A Promising Pilot to Help Student Borrowers

Cross-posted from the White House OSTP Blog.

Investing in postsecondary education is among the smartest choices Americans can make. College completion opens doors and expands economic opportunity, leading to lower rates of unemployment and higher earnings over the course of a career. But tuition rates have risen significantly in recent decades, and obtaining a college degree increasingly depends on students’ ability to take out loans and manage repayment after leaving school. While most borrowers are able to repay their student loans, many struggle, and some fall behind.

That’s why last month the President and his Administration announced a series of executive actions to help reduce the burden faced by student loan borrowers and make postsecondary education more affordable and accessible to American families. A centerpiece of this action plan is to improve the effectiveness of communications to borrowers about flexible repayment options the U.S. Department of Education offers to help ensure they stay on track with their payments. This includes income-driven repayment plans – Income-Based Repayment, Pay As You Earn, and Income-Contingent Repayment – that link monthly payments to borrower incomes.

We know borrowers are busy and that decisions about student loan plans can be complex and challenging. That’s why the Office of Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education has teamed up with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, a group of experts who focus on effective, innovative strategies for helping government programs and communications better serve citizens.

In November 2013, Federal Student Aid, in collaboration with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, launched an e-mail campaign to increase awareness of Income-Driven Repayment and help borrowers make more informed decisions about loan repayment options given their circumstances. The campaign sent emails to borrowers who had fallen behind on their payments, had higher-than-average debts, had grace periods coming to an end, had deferred or entered forbearance because of financial hardship or unemployment, or some combination of the above. In total, the campaign sent emails to over three million borrowers last year and 221,000 submitted applications.

The team embedded a rigorous, randomized-control pilot into the broader campaign, which measured the impact of e-mails designed based on insights from the behavioral sciences on action among borrowers in delinquency for 90-180 days. These e-mails indicated income-driven repayment eligibility criteria, the benefits associated with taking action and the costs associated with inaction, and the relevant web-links and servicer contact information. Behavioral science research demonstrates that timely, clear and low-cost informational messages of this kind can help citizens better understand their options, make more informed decisions, and follow through on their intentions.

Results of the pilot are promising. Sending e-mails to borrowers in delinquency for 90-180 days resulted in a statistically significant, four-fold increase in completed income-driven repayment applications. This effect translates into roughly 6,000 additional completed applications in just the first month after sending among the 841,442 borrowers in the pilot.

We are working together to use insights from this trial to inform future communications and develop even more effective ways of reaching borrowers to help them stay on track.

Maya Shankar is Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Ajita Talwalker Menon is the Senior Policy Advisor for Higher Education at the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Financial Aid Not Enough? Ideas on How to Fill the Gap

The reality of college costs is that many families find themselves struggling to pay the entire college bill, despite having already filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and receiving federal, state, and institutional financial aid resources. If you find yourself in this position, here are some ideas to consider to help fill the gap between what your financial aid covers and what you owe the institution.

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Scholarships

For those heading to college this fall, most scholarship decisions for the academic year have already been made. However, we recommend you begin a routine of searching and applying for scholarships regularly. You should first consider scholarships local to where you graduated from high school or live; try community, religious, and fraternal organizations. You may also consider businesses in your community or those that employ your parent(s).

Then, look for scholarship resources available statewide, especially from organizations with which you may have been involved or companies in your state that are in the field for which you plan to study.

National scholarships can be very competitive, but don’t let that keep you from applying. Ask your financial aid office or academic unit about institutional or departmental scholarships (decisions may have been made for this year, but ask how to make sure you don’t miss deadlines for next year!). With scholarship opportunities, it’s always important to be careful of fraud. If you are concerned about the legitimacy of a scholarship, your school’s financial aid office might be able to help you make the determination.

Part-Time Work

You may have been awarded Federal Work-Study, which at most schools still requires you to find the work-study position yourself. This can help you cover some costs throughout the semester since these funds are paid as you earn them through working. If you were not awarded work-study funds, most schools have other part-time on-campus positions that can help you with some college costs. Working part-time on campus can be beneficial to your educational experience. Be cautious of working too many hours if you can avoid it. Ask your financial aid office or career services office how to apply for on-campus positions.

Federal Direct PLUS Loans

If you are a dependent student and still need assistance, your parent can apply for a Direct PLUS Loan. Your school may not have offered this opportunity, but if your financial aid does not exceed your cost of attendance and your school participates in the Direct Loan program, your parent would be able to apply. Some schools use the application on studentloans.gov and others have their own application. The PLUS loan application process does include a credit check. If your parent is not approved, he or she may still receive a Direct PLUS Loan by obtaining an endorser (cosigner). If a parent borrower is unable to secure a PLUS loan, the student may be eligible for additional unsubsidized student loans of up to $4,000 (and sometimes more).

Payment Plans

Your school’s billing office, sometimes referred to as the bursar’s office or cashier’s office, may have payment plans available to help you spread the remaining costs you owe the school over several payments throughout a semester. The payment plan can help you budget the payments rather than paying in one lump sum, possibly helping you avoid costly late fees.

Special Circumstances Reevaluation

Sometimes a family’s finances are not accurately reflected on the FAFSA because of changes that have occurred recently, such as job loss, divorce or separation, or other special circumstance. Schools are not required to consider special circumstances, but those that do have a process by which you can petition for a reevaluation of the information on the FAFSA. This process may require you to submit documentation, and the financial aid office will recalculate your eligibility, possibly resulting in a change of financial aid awards.

Emergency Advances or Institutional Loans

Sometimes you may have college-related costs, such as housing costs or other living expenses, before your financial aid is disbursed to you. Your school may offer an option to advance your financial aid early or offer a school-based loan program. Ask your financial aid office if this is an option and always make sure you are aware of the terms and conditions (such as interest rates or repayment terms) of your agreement.

Private or Alternative Loans

Some private institutions offer education loans that do not require the FAFSA. While we recommend federal aid first, we realize it does not always cover the cost, especially for pricier schools. These types of loans will almost always require a cosigner and usually have higher fees or interest rates depending on your credit. We encourage you to first ask your financial aid office if they have a list of lenders for you to consider, but not all schools maintain such a list. If not, you can search for lenders on your own, but compare products before making your choice: look at interest rates, fees, repayment terms, creditworthiness requirements, satisfactory academic progress requirements, etc.

Before making any final decisions on how to fill the gap between your aid and your costs, it is always recommended that you meet with a representative in your financial aid office to determine what campus resources might be available before going out on your own. It might also be possible that you still have the time to change some of your choices before the semester begins: Can you change the type of meal plan you chose? The type of housing? Check with campus officials to see if you still have time to select a different, more affordable option.

Justin Chase Brown is an Associate Director of Student Financial Aid at the University of Missouri.

 

We Want to Hear from You: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Last month President Obama signed a law that seeks to maximize opportunities for all youth and adults to succeed in postsecondary education and in high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand jobs.

It’s called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and you now have the opportunity to provide feedback to the Department of Education as we work to implement this important law that holds great promise for Americans.

WIOA will help support programs that are critical to ensuring that all Americans are able to contribute to and benefit from our 21st-century economy, from English literacy to secondary transition to competitive employment.

To read more about WIOA and comment on how to make the new law work for everyone, go to the joint blog from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Please share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions by Friday, Aug. 29.

Students Who Have Beaten the Odds Share Their Stories with the Secretary

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Secretary Duncan and members of the most recent Student Voices session. From left to right: Darius Wesley, Jordan Roberts, Juan Montano, Rachel Scott, Michella Raymond, Deja Chapman, Tenzin Choenyi, Julia Jent, Kristen Fraenig, Anthony Mendez, and Dr. Freeman Hrabowski (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The move from middle school to high school is exciting for some students, but can be incredibly difficult for others. Some students require intensive support to stay on the path to graduation, and that support can take many different forms.

That was the sentiment expressed by Secretary Arne Duncan during a recent session of Student Voices, where young people from across the country gather and chat with senior ED staff about what it’s like to be a student in America today.

Darius was one of the 10 students who attended and, for him, this transition was almost insurmountable. His mother suffered a severe stroke and went into a deep coma during his freshman year of high school, forcing him and his siblings to move to the far south side of Chicago. On top of coping with the emotional and physical strain of his mother’s condition, because he was forced to move, he had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to school every day, and he often stayed late for basketball practice, which took a toll on his academics. He explained, “tiredness grew over me and teachers berated me for not paying attention in class. I didn’t want to let my mother down, and as I felt alone in this situation, basketball was my stress reliever.” His coach noticed that Darius needed more support, so he offered to give him rides to school and eventually invited him to live with him. After a few months with his coach he moved in with a friend and this experience altered the course of his life.

Darius will be attending Southern Vermont College in the fall, where he has received a Mountaineer Scholarship.  Darius has become empowered to take control of his future knowing that he can overcome any obstacles he may encounter in college. Darius still continues to struggle to keep his family together but feels his success is what’s needed to keep them all together.

Rachel, a student from Washington State, told Secretary Duncan that as one of five children growing up on a farm, she also faced seemingly insurmountable challenges.

After losing her mother, she moved into the foster care system. Rachel told Duncan that “constant moving created gaps in my learning. I can do advanced math, but because of the lapses in primary education, some of the basic middle school stuff troubles me.” Luckily, she explained, she was able to eventually stay with her aunt, who became her main source of support. Once she settled into life with her aunt, things changed. During her high school career, she took advanced placement math and sciences and worked twenty hours a week at her family’s restaurant. This fall, she will attend the University of Washington to study Marine Biology and Ocean Sciences.

After hearing from several other students, Secretary Duncan then asked all of the attendees to think about who or what helped them to beat the odds and graduate high school. The students agreed that strong mentors and role models, high expectations, and relevant college information made the strongest impacts.

Do you have a unique story to tell? We would like to hear made a difference in your life and education or for the youth in your community. Please send your story to youth@ed.gov.

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department, in which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies

Samuel Ryan is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

ED Intern Inspired by Stories of Teachers’ Motivations

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Third-grade teacher Kristen Goncalves helps a student at Henderson Inclusion Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Goncalves is just one of the teachers that inspired intern Shannon Ruge during her time in ED’s Chicago office this summer. (Photo courtesy Henderson Inclusion Elementary School)

As an education major, I expected my internship with the U.S. Department of Education to help me to better understand federal policies. I didn’t necessarily expect it to inspire me, but my time at ED’s Regional Office in Chicago has done just that. I’ve been able to connect what I’ve learned in college to the real-life motivations of educators throughout the U.S., which were highlighted here on Homeroom earlier this year.

For example, I’ve learned through my studies at Vanderbilt University about the impact that talented, committed teachers who genuinely believe in their students’ potential can have on the large achievement gaps in the U.S. between disadvantaged children and their more fortunate peers. The story of Marcus Jackson, principal of Kendrick Middle School in Jonesboro, Georgia, brought that lesson to life for me. Nearly 20 years ago he left his position at an afterschool recreation center to pursue a teaching degree.

Jackson’s decision to change careers crystallized when one of the brightest children at the recreation center failed all of his classes. Confused, Jackson met with the child’s teacher. He recalls the teacher saying, “If you think these students are the future, we need a backup plan! These boys are going to be drug dealers, and these girls will become pregnant.”

Jackson couldn’t disagree more. He decided to become a teacher to ensure that “all kids can succeed in school and in life.” Almost 20 years later, Jackson’s passion has helped his school progress into the top 10 percent of all Title I schools in Georgia.

Similarly, Joan Maurer, a middle school teacher from Roots International Academy in Oakland, California, shared that she “became a teacher to be there for the students who don’t come from wealthy neighborhoods. I want to close that equity gap.”

Many students enter college undecided about their majors, and Waunakee Middle School teacher Rachel Rydzewski was one of them. The Waunakee, Wisconsin teacher had a college opportunity to mentor immigrant students.  Through the experience, she realized  that all students don’t have access to the same opportunities she’d enjoyed, growing up in suburban Milwaukee.

“I came to the realization that education was the answer [to the challenges caused by disparity],” said Rydzewski, Wisconsin’s 2010 Teacher of the Year.

The fight against inequity inspires many to students to become teachers. It’s also a daily motivator for many veteran educators like third-grade teacher Kristen Goncalves of Henderson Inclusion Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  At Henderson, students who have disabilities learn side-by-side with their nondisabled peers

Children learn to be compassionate; they don’t see any differences between themselves,” said Goncalves about her school’s inclusive format, which has generated state designation as a “high performer” in language arts, and a long waiting list. 

Contrary to the myths, none of these educators entered the field — or stay in it — to get a summer vacation, or for the money. As a future teacher, I am driven to join the profession in its fight against inequality, one student at a time.

Shannon Ruge is a student at Vanderbilt University and an intern in ED’s regional Office of Communications and Outreach in Chicago. ED regional OCO staffers Joe Barison, Malissa Coleman, Julie Ewart and Olga Pirela also contributed to the story.  

My Brother’s Keeper Initiative Resonates Personally for ED Intern

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ED summer intern Durrell Jamerson-Barnes. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

When I walked to the Financial Square Building at 32 Old Slip St. in New York City earlier this summer, I cried. I couldn’t even fathom the idea that I would be interning for the U.S. Department of Education. As a 22-year-old kid from the urban streets of Indianapolis, I recently read an article that stated that my hometown has had more than 50 homicides alone this summer. As I stared at the building, I could only think of what my brother Brandon once said: “Durrell, you’re going to do big things in your life, you’re gonna be on TV or something and when you do, remember me, remember us.”

Reflecting on my life so far, I recall one moment that became the landmark that set forth my career path. In an Advanced Placement class one day during high school, I was confronted by a group of Caucasian students who didn’t understand how young Black males are misrepresented. I told them in an outburst that they didn’t know what it took to wake up to a neighborhood with no hope of ever having a positive role model to set the foundation for the future. That was more than five years ago, and if there is one thing that I’ve taken from that encounter, it is the knowledge that we African-American males need successful role models.

I came on board as a summer intern fully aware of President Obama’s initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, and how it echoes the words of the great W.E.B. DuBois, “Our community is going to be saved by exceptional men.” Having a black man as our President is historic, and President Obama’s announcement of My Brother’s Keeper is just as significant because he is showing us through his policies and his actions what we need to do to ensure that all children in America can reach their full potential.

My Brother’s Keeper is critical for turning around a community because it shows young males of African and Latino descent that they too have a place in this world of success. Today marks the third anniversary of Brandon’s death, and the first anniversary of my brother Bryce Barnes’s death. These are some of the few people that I’ve lost to the streets. This opportunity to be a role model while interning at the U.S. Department of Education has not only shaped me and the way I think, but has also helped to shape my actions as well moving forward. I am now more than ever determined to be My Brother’s Keeper. What we have asked for was an opportunity and a voice to display our pain and share our stories. My Brother’s Keeper is the initiative that will give young minority males that opportunity and help ensure that all young people, including young minority males, can reach their full potential.

Durrell Jamerson-Barnes is a summer intern in the New York Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. He attends Eastern Michigan University.

 

16 University Museums Showcase the Work of Their Youngest Students

Reposted from the OII Blog.

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Student artists from 16 academic museums officially open the exhibit of their works with a ribbon cutting at ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

On July 23, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) hosted the grand opening of the student art exhibit Museums: pARTners in Learning at its headquarters in Washington, presenting visual artwork and creative writing by students ages 5–17 in the arts education programs at 16 academic museums.

Deputy Under Secretary Jamie Studley welcomed guests to the Department and thanked the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) for its partnership with ED. Studley not only emphasized the critical partnership for learning between art and other classroom subjects, such as chemistry and history, she also noted the importance of art “as a source of inspiration and a way to practice discipline.”

Rebecca Martin Nagy, director of the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, asserted that art museums worldwide are committed to education. “It’s what we do!” she said, citing the 242 AAMD members that work with each other, 40,000 schools, and community organizations.

Anthony Madorsky, a 10-year-old student artist from Meadowbrook Elementary School in Gainesville, Fla., made family members proud when he delivered remarks on his painting “La Florida.”  He drew inspiration from Frank Hamilton Taylor’s “A Trip on the Ocklawaha,” a painting at the Harn. Anthony explained that he tried to depict “the untouched majestic beauty [of Florida] before the Spanish colonization,” a different way than people usually see Florida. “When Ponce de León discovered Florida, he called it “La Florida,” meaning ‘land full of flowers.’ I believe each of our brains is a ‘La Florida’ as it is a place full of ideas like flower buds and, as people help us improve these ideas, they can bloom into flowers,” Anthony concluded—an eloquent depiction of “becoming educated.”

Anna Mebel, the poet-in-residence at the Harn, also touched on the different portrayals of her home state, Florida—a foreigner’s and a local’s. She recited her original poem, “Florida,” which was inspired by Karen Glaser’s “Within the Swamp, Roberts Lake Strand,” a photograph at the Harn.

Amanda Stambrosky, the choreographer and dancer-in-residence at the Harn, performed an original piece, “Down to the Lake,” to James Vincent McMorrow’s song “The Lakes” in response to four Florida landscape paintings at the Harn. Amanda incorporated her hair in her performance. Midway, she let it loose from the bun she wore as both an expression of “letting loose” and a representation of the movement of the palm trees and wind. For her, concluding the piece by pulling her hair back in a bun portrayed “resuming life, yet kind of changed.”

The program closed with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, an 11-year tradition of ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program to officially open students’ exhibits

“The art is beautiful” and “wow!” were some of the guests’ remarks as they viewed the 67 pieces of work, evidence of creativity and learning in all fields from k–12 students.

The exhibit will be on display through August 31 in the ED headquarters lobby at 400 Maryland Ave. SW. To visit the exhibit, contact Jackye Zimmermann (Jacquelyn.Zimmermann@ed.gov; 202-401-0762).

Click here to see additional photos from the exhibit opening.

Greta Olivares is a rising senior at Middlebury College and a summer intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at ED.

Beware of Student Loan Debt Relief Offers and Credit Repair “Deals”

If you’re among the millions of current or former students with debt, you’ve probably been tempted to click on an ad that says, “Obama Wants to Forgive Your Student Loans!” or “Erase Default Statuses in 4 – 6 Weeks!” or some equally enticing student loan debt relief offer … available only if you click or call NOW!

Many the companies behind these offers have sophisticated marketing tactics to target unsuspecting students, borrowers, parents, military service members, and their families. As the Student Loan Ombudsman for the Office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education, I hear about these pitches a lot. My strong advice: Before you pay somebody to help you with your student loans, do your homework.

It’s tempting to just say: Don’t do it. Walk away. Call your loan servicer instead. But there’s more you should know.

In my office we help student loan customers with problems they may face in managing and repaying their student loans. One of the topics that has been trending recently is about companies that promise student loan cancellation, forgiveness, credit repair, or dramatically lowered payments.

Based on the experience of the Ombudsman Group and the Student Loan Ombudsman Caucus, here are some specific things you should know before signing up with any student loan debt relief company.

Student loan debt relief companies charge fees for services that you can get for free.

You can apply for loan consolidation through www.studentloans.gov. The application is free, and there are no extra fees. Before applying, do your research on www.studentaid.gov. On that site, you’ll find information on loan consolidation, requirements for loan forgiveness, repayment estimators to help you pick the right repayment plan to fit your income, loan servicer contacts, and other important information to help you manage your loan repayment. All for free! Recent research by a member of the Student Loan Ombudsman Caucus found some of these debt relief companies charging upfront consolidation fees as high as $999 or 1 percent of the loan balance (whichever is higher); “enrollment” or “subscription” fees up to $600; or monthly account “maintenance” fees as high as $50 per month. You already pay for these services through the monthly interest on your loans; why double-pay?

Keep your PIN to yourself

Student loan debt relief or credit repair companies may offer to manage your loan account, and to do so, they ask you to provide them with your federal student aid Personal Identification Number (PIN), or sign a Power of Attorney. Think about it: your PIN is the equivalent of your signature on any documents related to your student loan. If you give your PIN away, you give others the power to perform actions on your student loan on your behalf. Plus, regardless of who authorizes changes to your account, it’s your name on the promissory note. If that company fails to provide the appropriate updates to your loan servicer, you have to deal with the consequences.

Is Your Loan in Default?

If it is, you know that being in default on a student loan is bad news. Know this as well: you are a prime target for the marketing tactics of debt relief and credit repair companies. By being in default, you’ve already incurred added interest and you’re subject to collection costs. Don’t add on the additional fees charged by one of these companies to get your loan out of default.  Even if your loan is in default, loan consolidation is free. Getting on a loan rehabilitation plan is free. Find out how to get out of default.

Think you’ve been scammed?

If you’ve already signed a contract, seek advice to learn your options. Many state governments have an Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection either within or affiliated with, the Office of the State’s Attorney General. At the federal level, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have the authority to act against companies that engage in deceptive or unfair practices. Click on the links to file your complaint with either of those agencies.

Contact your Loan Servicer

If you want to talk to someone, call your loan servicer or use your online account access to get more information.  They are your first source to get help with managing your loan repayment. The Department’s loan servicers are as concerned as I am at ensuring that you do not spend your hard-earned money to pay for something you can get for free. If you don’t know your servicer’s contact information, grab your PIN and log in to StudentAid.gov.

Joyce DeMoss is the Student Loan Ombudsman at Federal Student Aid. If you’ve tried to resolve your student loan issues without success, contact the Ombudsman. The Student Loan Ombudsman Caucus includes members at Direct Loan and FFELP program participating lenders, servicers, and guaranty agencies.

8 Keys to Veterans’ Success Receives More than 400 College and University Commitments

Cross-posted from the White House Joining Forces Blog.

Last August, at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention, President Obama outlined key Administration priorities that ensure we are fulfilling our promises to those who have served our nation, including supporting our veterans in institutions of higher learning. In his speech, President Obama announced that 250 community colleges and universities committed to implementing the 8 Keys to Success program on their campuses.

Developed by the Administration, the Department of Education (ED), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in conjunction with more than 100 education experts, the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success on campus are eight concrete steps that institutions of higher education can take to help veterans and service members transition into the classroom and thrive once they are there. Over the past year, the number of commitments have nearly doubled as more than 400 colleges and universities have affirmed their commitment to take the necessary steps to assist veterans and servicemembers in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, obtaining career-ready skills, and achieving success.

The strategies within the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success include:

  • Creating a culture of connectedness on campus
  • Coordinating and centralizing campus efforts for all veterans
  • Collaborating with local communities and organizations to align services and supports for veterans
  • Implementing an early alert system
  • Utilizing a uniform set of data tools to collect and track information relating to veteran students (i.e., retention and degree completion)
  • Developing systems to ensure sustainability of effective practices

These common-sense practices should be implemented on every campus across the country.

To view current commitments and check if your school has signed the 8 Keys pledge, click here. If you are an administrator and would like to join the growing list of colleges and universities focused on providing the best environment for your student veterans, please visit the 8 Keys registration site, or email 8keys@ed.gov.

As more servicemembers return to civilian life, the urgency to ensure that they have the support they need to reach their educational and career goals grows each day. We will continue to advocate for the needs of the men and women who serve us so valiantly each and every day.

Robert “Mac” McFarlin is a White House Fellow at the National Economic Council.

A Day in Ohio with Secretary Perez & Secretary Duncan

Cross-posted from the Department of Labor’s Work in Progress blog.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez is traveling with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Toledo, Ohio, today to see first-hand model programs and partnerships that are equipping Americans with the knowledge, skills and industry-relevant education they need to get on the pathway to a successful career.

We want to make sure you see what they see, too. Follow along today to see live updates and highlights from their day.

First stop: The Toledo Technology Academy.

The path to good jobs begins in grade school. Students in grades 7 – 12 receive an intense integrated academic and technical education that prepares them for a rewarding, life-long career in engineering or manufacturing technologies. Along with more “typical” high school classes, they receive hands-on training in plastics technologies, automated systems, manufacturing operations, computer-automated design, electronics and other manufacturing technologies.

The academy works closely with employers – including the local GM plant – to provide students with industry recognized credentials and certification. Students also can earn advanced credit at local 2- and 4-year colleges. In April, the Toledo Public School System was awarded a $3.8 million Youth CareerConnect grant that will expand the Toledo Technology Academy’s model to serve more students.

Joseph Neyhart, a recent graduate of the Toledo Technology Academy, shows off his robotics project. While in high school, Joseph gained hands-on job experience that prepared him for a lifelong career in mechanical engineering.

Alexis Smith, who also just graduated from the Toledo Technical Academy, is planning to attend the University of Toledo to become a biomedical engineer. The hands-on experiences she received in high school spurred her interest in improving medical technologies, including helping people who are claustrophobic in MRI machines. Her advice to other young people? “Think outside the box and don’t be afraid of a challenge.” Through new Youth CareerConnect grants, we’re helping more schools like TTA create programs that prepare young people for #STEM careers.

Second stop: The Toledo Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.

Opportunities in apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is a tried and true workforce development strategy that’s used successfully around the world, but has been underutilized in the United States. Both the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, signed by President Obama last week, and the recently released White House report on job-driven training encourage expanding apprenticeships in traditional and non-traditional industries.

The state-of-the-art Toledo facility is run jointly by IBEW Local 8 and the local chapter of the Electrical Contractors Association. Apprentices complete thousands of hours of on-the-job training. They also “earn & learn”: pay starts just over $11 an hour and progresses to a journeyman scale of $37.12, not including benefits.

Wind energy is a growing industry in Ohio. With a need for more wind energy technicians, the facility decided to install a wind turbine for training purposes and to be a source of energy. This means the region will be provided with a workforce that is equipped to install and maintain wind turbines. Secretary Perez gets a lesson in wind turbine safety:

Nathan Eaton, former apprentice who is now in his fourth year as a Wind Turbine Maintenance Program instructor, told Secretary Perez that turbine operation and maintenance is not an easy job. Dealing with electricity means safety is paramount and electrical workers need to be able trust each other. The hands-on job training apprentices receive help them learn the skills that are needed out in the field.

Third and final stop: Owens Community College and an American Job Center strategically located at the college

Community colleges are key partners. Owens is the newest addition to the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium, a bold new model that will allow graduates of Registered Apprenticeship programs (like those from the Toledo Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) to turn their years of rigorous on-the-job and classroom training into college credits toward an associate or bachelor degree. Owens also was part of the Cincinnati State Community College Consortium that received nearly $20 million from the Labor Department to expand health care career opportunities.

The American Job Center on-site helps connect job seekers with positions as they become available, and employers with qualified workers. For people looking to improve their skills or start on a new career path, the center offers a wealth of resources on available training and education options.

What about you?

If you have a great program or success story you’d like us to know about, tell us here. Or, if you are looking for a job, to grow your skills or to hire a skilled workforce, find federal resources available in your community here.

Let’s Read! Let’s Move! Soars to New Heights

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Soaring to new heights at the National Air and Space Museum during a Let’s Read, Let’s Move! event. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The third installment of ED’s summer series Let’s Read! Let’s Move! blasted into space at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on July 23.

Secretary Arne Duncan read The Astronaut’s Handbook, by Meghan McCarthy, with chief curator of the National Air and Space Museum Peter Jakab, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, 2014 Miss America Nina Davuluri, and Carla Hall, chef and co-host of ABC’s “The Chew.”

“A book in your hand is more powerful than any space engine,” Jakab said.

With eyes fixated on the rockets and spaceships hanging from the ceiling,  students from youth centers and schools throughout the Washington, D.C., area filed into the Space Race gallery.

Clad in personally decorated astronaut helmets, they listened closely to the book’s themes of hard work, good study skills, and the keys to being a team player.

In addition to the book reading, there was a Mission to Mars puppet show and a question and answer session where kids quizzed the panel on the rules for pets on spaceships and the travel time from Earth to outer space.

Chef Carla’s food demonstration taught kids about fruits and vegetables that can be eaten in space, after she and the MusicianShip marching band led the students to the Let’s Move! activities featuring a group dance.

“It’s wonderful to broaden kids’ minds and to be at an event where you can find education in new ways,” Hall remarked.

The YMCA’s Physically Healthy and Driven program volunteers led the Let’s Move! activities including “exercise like astronauts,” where kids did commander crunches, pilot push-ups and competed in a shopping cart health food races before picking up a book bag and complimentary children’s book donated by Target.

The next and last Let’s Read! Let’s Move! event is scheduled for July 30. The program supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which promotes healthy lifestyle choices and nutrition, while also encouraging strong early learning programs to ensure bright futures for children.

Molly Block is a rising senior at the University of Michigan. She is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Engineering Education: The U.S. Department of Education Releases Innovative Initiatives

The Department of Education (ED) has announced a new round of experimental sites, or ex-sites, to provide flexibility to design programs that serve students better.  The new ex-sites will promote competency-based education (CBE), as well as prior learning assessments and near-peer counseling among college and high school students.  Ex-sites give institutions the ability to be more creative about ways they can reduce costs and increase success in higher education.

Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, said in a video, “To help more Americans succeed – and position our nation to lead – in the years ahead, we need to give students better, faster, more flexible paths to strong academic and career outcomes.”

The Department has had the ex-sites authority since 1992, and last summer, President Obama challenged us to think about how we could use ex-sites to increase innovation in higher education, including through CBE models that make it possible for students to get financial aid based on how much they learn, rather than the amount of time they spend in class. ED put out a request for information last December, asking institutions to send us their ideas about which statutory and regulatory flexibilities would allow them to increase student success.  A range of institutions and other organizations sent in suggestions, which informed the development of this round of experiments.

There are many examples across the country of competency-based programs already serving students, but the new flexibilities ED is providing should allow programs like these to grow with the support of federal student aid.  For example, Western Governors University has long provided students a competency-based program in a wide array of fields.

Southern New Hampshire University was the first to take advantage of a new option called “direct assessment”, which we are making more flexible in this round of ex-sites.  It will allow students to take some classes in the traditional format, while others under the competency-based direct assessment approach.

Other institutions, such as Brandman University in California, the University of Wisconsin system, Capella University, and Lipscomb University in Tennessee have designed new programs that they aim to tailor to work around an individual’s schedule, making them especially feasible to students balancing work and family responsibilities.

By taking down barriers that stand in the way of innovation, we hope to spur more institutions to try new approaches.  Yet at the same time, the flexibilities are coupled with new ways to safeguard federal student aid.    These ex-sites will also have a built-in evaluation component, which will give us insight into the outcomes of these experiments.  We expect that the lessons we learn will inform the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Full details about the ex-sites are available here (and will be published formally in the Federal Register).

Edgar Estrada is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, and a student at the University of California, Irvine.