Secretary Duncan holds a town hall in Pembroke Pines, Fla. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.
“The way we’re going to bring in and keep the great jobs in this country is by having the most educated workforce,” Secretary Duncan said last week at a town hall in Pembroke Pines, Fla. Speaking with a large group of students, teachers and parents, Duncan explained that the U.S. used to be 1st in college completion and is now ranked 16th. Arne also echoed the President’s State of the Union message that we are facing a “make or break moment” for America’s middle class.
Over the past week, President Obama and Secretary Duncan both described that more than ever, education is essential to helping Americans become full contributors to the American economy. The unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree is about half the national average, and in our knowledge-based economy, our nation’s economic prosperity will be determined by the education of our people.
Before arriving in Pembroke Pines, Duncan stopped in Tallahassee to hold a community town hall around the same theme of keeping college affordable and within reach for all Americans. And while Duncan reminded the audience that college has never been more important, he also noted that it is also more expensive than ever. The Obama Administration has taken significant action in helping students and their families afford college, and on Friday, Secretary Duncan joined President Obama at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to outline a Blueprint to making college more affordable.
Click here to read more about the President’s Blueprint, and click here to watch a video of Vice President Biden and Secretary Duncan traveling the country addressing the cost of college.
Ed. Note: Chanda Kropp is a high school Spanish teacher in Hutchinson, Minn., and a 2010 Mom Congress Delegate. Here she shares her impressions from a recent town hall in Minneapolis.
I must admit, the thought has crossed my mind many times of how my children will ever afford college with the current tuition rates. My dream is that my two wonderful children will attend the college of their choice, whether it is a public school, a private school or a school with out-of-state tuition. As a teacher, I value education and believe it opens so many doors. However, if reality means that a college student’s loan repayment is as much as her mortgage, I worry!
My concern changed to optimism last week as I sat with many South Minneapolis high school students, the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and many other distinguished local dignitaries for a town hall on college affordability. Hearing Secretary Duncan say that $40 billion dollars is currently being invested in Pell Grants and that the administration wants to expand its income based student loan repayment program, makes me incredibly happy!
A recent law signed by President Obama allows new borrowers who receive student loans after July 1, 2014, to cap their student loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income. If the borrower keeps up with his or her payments over time, the balance will be forgiven after 20 years. Public service workers – such as teachers, nurses, and those in military service – will see any remaining debt forgiven after 10 years. Additionally, the administration is proposing to move up the 2014 start date to 2012 for some borrowers.
I’m hopeful that the combination of Pell Grants and reasonable loan repayment schedules will be a winning formula for all students in America. The United States once led the world with the percentage of students attending college; we have now slipped to 16th place. That simply will not be acceptable if we want to compete in a global market. America’s children should be concentrating on their academic degrees, not their degree of debt!
Secretary Duncan at South High School. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams
Secretary Duncan travelled to the Minneapolis area last Friday to host two town hall meetings with teachers, parents, students, and national, state and local leaders. Arne started the day speaking with students at South High School in Minneapolis about the importance of higher education and college affordability. “College isn’t just for the rich or someone else,” he said. “We need to raise expectations so all students know college is within their reach.”
The Obama Administration has taken extraordinary steps to make it easier for students to get financial aid and understand the true cost of college, including:
The biggest investment in college since the G.I. Bill
Duncan also announced the launch of the @FAFSA Twitter account, and explained how important it is that students fill out the FAFSA. For many students who think that higher education is out of reach, the FAFSA will explain many of available aid and loans that can help a student pay for college.
Vice President Biden speaks to students about college affordability at Lincoln High in Gahanna, Ohio. (Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover)
“What college you go to may be one of the least important decisions in your life,” said Vice President Joe Biden yesterday in Ohio. “It’s deciding to go that is the most,” he said.
Secretary Duncan joined Biden at Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio yesterday to speak to students and parents about the importance of college and college affordability, and to answer questions from the audience. “The jobs of the future are going to require some type of higher education,” Duncan said, explaining that it could be college, community college, trade school, or technical or vocational training.
The Vice President and Secretary Duncan described the steps that the Obama Administration is taking to ensure that college stays within reach of the middle class, including:
Increasing the maximum size of Pell Grants by $800 to $5,550.
Increasing the number of students who receive Pell Grants from 6.1 million in 2008 to over 9 million today.
Enacting a tuition tax credit worth up to $10,000 over 4 years.
Ensuring that future graduates won’t have to spend more than 10% of their discretionary income on student loan payments.
Duncan also explained that ED has simplified the FAFSA form, making it easier for students to apply for aid in the first place.
While Vice President Biden encouraged the students in attendance to commit to higher education, Secretary Duncan said that the next step is finishing. “Whatever it takes to get you across the finish line,” he said.