment any person can make in their future. In the several months I’ve been at the U.S. Department of Education, I have had a number of conversations with students and families that have inspired me to double down on our commitment to making college more affordable and accessible. A big part of our work toward that goal has been to increase both the quantity and quality of information that students, families, borrowers and the public have about higher education.

Today we are taking another step to increase transparency and accountability. We are releasing a list of colleges and universities that are on what we call Heightened Cash Monitoring. There were about 560 institutions on this list as of March 1. The list has been released to members of the press that requested it, and will be published on the Department website in the coming days and updated on a regular basis.

Heightened Cash Monitoring is a step that our Federal Student Aid office can take with institutions to provide additional oversight for a number of financial or federal compliance issues, some of which may be serious and others that may be less troublesome. Institutions may be on this list for a variety of specific reasons – for example, late financial statements, outstanding liabilities, accreditation issues, concerns about a school’s financial responsibility or possibly severe findings uncovered during a program review. For each institution that is on Heightened Cash Monitoring, we are also providing information as to why.

Heightened Cash Monitoring is not necessarily a red flag to students and taxpayers, but it can serve as a caution light. It means we are watching these institutions more closely to ensure that institutions are using federal student aid in a way that is accountable to both students and taxpayers.

Transparency and accountability are priorities for our entire Administration, and this Department and the Federal Student Aid office are no exceptions. We are taking a thoughtful approach to considering what data and information makes sense to provide publicly. Today’s decision follows our own discussions along with those we have had with multiple stakeholders, including news organizations.

From the start of the Obama Administration, we at the Department of Education have been committed to increasing transparency across the spectrum. We have worked to provide more – and better quality – data, including:

We also continually release a wealth of information aimed at helping students and families make smart decisions about where to go to college, including a comprehensive set of data about each institution on College Navigator – which contains enrollment, cost, graduation rates, students’ default rates, and campus security information. In addition, the Department already discloses a number of other pieces of information that can point at an institution’s financial health and other accountability metrics, including Default Rates, Clery Act Reports, 90/10 Reports, Foreign Gift and Contract Reports, Financial Responsibility Composite Scores and Final Program Review Determinations. And, of course, we have undertaken a historic effort to increase transparency and accountability for career colleges through our Gainful Employment regulations.

We have made enormous progress in providing information that helps students, families and borrowers. But we know we still have further to go, and we’re committed to pushing for greater transparency. Every single day we take seriously our commitment to doing more for students, and every action falls within that goal.

Ted Mitchell is the Under Secretary of Education.

Teaching and Leading at the 5th International Summit on the Teaching Profession

Each March I look forward to joining colleagues from around the world at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession to learn from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems about ways to elevate and enhance the teaching profession in order to improve student learning. I never imagined when we started the International Summit in New York City in 2011 that it would become a vibrant and lasting international community of practice. But the thirst among countries to learn from each other is strong and on March 29 and 30, Canada is hosting the 5th Summit, Implementing Highly Effective Teacher Policy and Practice, in Banff, Alberta.

We’ve learned so much from past Summit discussions and can see a real connection to education policy and practice in the U.S. over the years, as well as significant progress on commitments made by the U.S. delegation at the end of each Summit. I am particularly excited about this year’s Summit because teacher leadership — one of our three Summit commitments last year — will be highlighted this year.

Last week Secretary Duncan reported back on the first year of Teach to Lead, an initiative in partnership with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards that is designed to advance the national conversation around the future of the profession and promote meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership that improve outcomes for students. Teach to Lead is teacher-designed and teacher-led and has the support of more than 70 organizations, including the AFT and NEA which, along with Secretary Duncan, are part of the U.S. delegation to the International Summit. As Secretary Duncan said in front of a crowd of thousands, “I was hopeful [about teacher leadership] last year. I am convinced we are onto something really important and special now. Change has to come from teachers who own it and lead it.”

The progress and excitement in Teach to Lead over the past year has been phenomenal. Thousands of teachers have engaged in Teach to Lead through the online ‘Commit to Lead’ community, and more than 500 teachers, administrators, and representatives from supporting organizations have been at our regional summits and local leadership labs. Teach to Lead has truly been about elevating the teaching profession and supporting teachers by giving them opportunities to collaborate, plan and shape their own roles for their own contexts from the school to the state.

A real question for Teach to Lead is — what next? How does teacher leadership expand and grow? This year’s Summit agenda poses three questions that can help the U.S. to reflect on possible future paths.

  • How do high-performing countries promote deeper and more collaborative forms of leadership at all levels within education systems?
  • What strategies allow education systems to exercise consistent and widespread teacher leadership?
  • What should be the role of teachers and their unions and associations in creating conditions for teacher leadership?

Six amazing U.S. teachers who have been actively involved in Teach to Lead – from Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts — are part of the U.S. delegation to this year’s Summit.   This is an opportunity for them to share their work, to hear what other countries are doing to support and encourage teacher leadership, and to reflect on next steps to elevate and advance teacher leadership back home.

I am eager to learn from our Canadian hosts and other international colleagues and excited to do so with creative, committed teacher leaders from around the United States.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Education.

4 Reasons to Apply for the 2015 President’s Education Awards Program

Principals! It’s time, once again, to nominate students for the President’s Education Awards Program!

We’ve got four great reasons as to why you should nominate students in your school.

1) Motivation!

Create the defining moment in a student’s life. As a principal, you aspire to make a difference in the accomplishments and success of your students. Through this program, you have the opportunity to be the catalyst that sets them on an upward path. Since 1983, these prestigious awards provide individual recognition from the President and the U.S. Secretary of Education for both student achievement and hard work.

The program has two recognition categories: The President’s Award for Educational Excellence and The President’s Award for Educational Achievement. The criteria for both are rigorous. Students who receive either of these awards know they’ve achieved something extraordinary.

2) Reward Academic Success!

The President’s Award for Educational Excellence recognizes academic success in the classroom. To be eligible, students must meet requirements including grade point average, school-set criteria and choice of states or teacher recommendations. 

3) Honor Educational Growth!

This award recognizes students that show outstanding educational growth, improvement, commitment or intellectual development in their academic subjects but do not meet the criteria for the Educational Excellence Award. Its purpose is to encourage and reward students who give their best effort, often in the face of special obstacles. Criteria for this award is developed at each school.

4) Celebrate Great Students!

Each year, thousands of elementary, middle, and high school principals participate by recognizing deserving students. The school principal determines the number of qualifying students based on program criteria and verifies the order for awards. There is no limit on the number of awards, as long as students meet the criteria for each award. Award orders can only be placed by a school administrator.

The award includes a certificate and congratulatory letter signed by the President, the Secretary of Education, and the school principal. School principals have final authority to determine which students receive an award.

Last year, nearly 3 million students from over 30,000 schools were recognized by the PEAP. 1.7 million students were honored for educational excellence and 1.1 million were cited for outstanding educational achievement.

Recipients of the 2014 PEAP stand proudly at Germantown Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Recipients of the 2014 PEAP stand proudly at Germantown Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Get more information about the program and how to apply.

Frances W. Hopkins is director of President’s Education Awards Program in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Know It 2 Own It: Helping People with Disabilities Access Middle Class Careers

March is National Disability Awareness Month, a month dedicated to promoting awareness of the strengths and achievements of Americans with disabilities. Today, many people with disabilities are living and working in the community and pursuing higher education. Yet, even now folks with significant disabilities often face additional barriers when trying to find jobs.

Robert Williams understands exactly what it takes to pursue and advance in one’s career as an individual with a significant disability. He’s currently Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy at the Social Security Administration. He’s been working for over 20 years to raise awareness about the significantly disabled community in the workplace. He also worked tirelessly to ensure the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Learn more about his incredible journey by watching the video below:

Williams’ story, combined with those of others, is one of the many reasons the Department of Education has joined with leaders from 10 other agencies to develop the Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative.

Announced at a Champions of Change last October, this Initiative brings ingenuity and common sense solutions to ensure that workers with disabilities, like all Americans, have opportunities to obtain and succeed at work. This month, officials from both the Initiative and the White House hosted a Summit on Disability and Employment, bringing together federal agencies, disability groups, philanthropic organizations, and employers. Participants heard from Department of Education Senior Advisor to the Secretary Michael Yudin; RSA Commissioner Janet LaBreck; Labor Secretary Tom Perez; and Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett, about federal programs supporting employment of people with disabilities. Attendees also worked together to generate creative solutions and develop partnership projects to increase employment of people with disabilities.

This year, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA, partners will work together to build and strengthen cooperation and collaboration between education, public benefits, health care, and employment. Already the value of these partnerships has been realized in the posting of the Initiative’s Resource Guide for Employers, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) expanded Ticket-to-Work Call Center, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) revised ABC’s of Schedule A for Applicants with Disabilities, and a partnership between the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and SSA to recruit SSDI beneficiaries into federal careers.

Over the coming year, these agencies will continue to work together in a Year of Action to Expand Equal Employment Opportunities and Economic Mobility for Individuals with Disabilities.

Together, we will:

  • Develop a user-friendly portal to connect job seekers with disabilities to employers
  • Expand and share OPM’s screened list of job seekers with disabilities with federal contractors
  • The EEOC will issue proposed rules updating its regulations for federal employment under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • The Department of Labor will train federal contracting officers on Section 503 requirements
  • Through the Pathways to Careers: Community Colleges for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities Demonstration Project, the Department of Labor is helping community colleges to equip students with disabilities with skills and credentials for high-skill careers
  • The Department of Education will ensure that VR counselors have the knowledge and skills to meet the demands of employers and to promote employment of individuals with disabilities

Chai Feldblum is Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Robert Williams is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy at the Social Security Administration.

Eve Hill is Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. 

All are co-chairs of the Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative.

D.C. Public School Students Celebrate Their Creativity and Knowledge in the Arts at ED

Students from Stoddert Elementary School, in collaboration with Fillmore Arts Center, perform their piece, “Swinging at Fillmore,” on the ED stage.  (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students from Stoddert Elementary School, in collaboration with Fillmore Arts Center, perform their piece, “Swinging at Fillmore,” on the ED stage. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Student artists from 14 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) gathered at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters on March 4, 2015, to exhibit their creative work in the visual arts, film, dance and music. More than 200 educators, family members, arts leaders, DCPS community partners and ED employees also joined in the festivities to honor these students.

ED’s Principal Ambassador Fellow and 2012 Magnet Schools of America National Principal of the Year, Jill Levine, kicked off the presentation and recounted the moving story of one of her students whose education experience was transformed by the arts, “When kids feel important … when they feel part of something bigger, when they feel inspired about going to school, we don’t need [candy, home visits, court hearings, and other such measures] to make them go to school because they are drawn to the school through the arts.”

Students from School Without Walls Senior High School perform their piece, “Scripts and Scores,” which examines the relationship between music and silent film.  (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students from School Without Walls Senior High School perform their piece, “Scripts and Scores,” which examines the relationship between music and silent film. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Demonstrating such inspiration through the arts were three vibrant student groups. The Capital String Ensemble, from John Eaton Elementary School in partnership with Washington Performing Arts, performed a call-and-response piece and the Baroque piece, Pachelbel’s Canon. Four students from School Without Walls Senior High School presented their powerful composition of guitars and silent film, Scripts and Scores, to explore the difference between reality and perception. Stoddert Elementary School partnered with Fillmore Arts Center to help students create Swinging at Fillmore, a performance using dance, music and history to explore the work of legendary swing dancer Norma Miller.

Students in the Capital String Ensemble perform during the DCPS art exhibit opening. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students in the Capital String Ensemble perform during the DCPS art exhibit opening. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Kaya Henderson, chancellor of DCPS, deservedly proud of her school system’s students and teachers, stressed the significance of arts education, “A world-class education includes the arts. … [T]o compete against children all over the world, then our young people have to have a well-rounded education, and that includes the arts.”

The director of the arts at DCPS, Nathan Diamond, emphasized the value not only of arts education but also of the collaborative nature of the exhibit, “This is a particularly special show in that it really highlights what happens when the public school system and the arts community come together to work for students.”

One student examines the work of her student artist peers following the performances and ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

One student examines the work of her student artist peers following the performances and ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

In fact, 13 community arts organizations that partnered with DCPS are featured in the exhibit. Dancer and choreographer Mickey Davidson from the Fillmore Arts Center’s collaboration with Stoddert Elementary reiterated Diamond’s perspective, “One of the biggest challenges was the continuity … but by [working with the students] once a week [and] being consistent … what we did, we did it solid.”

The students shared her sentiment, using “amazing,” “excellent” and “gold” to describe their performance. And the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ Executive Director Lionell Thomas stated the high goals of such collaborations with DCPS, “To have arts education at the forefront of what we do,” in order to contribute to the cognitive, socialization and creative skills of every student.

Following the performances, a ribbon cutting formally opened the exhibit. Some students from King Elementary discussed their portraits of famous people. These works, they explained, encapsulate the intersection between art and inspiration as a means of self-expression — one of the greatest forms of learning.

Perhaps the highest accolade of the day came from Andy Finch of the Association of Art Museum Directors, “Wow – I am proud to be a citizen of the District!”

Students excitedly take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which represents the official opening of the DCPS Intersections student art exhibit. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students excitedly take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which represents the official opening of the DCPS Intersections student art exhibit. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Jessica Dillow is an intern in the Editorial Policy, Print and Art Services Office at the U.S. Department of Education and a senior at the Ohio State University.

All photos in this blog are by Joshua Hoover. More photos from the event may be viewed on the Department of Education’s Flickr.

Blog articles on Homeroom provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann.

Look and Listen: 10 Reasons Why We Can’t Afford to Cut Education Funding

Cross-posted from The White House Blog.

As you might have seen, House Republicans released their Fiscal Year 2016 budget this week — and to put it very simply, its priorities are pretty different from those in the President’s budget. The House GOP would cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, all while slashing investments in the middle class that we know would grow the economy — particularly in job training, manufacturing, and education.

Their budget would cut funding for pre-k through 12 education (also known as “Title I Funding”) by $3.1 billion. That money could fund 4,500 schools, 17,000 teachers and aides, and 1.9 million students.

Earlier this week, the President met with superintendents and other school officials from all across the country. Each of them brought at least one object — from photos to books to charts — that represented what this vital funding means to their school districts.

Every American should know exactly what disinvestment in Pre-K through 12 education would mean for school districts around the country. Listen to each of these school leaders describe the vital programs in their districts that Title I helps fund.


1. “Acceleration Academies” that provide a month’s worth of learning in one week’s time.

Michael O’Neill, Chairperson of the Boston School Committee (Boston, MA)

2. A “Parent Academy” that has helped more than 3,000 parents prepare their kids to apply for college.

Barbara Jenkins, Superintendent, Orange County Public Schools (Orange County, FL)

3. “Parent University” college bus tours that make college a reality for more underserved kids.

Eric Gordon, Superintendent, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (Cleveland, OH)

4. A “Focus on Freshman” mentorship program that has increased graduation rates by more than 10 percent.

Valeria Silva, Superintendent, ISD 625 – St. Paul Public Schools (St. Paul, MN)

5. Extended school days that result in double-digit gains in math and reading scores.

Kaya Henderson, D.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction (Washington, D.C.)

6. Professional mentorship programs that connect students with professionals in cutting-edge fields.

Juan Cabrera, Superintendent, El Paso Independent School District (El Paso, TX)

7. Smaller classes that provide more direct attention to students in need of support.

Richard Carranza, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District (San Francisco, CA)

8. College and career-preparation programs that make sure students are ready to succeed.

Darienne Driver, Superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools (Milwaukee, WI)

9. Development classes that have reduced truancy issues among young black students.

Jumoke Hinton, Board Member, Oakland Unified School District (Oakland, CA)

10. An after-school robotics team that competes regionally.

Airick West, Board Member, Kansas City Public Schools (Kansas City, MO)

At a time when it’s more important than ever to make sure young people have the skills they need to compete in a modern economy, the House Republican budget would bring per-pupil education funding to its lowest levels since 2000.

If you don’t want to see that happen, then make sure as many people as possible know what’s at stake.


Roberto J. Rodríguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education.

15 Principals, One United Voice

Melissa Fink poses with Secretary Duncan during her visit to ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Melissa Fink poses with Secretary Duncan during her visit to ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

A version of this post originally appeared on the Jones Elementary School blog.

What happens when you pull together 15 principals from Arkansas, Indiana, New York, Montana, California, Louisiana, Illinois, New Jersey, Tennessee, Kansas and Idaho together for a meeting? One united voice begins to emerge working to improve the quality of education for children in America.

I was recently invited to Washington, D.C., to participate in a round table discussion at the U.S. Department of Education. We were privileged to meet with Secretary Arne Duncan, Assistant Secretary of Education Deb Delisle and other senior staff members.

Prior to attending the meeting, I was very reluctant to voice my opinion in public. I had a preconceived notion no one cared what a principal from Arkansas thought. I never imagined myself talking to leaders of a federal agency.

When I received the invitation to visit ED, I felt many emotions. I felt humbled and honored to be selected to be part of a prestigious group. I felt scared because I was traveling far away to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I felt intimidated because I had never been placed in the political spotlight. I felt inadequate to speak to such important people.

My fears and insecurities began to melt away the first evening in D.C. We had an informal dinner to meet our colleagues. I started to feel more comfortable as we talked about our schools, our communities and our personal lives. It became apparent that although we came from different backgrounds, served in different communities, led diverse staffs, taught children from all ethnic backgrounds and social statuses, we had many similar ideas regarding best educational practices.

The next morning, we arrived at ED ready to meet with leadership.

As we met with different officials, it was apparent that they all wanted to learn from us. The day was spent with reciprocal learning happening around us — us learning from them — them learning from us.

The time we spent with Secretary Duncan felt very natural and relaxed, as well. He entered into the room with his sleeves rolled up and was eager to learn from us. It was a great meeting!

If I had to sum up my experience with one word, I would say it was empowering. My experience in Washington, D.C. has opened my world. I am now serving on several state level committees to improve education for Arkansas students. I have also begun to contact my state legislators and representatives to encourage policy makers to make decisions in the best interest of students. I’ve also been given the opportunity to address the Arkansas State Board of Education to discuss best teaching and leadership practices.

Before my trip, I was nervous about taking action. Now, after stepping out of my comfort zone, I feel empowered to be the voice for children everywhere. I take comfort in knowing the other 14 administrators I became friends with are also fighting this courageous battle with me although we are miles apart. It was a great experience and one I would highly recommend to anyone.

Melissa Fink is Principal of Jones Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas.

Learn more about Jones Elementary and how the teachers work with Fink to encourage their students to succeed.

How We’ve Improved the Customer Experience for ED’s Grant Opportunities

Providing information on the Department’s grant opportunities is one of the core functions of our website, ED.gov. The ED team works year-round to share relevant, timely details about grant opportunities. We recently made some improvements to how we publish grant information on some of our most popular webpages, using technology solutions to speed up the process.

Now we can post the most recent numbers every day. 

We used Sharepoint and developed an automated process to gather and transform data from Grants.gov in an accurate daily update on ED.gov. This change significantly reduces the amount of time that our program office and Forecast staff must spend to update information and prominently displays the eligibility criteria and application link for each grant opportunity. This means more frequent and timely forecasts as well as a better overall experience!

What’s next? Our Web Team is working to improve the internal and external customer experiences for ED.gov program information. We are re-engineering, streamlining, and automating publishing grant information and related documents. Here’s what’s in store:

  • Improve management of program information and update the look/ feel of program pages.  
  • Provide an API (application programming interface) for developers and others to easily access our program data.Offer a program-finder tool that matches customers with opportunities in their area of interest and eligibility.
  • Align with the Digital Government Strategy initiative and Open Data Policy.
  • And much more!

Stay tuned!

Kate Devine and Alan Smigielski are both members of the Web Team in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies at Austin Community College

 ted_drbiden

Earlier this week Dr. Jill Biden and I had the privilege of visiting Austin Community College (ACC), in addition to meeting with innovators at the SXSWedu education conference. Once again I was inspired by the tremendous collective effort to increase student success—from the students themselves to college leaders to technology entrepreneurs.

During our visit, Austin Community College student Jenny Bragdon allowed us to observe her work at the Learning ACCelerator lab. The school believes the lab to be the nation’s largest computer lab, and it combines computers—more than 600 — with faculty and tutors who help students when they need assistance.

When Jenny arrived at ACC, she was told she was prepared for college-level English courses, but needed to take some courses to get her ready for college-level math, since it had been over 20 years since her last math course.   She enrolled in one of the classes that meet in the Learning ACCelerator, a developmental math class that allows students to reach college-level math in a self-paced environment.

In addition to the faculty and tutor assistance in the lab, Jenny’s professor, Prof. Vance, schedules optional small lessons in one of the adjoining conference rooms on subject areas where many students indicated they needed assistance. In one example, Prof. Vance offered a lesson on fractions, which was a topic Jenny had already moved beyond. But by attending the lesson, Jenny learned some helpful tips that reinforced her understanding. ACC has worked to build a model that integrates the best of technology-based and face-to-face teaching and learning on a large scale.

Jenny said that the impact of the developmental math class has been tremendous. She is on pace to finish three semesters worth of content in just one semester. And while she has always had the goal to teach, she is now considering teaching math, based on her rich experience in the math lab. Jenny, who has a young daughter, wants to encourage all young people—especially girls—to love math as much as she has come to.

The Austin Community College ACCelerator lab is just one example of innovative thinking by community college leaders, a strategic use of technology tools, and the hard work and dedication of students. My visits to the two community colleges and with technology entrepreneurs at SXSWedu underscored the importance of bringing all of these resources together to ensure student success.

At the Department of Education, we’re working to identify, support, and build the evidence base for these kinds of innovations. Our First in the World grant program will award $60 million in the upcoming competition for innovations to increase student success, and is currently inviting comments on its proposed priorities (due March 25). And our current round of Experimental Sites in Federal Student Aid includes a focus on competency-based education, to better support students in self-paced programs.

Our great thanks to the students, faculty, and leadership of ACC and those across the country working to increase student access and success.

Ted Mitchell is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

4 Reasons Why Community College Was Perfect For Me

As a senior in high school, I felt as if I was the only one not excited about graduation because I had been denied acceptance to the universities for which I had applied. I had given up on having a glamorous college experience and had no idea what the future had in store for me and enrolled at a community college.

During my two years in community college, I reflected on career choices and my future as a whole, all the while using that time to boost my GPA. Once I figured out what I wanted to do, I applied to four-year universities and was accepted to the perfect school for me.

As you are preparing to apply for college, keep community college in mind. It’s a great place to begin your higher education.

Here are four reasons why:

  1. Community college is affordable

The cost of attendance for two years at my community college cost less than one semester at a state college. This is huge advantage that most students don’t realize until they graduate and have to start repaying loans.

  1. Flexibility

Community colleges offer class times designed to accommodate a variety of schedules, making a part-time job manageable for full-time students. There is now a limit on the maximum period of time that you can receive Direct Subsidized Loans and the Pell Grant, so make sure to keep track of how you’re progressing in your degree program. You don’t want to lose eligibility for these types of financial aid!

  1. Better Transfer Opportunities

Community college is a perfect solution for those who don’t have the best grades coming out of high school. While obtaining my associate degree, I was able to boost my GPA and resume by working. After graduation I transferred to a university that I would have otherwise not been accepted to in high school. Community college can be seen as a second chance as long as you are willing to make the commitment and college admissions offices understand that some students need more time and experience to discover what they want out of life.

TIP: Many community colleges have “Guaranteed Admissions Programs” whereby students who successfully complete their associate degree at a community college are offered automatic admission to participating four-year colleges and universities.

  1. Attain multiple degrees

Unlike universities, community colleges provide the opportunity for an associate degree that feeds directly into a bachelor’s degree. The time a typical university student will have spent on one degree, a community college transfer will have received two degrees!

Talla Hashemi is a junior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Journalism and Public Relations. She is a virtual intern for the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Open Education Week 2015

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.

As we celebrate Open Education Week 2015, we look forward to implementing the new U.S. Open Government Partnership National Action Plan to promote Open Educational Resources and building momentum for Federal open education initiatives. The availability of high-quality, low-cost digital content in our schools is a priority for the President and a pillar of his ConnectED Initiative. Fostering the use of Open Educational Resources in our nation’s K-12 and post-secondary classrooms can help meet this goal.

Open Educational Resources are learning tools that reside in the public domain or that have been released with intellectual property licenses allowing their free use, continuous improvement, and modification by others. Open Educational Resources can deliver two great benefits for students: lower cost in obtaining the educational resources needed to succeed in school, so that students and schools can redirect funds for other instructional needs; and access to a universe of high-quality, updated content that can be tailored minute-by-minute by educators to reflect new developments and current events.

The Department of Labor has been at the forefront of advancing Open Educational Resources.  The Department recently developed new granting policies for its Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Training Grant Program (TAACCCT), which aims to expand post-secondary education and training capacity.  For the first time, the Department has incorporated requirements for grantees to openly license all educational content created with grant funds, promoting institutional collaboration and sharing of Open Educational Resources. Since the program’s inception, grantees at over 700 colleges have launched over 1,500 new programs of study, including degree and certificate programs that prepare students for careers in emerging and expanding industries. By requiring all content, curricula, and learning objects created using TAACCCT funds be licensed using a Creative Commons Attribution license, the Department of Labor is investing in the world’s largest collection of Open Educational Resources.

The Department of Education’s Learning Registry project is another example of Federal efforts to increase the discoverability of open educational content, particularly for use in K-12 contexts, by aggregating and sharing data about online educational content through an open source platform. Several states, including Illinois and California, have built portals that allow educators to search, save, and share Learning Registry resources from institutions including the Smithsonian, National Archives, and NASA.

In the coming year, we will continue to build on these successes at the Federal level as we look to promote the use of Open Educational Resources. Current plans include launching an Online Skills Academy to leverage free and openly-licensed learning resources and using technology to create high-quality, low-cost pathways to degrees, certificates, and other employer-recognized credentials. In addition, the Department of State will conduct three overseas pilots to examine new models for using Open Educational Resources to support learning in formal and informal contexts. The results of the pilots will be shared later this year at a workshop – co-hosted by the Department of State, the Department of Education, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy – on challenges and opportunities in open education.

We look forward to working together to advance these initiatives.

Sara Trettin is Digital Engagement Lead in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Dipayan Ghosh is a Policy Advisor in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Beyond High School Diplomas: Educators Aim Towards College Completion

Nationally, just 18 percent of all 9th graders complete four year degrees within 10 years. There needs to be a real sense of urgency as we move forward in creating and sustaining greater college access and completion for all students, which is why it is so important that we address this issue at the federal, state and local levels.

As we prepare students to succeed as adults, we know that most will need advanced learning beyond their high school diplomas to get good jobs. For some, that may mean completing professional certificate programs. Others will go on to earn advanced degrees. Schools and community partners need to track and support students’ completion of advanced learning beyond high school as the new aspiring standard for public education.

This was the most important message that we took away from the “On Track to College Completion” forum hosted by the U.S .Department of Education’s regional office in Chicago on Feb. 25.  

As educators from Rockford Public Schools 205, we had the chance to connect with leaders of other school districts and partner organizations from 17 communities spanning Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Led by Greg Darnieder, senior advisor for college access to Secretary Duncan, we discussed current innovations and practices for college access and completion.

This forum began with an authentic example of how Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has progressed toward that new standard. The district’s efforts over the past nine years have led to a near-doubling of its percentage of 9th graders earning a four-year college degree within 10 years of starting high school, according to research from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR). Darnieder, Jenny Nagaoka, deputy director of CCSR, and Aarti Dhupelia, chief officer for college and career success for CPS, discussed how the district’s progress came about, and what it means for other schools and students throughout the country.

Since 2011, RPS 205 has worked with community partners to redesign our five high schools into college and career academies that are better preparing students for college and the workforce. This effort is beginning to reap great results: More 9th graders are on track to graduate in 4 years, attendance has improved and graduation rates have increased.

The session helped us make some much needed connections. For example, RPS 205 is working with Alignment Rockford, a community partner, to develop a site-based scholarship program modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, which funds college for Kalamazoo Public Schools graduates. This forum gave us the opportunity to meet Janice Brown, founder of the Kalamazoo Promise and get her direct insights about starting a similar initiative.

The session was also a catalyst for sharing information about effective college access and completion resources. They included data sources like the National Student Clearinghouse and the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which may be used to collect and monitor college completion rates, as well as the federal GEAR UP program, which helps low-income middle and high school students to enter and success in post-secondary education.

This is very rewarding work, but it’s not easy. We’re all experiencing some of the same challenges to prepare our students for success in the 21st century economy. Exchanges like this one are vital to leverage best practices and to collaborate to develop new strategies.

David Carson is Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for Rockford Public Schools 205 and Janice Hawkins is Principal of Guilford High School in Rockford Public Schools 205.