Youth Succeed with Great Educators, Help from ED

Think back to that moment when you decided to pursue your dream. Who influenced your decision? A mentor? A parent? Or maybe a friend? For many people, their moment was sparked by an educator.

Earlier this month, the Department of Education (ED) welcomed four individuals to participate in an ‘ED Youth Voices’ panel discussion that introduced students, teachers, and communities to the policies and programs that the four youth credit with helping them succeed.

Let us introduce you to these inspiring individuals:

Student speaking

Linda Moktoi, senior at Trinity Washington University

Meet Linda Moktoi. As a current senior at Trinity Washington University, Moktoi is proud to say she’ll be achieving her dream of graduating college in just a few short weeks.  “I chose to pursue knowledge over ignorance,” she said. Moktoi did so with the financial support provided by Pell Grants from ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Moktoi’s grace, confidence, and determination shined through and will no doubt lead her to succeeding her next dream of becoming a news broadcaster.

 

 

Student speaking about GEAR UP program

Nicholas Robinson, junior at Potomac High School

Meet Nicholas Robinson. An enthusiastic junior at Potomac High School (Oxon Hill, Md.), spoke of how the early awareness college prep program GEAR UP, changed his “mind & heart” in 8th grade about whether to go to college. “Before I got involved in GEAR UP, I didn’t think I was going to college, but they were always asking me what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be.” That extra support and guidance has helped Nicholas stay on track to graduate and focus on his future goals.

 

Educator speaking about IDEA Act

Scott Wilburn, teacher at Pulley Career Center

Meet Scott Wilbur. As a current teacher and former student that struggled with learning disabilities, Wilbur shed light on how programs funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helped him as a student and continues to help him serve others with disabilities as a teacher at the Pulley Career Center in Alexandria, Va. “IDEA provided me with access to support, helped me graduate college,” Wilbur said. Each year the IDEA Act helps thousands of students with disabilities receive support to assure success in the classroom and that they have the tools needed for employment and independent living in the future.

Student speaking about School Improvement Grants

Carl Mitchell, senior at Frederick Douglass High School

Meet Carl Mitchell. Carl is just one of the many students that have benefited from the recent changes at Frederick Douglass High School spurred in part by an ED School Improvement Grant (SIG) which has helped turnaround their school and provide a better learning environment for students. Mitchell, a bright college bound senior who also doubles as the school mascot (Go Mighty Ducks!), attested to the sense of community that is fostered at Frederick Douglass. When asked what motivates him, he responded by saying “It’s not just about getting the degree for me, it’s for all the people that helped me. I owe them and don’t want to let them down.” An aspiring graphic designer, Mitchell will be the first in his family to attend college. His support team, including his principal, teachers, and peers joined him at ED as he proudly represented the Douglass community.

Linda, Nicholas, Scott, and Carl are just four of the millions of students and educators that are able to achieve their dreams with the help of great educators and federal programs from the Department of Education. Little do these individuals know though, that by sharing their story they are following in the footsteps of those who inspired them, and are inspiring us.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Our next ED Youth Voices Policy Briefing Session will include students reforming education at the local level: teacher evaluations, DREAM act, school safety and more. Watch the session live on June 27th from 10-11:30am at edstream.ed.gov. 

New Tools for Student Loan Borrowers

Federal Student Aid image

Spring is here, college finals are looming, commencement speakers are being announced, and before long, a new group of college graduates will need to start thinking about paying back their student loans. Earlier this week, the Department of Education announced new tools that will help recent college grads better understand their loan debt and stay on track in repayment.

These two new features include a Complete Counseling Web page and a new Repayment Estimator that lets the borrower easily compare monthly payment options under the seven repayment plans available. Both tools are part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing effort to help students and families make informed and sound financial decisions throughout each step as they pursue their higher education goals.

During his State of the Union address in February, President Obama unveiled the new College Scorecard to help empower students and families with more transparent information about college costs and outcomes. The Scorecard provides clear, concise information on cost, graduation rates, loan default rates and the amount families borrowed for every degree-granting institution in the country. The College Scorecard, along with the resources from Federal Student Aid, will help students take the right steps, financially and academically, to achieve their college degree.

As many know, managing loans can often be confusing and overwhelming for college students, and we want to ensure that graduates have access to tools that will help them successfully navigate this process. We encourage federal student loan borrowers to log in at StudentLoans.gov to take advantage of these new resources today!


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Institutions Commit to Providing Millions of Students with Easy-To-Understand Information About College Costs

We know that students and their families face a difficult task in deciding where to enroll for higher education, and understanding the cost of college—and how to pay for it—can be daunting. Too often, students are left without a clear explanation of what the costs mean or how they compare to other colleges they are considering, and as a result, many students leave college with debt that they didn’t fully understand at the time they entered school.

Shopping Sheet Example

An example of the information on the Shopping Sheet

While many financial aid award letters provide understandable information, some can be confusing, lacking clear distinctions between grants (which don’t have to be paid back) and loans (which do), as well as important information about outcomes like graduation rates and default rates. This confusion can make it difficult for students to decide which college is the right fit for them, best suited to their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their career and educational goals.

In July, I sent a letter to college presidents nationwide, asking them to adopt a new Financial Aid Shopping Sheet clearly showing prospective students what a college education would cost. For prospective students, this model disclosure letter for financial aid offers helps explain the total cost of a program—including tuition and fees, the costs that are covered by federal loans and grants, the type and amount of financial aid they may qualify for, their estimated student loan debt upon graduation, and information about graduation rates. This information can help students easily compare financial aid packages offered by different institutions, and ultimately make an informed decision on where to invest in their higher education.

Our goal is to help students arrive at school each fall less worried about how they will pay for college, and more focused on how they will complete college. Institutions of higher education share that goal, and many have shown their support by adopting the Shopping Sheet for use as part of their financial aid award packages starting for the 2013-14 school year.

To date, 316 institutions* serving over 1.9 million undergraduate students, or 10 percent of all undergraduates, have agreed to adopt the Shopping Sheet [MS Excel, 1.4MB]. Of those schools who have signed on, about 43 percent are public institutions, 43 percent are for-profit institutions and 14 percent are private schools. Among the institutions that have voluntarily agreed to adopt the Shopping Sheet are several state college and university systems—including the University System of Maryland, the State University of New York System, the University of Massachusetts System, and the University of Texas System—as well as several institutions with large undergraduate populations, including Arizona State University, Miami Dade College, and the University of Phoenix online campus. All of the systems and institutions that committed to financial aid transparency at the June roundtable with Vice President Biden—including North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Syracuse University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Vassar College—have also adopted the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet for the 2013-14 school year.

Additionally, to ensure that service members, veterans, spouses and other family members have the information, support and protections they deserve, in April 2012 the President signed an Executive Order establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members. This Executive Order requires educational institutions receiving funding from federal military and veterans’ educational benefits to provide prospective students with the financial aid Shopping Sheet to help students understand the total cost of their education. Already, more than 2,900 institutions have agreed to implement the Principles of Excellence.

Students should not have to wait until after graduation to learn the size of their monthly student loan payment. Families choosing a college should have clear and comparable information, in a common format, to guide their choice. And no one should forego college because they think they cannot afford it. We will continue to work with the institutions that have already signed up to use the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet for the next school year, and we look forward to more colleges and universities committing to use this common-sense tool to provide students and parents with clear information about costs.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

* Update Nov. 29, 2012: The Department will provide updated figures periodically on its Financial Aid Shopping Sheet website.

Collaboration on Display in Three States: Bus Tour Day Six

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller took part in a town hall on college affordability at Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis on day six of our back-to-school tour. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller took part in a town hall on college affordability at Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis on day six of our back-to-school tour. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Columbia: Rural educators teaching with technology

Rural educators face a challenge of isolation. Miles away from their peers, collaboration and training can often be difficult. Technology is helping bridge this geographic divide, and was the focus of our first Education Drives America event on Wednesday at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton joined rural educators, both in person and via video conference, to discuss the eMints program (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies), an Investing in Innovation (i3) grantee that focuses on providing professional development that uses interactive group sessions and in-classroom coaching/mentoring to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching.

St. Louis: Improving college access and affordability

Yesterday, I wrote about the impressive student bands that have greeted the Education Drives America bus, and at Harris Stowe University in St. Louis, we discovered that student choirs are equally impressive. The Harris Stowe choral students set the tone for an important discussion on college affordability and access.

Deputy Secretary Miller joined Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of ED’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Harris Stowe students, as well as community members for the town hall discussion. (Earlier in the week, the Department of Education announced that Harris Stowe received $1.6 million grant – one of 97 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to receive nearly $228 million to strengthen their academic resources, financial management, endowments, and physical plants.)

“In the past three years,” Miller said. [The Obama Administration has] done more to help students afford college since the G.I. Bill.” Miller spoke of the Administration’s steps to helps students, including increases in Pell Grants, a commitment to keep student loan interest rates low, and the President’s plan to keep college affordable.

Mt. Vernon: Celebrating successful public-private partnerships

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller speaks with a worker at the Continental Tire facility. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller speaks with a worker at the Continental Tire facility. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Following St. Louis, the bus kept us moving to our third stop of the day. The floor of a tire factory isn’t your typical spot to celebrate educational success. Yet, that is exactly where the Education Drives America dropped off Deputy Secretary Miller and staff to talk about the successful partnership between Continental Tire North America (CTNA) and Rend Lake College in Mt. Vernon, Ill.

Since 2005, CTNA has partnered with Rend Lake College to develop and staff a new training center at CTNA. The facility boasts a 24-station computer lab with teacher station, a distance learn¬ing room which seats 24 students, and Rend Lake provides a coordinator to work full-time in the training center, over¬seeing the college programs.

The public-private partnership allows CTNA employees to take classes that meet the CTNA’s business needs and puts its employees on a path towards an associates degree and in some cases a bachelors degree. It is an impressive partnership that is model for communities throughout the country.

Evansville: Collaboration is key

Because two states in one day wasn’t enough for day six of ED’s back-to-school tour, our last stop of the day took us to Glenwood Leadership Academy in Evansville, Ind., for a discussion on labor-management collaboration.

Deputy Secretary Miller joined National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel, Superintendent of Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation David Smith, and President of the Evansville Teachers Association Keith Gambill.
Glenwood is both an NEA priority school and a recipient of an ED School Improvement Grant, and has pulled in the entire community to ensure success of its students.

Superintendent Smith spoke passionately about the need for collaboration, saying that it is necessary to “take time to invest in relationships.”

At a number of stops on the Education Drives America tour, we’ve witnessed communities coming together to help their children succeed, and Evansville is another powerful example of support and commitment.

During the town hall, you could hear the emotion in the voices of the audience as they spoke of how proud they were to be a part of the school’s success. One student asked how she could give back to her teachers because she sees that they work so hard. In response, the entire audience gave the Evansville teachers a powerful standing ovation, which left a deep impression on those of us passing through.

The Evansville stop made for a perfect ending to a great day in the Midwest. The bus moves on and will be rejoined by Secretary Duncan today for stops in West Virginia.

See what people had to say on social media during day six, stay connected to the Department of Education throughout the year by getting email updates, and watch our video summary of day six:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement and is blogging and tweeting his way from coast to coast during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

College Students Discuss Higher Education Affordability with Secretary Duncan

Secretary Duncan and Undersecretary Kanter talk with StudentsStudents are a crucial voice in education, particularly when it comes to policy debates. To continue its transparency efforts and ensure students have a seat at the table, the Obama Administration has engaged youth, parents, and higher education leaders regarding college affordability and accessibility through roundtables, forums and Secretary Duncan’s Student Voices Series.

Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Martha Kanter heard directly from college students and youth leaders from the United States Student Association during the most recent Student Voices Series.

Students shared stories on how the Pell Grant and TRIO programs have positively impacted their lives. “Without these programs, I would have not been able to continue my college education and graduate with a degree,” said one youth. Since President Obama took office the maximum award increasing more than $900 dollars and the number of students relying on Pell Grants to pay for college has risen by more than 50 percent.

After hearing from the students, Kanter told them “there are not enough real stories about students who are benefiting from programs that help them manage their educational debt. These stories could help others become aware of opportunities that they may also be able to benefit from.”

”The Obama Administration has made an unprecedented commitment to improve college access and completion for millions of American families,” Secretary Duncan said. The expanded income-based repayment program (IBR) and the new Pay as You Earn plan will help students better manage their debt, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit has lowered the cost of attendance for 9.4 million students and families annually. In addition, the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid has also been simplified in order to make federal financial aid more accessible to students. And click here to read President Obama’s blueprint for college affordability.

Secretary Duncan told students their input is important and requested feedback from the youth on the new studentaid.ed.gov website, which outlines many programs to help Americans with educational debt.

Do you have a story of how the Pell grant, IBR or a TRIO program has helped you? If so, we would love to hear it.

Robert Gomez is a higher education and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach

White House Office Hours with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is joining us for special session of White House Office Hours on Wednesday, June 27th at 2:00 p.m. EDT. During a live Q&A on Twitter, Secretary Duncan will answer your questions about college affordability and the administration’s education policies and priorities.

Will you join us? Here’s how it works:

  • Ask your questions now and during the live event on Twitter with the hashtag #WHChat
  • Follow the Q&A live through the @WHLive Twitter account
  • If you miss the live Q&A, the full session will be posted on WhiteHouse.gov and Storify.com/WhiteHouse

Today, higher education isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity that every American family should be able to afford. But it’s also getting more and more expensive.

For the first time ever, Americans owe more in student loans than in credit card debt. That’s why the President is calling on Congress to keep interest rates low so that every hardworking student gets a fair shot at the skills and training needed to get a good job in today’s economy.

If Congress doesn’t act, interest rates on federal student loans will double on July 1 and more than 7 million students around the country will rack up an average of $1,000 of extra debt each.

Kori Schulman is Deputy Director of Outreach for the White House Office of Digital Strategy

Education Department Announces Winners of Net Price Calculator Video Contest

Each year, millions of students face the challenge of choosing a college – and how to afford it is increasingly daunting for families. For many, the high price tag of a college education may discourage them from pursuing a degree, and that’s why the Department has undertaken an effort to help families access better consumer data that can help students determine how to best invest in a high-quality education at an affordable price.

Part of that effort has focused on institutions’ “net price” and spreading awareness of net price calculators, a key tool that can assist parents and students in researching the cost of higher education. Net price calculators go beyond an institution’s “sticker price,” factoring in grants and scholarship aid to give families a better sense of how much they would actually pay to attend a specific school.

Earlier this year, the Department held a contest encouraging college and high school students to come up with creative videos that explain net price calculators and why they are a valuable resource. Today, ED is announcing that three students have each won a $1,500 prize for creating the top-scoring videos in the Department’s College Net Price Calculator Student Video Challenge. The winners are:

    • Michael Kirby from the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. (watch the video)
    • David DeMesquita from Cal State Fullerton in Fullerton, Calif. (watch the video)
    • Brian Schwabauer from Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo.  (watch the video)

The Department plans to use these videos to broaden awareness of net price calculators among students and will continue outreach efforts to several stakeholder groups, organizations, college counselors and student body leaders. In addition, every title IV institution is now required to have a net price calculator on their website, and the Department has proactively linked to each school’s net price calculator from its College Navigator site, which contains a wealth of consumer information. 

The challenge is part of a broader Administration effort to address the rising cost of college and the struggles families face paying for higher education. The Department hopes that by providing key consumer data like net price, families will have a better sense of what they can afford and will be empowered to make smart decisions about where to invest and enroll for college.

Sara Gast is press aide in the Office of Communications and Outreach

President Obama Calls on Congress to Prevent Student Loan Interest Rates from Doubling

“In America, higher education cannot be a luxury,” President Obama said in his weekly address. “It’s an economic imperative that every family must be able to afford.” At a time when higher education has never been more important, the President is calling on Congress to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling for more than 7.4 million students this summer. Without action, the average borrower will see an average of $1,000 added to their debt.

Watch the address:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Duncan Talks College Affordability and Rural Ed in WI and IA

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack at a town hall in Wisconsin

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack held a town hall in Wisconsin to discuss rural education and the teaching profession. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

Waterloo, Iowa – It’s not often that town hall meetings are interrupted by the gentle moo of a calf, but that’s exactly the interjection that two Cabinet secretaries and an audience interested in rural education experienced Wednesday at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Pioneer Farm.

The mooing didn’t seem to bother the hundreds of educators, FFA members and other students who had gathered to discuss the teaching profession and rural education with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Students and teachers posed thoughtful and challenging questions to the secretaries on stage.

“Our country’s economy can’t be strong if our rural economy isn’t strong,” Duncan said at the event. Both he and Vilsack talked about the importance of public-private partnerships and the fact that communities need to come together in order for America’s economy to continue to grow. Secretary Vilsack noted how important farming is to America, even for those who are far removed from America’s pastures. The U.S. “has an amazing ag story,” he said, explaining that we need to “talk differently in this country about agriculture.”

Duncan and Vilsack also announced a new interagency agreement that will advance agricultural education and promote postsecondary and career pathways, including teaching. Click here for more information and watch a video of the town hall.

College Affordability

The town hall at UW-Platteville was just one stop in a busy day for Secretary Duncan, who started the day discussing college affordability with seniors at East High School in Madison, Wis. Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent Dan Nerad started off the town hall by reminding us that in “the American dream of ensuring that these great young people accomplish more than our generation, postsecondary education must be affordable.”

Click here to read President Obama’s Blueprint for College Affordability.

Together for Tomorrow School Improvement Challenge

Later in the day, Duncan stopped in Dubuque, Iowa, and joined the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, ED’s director for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, to hold a “Together for Tomorrow” town hall on the value of community partnerships in helping to propel school improvement.

During the event, Duncan announced the Together for Tomorrow School Improvement Challenge, which challenges schools, national service programs, higher education institutions, and community and faith-based organizations to work together to turn around low-performing schools. Click here for more information.

Click here for a our Storify Story of day one, and check back for updates on day two of Secretary Duncan’s trip.

Duncan Talks College Affordability in South Carolina

Secretary Duncan and Congressman Clyburn

Secretary Duncan and Congressman Clyburn are greeted by a student at James Simons Elementary School in North Charleston

“If college is unaffordable, then it will become unattainable,” Secretary Arne Duncan tweeted while in South Carolina last Friday during a one-day, three-city visit that focused on innovative education reform and keeping college affordable for America’s families.

Duncan began the day in North Charleston, and joined Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.), students, teachers, business leaders and policymakers for a roundtable discussion on school reform, bullying and community engagement. “Education is an investment, not an expense,” Arne said at James Simon Elementary. “We have to education our way to a better economy.”

The Secretary and the Congressman also stopped at Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton where they joined former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley to speak with students and teachers about the school’s “Creating a Corridor of Innovation” program.

With the help of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from ED, Scott’s Branch is implementing a New Tech High School model that is infused with the latest technology for education, and implements a project-based learning approach that can help increase college and career readiness in high-poverty rural areas.

Duncan and Clyburn ended the day by hosting a college affordability town hall with students at Allen University in Columbia, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

Click here for more information on the Obama Administration’s plan to keep college affordable.

Duncan Heads to Capitol Hill for Budget Hearings

“We must come together as a country to make sound, bipartisan investments in education,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said earlier today at a budget hearing on Capitol Hill. “It is unconscionable for us to ask a generation of students to pay the price for adult political dysfunction.”

Secretary Duncan Testifies on Capitol Hill

Archive photo of Secretary Duncan testifying on Capitol Hill. Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood

Duncan testified before the House Committee on Appropriations as part of the annual federal budget process. In the early months of each year, the President submits his budget request to Congress. Congress can then choose to accept the President’s request or develop its own budget, deciding which programs to authorize and fund before the new fiscal year starts on October 1.

Secretary Duncan testified that the Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2013 education budget reflects the Obama Administrations commitment to reduce spending, make government more efficient and invest to secure our future. “We must educate our way to a better economy,” Duncan said.

Key areas of the budget that the Secretary highlighted include:

  • Making college affordable and the middle-class dream alive for Americans by providing new incentives for states and institutions to keep college costs from escalating;
  • Providing billions of dollars a year in aid to college students through Pell grants;
  • Prevent student loan interest rates from doubling this summer;
  • Double the number of work-study jobs within five years;
  • Make the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent;
  • And dedicating significant resources to transforming the teaching profession through a new program called RESPECT.

Read more about 2013 budget and what it means for you.

Sharing Responsibility for College Affordability, Quality and Completion

One of the best parts of my job is the chance I get to meet outstanding academic and student leaders as I travel around the country.  For me, the best moments often come right before or after I deliver my formal remarks, when I get to visit with faculty, administrators and students at my speaking location one-on-one, find out who they are and learn about their challenges, hopes and dreams. These individual informal chats never last long enough for me, and they are the moments I remember most from each visit.

During my recent visit to Palm Beach State College, I had the opportunity to discuss the higher education proposals President Obama announced in his State of the Union address, with students, professors, policy makers, state and local officials, business and community leaders. I felt a great source of pride in describing what we’ve been able to accomplish in higher education over the past few years:

    • Reforming the student loan program,
    • Boosting the maximum Pell grant by more than $800 and dramatically expanding the number of Pell grant recipients from 6 million to more than 9 million students from our nation’s lowest income families,
    • Enabling Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) to build capacity with the $2.55 billion 10-year fund for MSIs, and
    • Providing $2 billion dollars for next generation job-training at community colleges over the next few years, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor.

As you can see, the President’s education vision for 2020 and beyond inspires me every day to build on this substantial progress and to breakthrough the obstacles ahead to keep college affordable for the middle class, to provide students more opportunities through campus based aid and work study reforms, to enable postsecondary institutions to innovate and implement those high impact strategies that will help more students succeed, and to support states to increase their support for higher education – all for the purpose of increasing our nation’s college attainment goal.

The President has proposed a $1 billion Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion to help states and a $55 million First in the World fund for institutions. Why? We need states and institutions as well as the federal government and students themselves to share responsibility to meet our vision to produce a far better educated citizenry than we’ve had in decades past. We need a more highly educated workforce, and we need leaders at all levels of government, business, labor and the non-profit sector to bring our nation to a level of excellence in our global society that sadly we do not enjoy today.

In all of this work, please know it’s the series of tiny “aha” moments that, when taken together, create the momentum that move us forward. After I left Palm Beach State, I received an email from Carlos Ramos, the university’s Associate Dean of Math, Engineering, and Science who wanted to learn about a new resource I mentioned, a set of free high quality STEM-related college level textbooks that Rice University’s Connexions project is rolling out in the next few months in association with a new organization called OpenStax College.

For me, Dean Ramos’s communication was more than a simple email.  It was a statement that my visit mattered — and that because of my visit, Dean Ramos will now be able to help more students in more ways.  And that is the way real change happens, one by one, on the ground, by meeting individual student needs, one student at a time. Whether we call it “shared responsibility” as we heard in the State of the Union, or working together from the one to the many as Dean Ramos is doing, we will become a better nation if we all do our part to keep college affordable, increase educational quality at all levels, and help more students graduate from our colleges and universities with a world-class education, prepared for success in the 21st century!

Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary of Education