Duncan to Grads: Follow Your Passion

Duncan at Morgan State

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered this year’s commencement speech at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.

Summer is here and as recent grads take time to pause and reflect on their tenure in higher education, many may wonder what they will do with the rest of their lives and how they will use their degrees.

Follow your passion and help others. This was the common theme in Secretary Arne Duncan’s four commencement speeches this spring.

At the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Morgan State University, the College of the Menominee Nation, and Hostos Community College, the Secretary lauded athletic titles to academic championships.  He highlighted those that were the first in their families to graduate from college and at Morgan State University, touted the mother-daughter duo who earned their bachelors’ degrees on the same day.

“I did learn two valuable lessons in thinking about the future from my teachers, my family, and my mentors,” Duncan said at Morgan State University.

First, I learned the importance of following your passion — that your ability to adapt and be creative, to skillfully manage the inevitable uncertainty that would come, would, in large measure, determine one’s success in a knowledge-based, global economy…. Second, I learned I should strive to lead a life of consequence — to try to demonstrate my respect and gratitude to all those who had helped me growing up by working to help others.”

The Secretary expressed hope that graduates would run for school board, become teachers or tutor students so that they could positively affect their communities through education, regardless of the career path they take. He told graduates at the College of Menominee Nation that they were “a gift to [their] people,” but that with that gift came responsibilities and obligations to give back to one’s community.

He echoed this same call for action during his speech at Hostos Community College when speaking about the school’s namesake, Eugenio Maria de Hostos.

“For de Hostos, education was not just about getting a degree, it was about what you did with your degree,” said Duncan.

Duncan mentioned in more than one speech how the Obama Administration is committed to preserving investments in federal student aid and will continue to empower students and families through tools such as the College Scorecard and the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

Other tools include programs such as Income Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn that can cap federal student loan payments at ten percent of a student’s income, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness which forgives student loan debt after working in the public sector.

Below are links to Secretary Arne Duncan’s commencement speeches this spring:

Robert Gomez is the higher education and youth liaison at the Department of Education and a graduate of the University of California, Irvine

Community Colleges – Road to Building Skills for the 21st Century

Innovation in the 21st century has reshaped the world of work and civil society.  Innovation has redefined the knowledge and skills necessary to support emerging sectors of the economy.  Raising the overall level of educational attainment for all of our citizens is critical and addressing the skills gap in key industries is essential.

Community colleges are uniquely positioned to design their curricula to match local labor market conditions, making them flexible and relevant to today’s economy and job market. They are open access institutions committed to providing job-relevant educational opportunities to a broad population of students in their local communities. And their graduates are finding that they are able to participate in a knowledge-based economy, which demands a far greater level of credentialing and skills development than ever before.

The challenge, then, for the United States and India is to think of ways we can promote more opportunities for our diverse and dynamic populations to access these and other educational opportunities. When we do that, we can begin to provide 21st century job-skills linked to the global economy and responsive to local community needs.

President Obama is looking to community colleges to play a key role in increasing the number of U.S. college graduates and helping more Americans get the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly interconnected global world.  In the United States, these institutions enroll more students than any other higher education sector, and almost half of all U.S. undergraduate students attend one of nearly 1,100 community colleges across the country.

Many of those colleges work closely with local employer partners to design course materials that lead to industry-recognized certificates and degrees.  And they are leading the way in preparing graduates for the fastest growing fields in the United States, such as healthcare, applied engineering, and green technologies.

India is faced with the similar challenge of educating its population for rapidly emerging fields, such as automotive and healthcare technologies, and is exploring best practices in the community college model to help prepare Indians for these new jobs.  It is taking steps to enable the development of a national network of community colleges in order to meet workforce demands and sustain its impressive economic growth and social prosperity as a nation.

In February, the U.S. was honored to participate in the International Community College Conference hosted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which focused on creating a network of 200 community colleges with strong ties to industry in order to equip more people with the skills and knowledge to drive India’s future.  Under Minister Pallam Raju’s leadership, the government has established the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA) to coordinate and streamline the skill development efforts of the government and the private sector to achieve the nation’s skilling targets.

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Celebrating Excellence in Community Colleges

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

As a community college teacher, I know that excellence happens every day in community college classrooms and campuses across this country. Both in my classroom and when I’m on the road visiting community colleges, I am fortunate to see firsthand the tremendous impact these schools have on so many students. I see students striving, teachers inspiring, and administrators innovating – each doing their best to make the community college experience richer and more meaningful. President Obama has made community colleges a centerpiece of his goal to have the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world.

Earlier today at the Newseum in Washington, DC, leaders in education and business congratulated Santa Barbara City College from California and Walla Walla Community College from Washington for being selected as co-winners of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Kingsborough Community College – CUNY from New York and Lake Area Technical Institute from South Dakota were honored as finalists-with-distinction.

Dr. Biden at the Aspen Prize

Dr. Jill Biden with the co-winners of the 2013 Aspen Community College Excellence Prize: Santa Barbara Community College President Dr. Lori Gaskin (left) and Walla Walla Community College President Dr. Steven VanAusdle (right). (by Photo from Patrice Gilbert/Courtesy: The Aspen Institute)

Community colleges represent a uniquely American idea – that if you work hard and get a good education, you can get the skills you need for a good job and build a better life for you and your family. Community colleges are often unsung heroes in their work to expand opportunities, offer intensive preparation for careers, and provide an affordable and effective option for many students.  Education and job training are critical to that vision, strengthening the middle class and preparing our citizens to compete in the global economy.  Each and every day, community colleges are doing more to grow our middle class, equipping our citizens with the education and training that today’s jobs require.

Our Administration is working to advance locally-tailored solutions to fill in skills gaps where our local economies need them. Nearly three years ago, we held the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, where we announced the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

In the past few years, our Administration has taken important steps to make incentive prizes and challenges, like the Aspen Community College Excellence Prize, a standard tool for open innovation in every Federal agency’s toolbox. Federal agencies, in partnership with our private-sector and philanthropic partners, are using prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their missions. In fact, since its launch in 2010, Challenge.gov has featured more than 240 prizes offered by over 50 Federal departments and agencies.

The Aspen Prize is designed to honor and recognize excellence in community colleges through evaluation of academic and workforce outcomes in both absolute performance and improvements over time. By focusing on student success and lifting up models that work, the Aspen Prize honors excellence, stimulate innovation, and create benchmarks for measuring progress – highlighting the “best of the best” and giving other schools the opportunity to consider adapting those best practices to their own campuses.

In December 2011, Valencia Community College from Orlando, FL was announced as the first Aspen Prize winner and Valencia is now a model for other community colleges across the nation.  Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Valencia and learn more about the success they are having in improving student outcomes while they are in school at Valencia and when they graduate.

Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, shared more of what made this year’s winners exceptional: “At Santa Barbara City College, faculty and staff are providing students just what they need to transfer and complete a four-year degree – a rigorous classroom education surrounded by first-rate supports from remedial math to college level writing. Walla Walla Community College’s visionary leaders stay on top of local economic job trends and job growth, and the entire college provides the kind of excellent training that students need to access well-paying jobs and that employers know will ensure future investments in the regional economy will pay off.”

Congratulations to this year’s winners and finalists, and thank you to the Aspen Institute, the supporters of the Aspen Prize, and the many people who worked so hard to help these institutions get the recognition they deserve.

Dr. Jill Biden is the Second Lady of the United States and a lifelong educator. 

Strengthening the American Workforce through Innovation

St. Petersburg (Fla.) College engineering and technology student Tungo Harris has a plan: “I want to get gainfully employed — and I figure I will be after this — with a decent salary,” Harris told the Tampa Bay Times. Thanks to a new $15 million grant announced last month by U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis at St. Petersburg, Harris, a Navy veteran who is recovering from a brain tumor, can now get help in fulfilling his plan.

Overall, $500 million in grants will go to almost 300 community colleges and universities around the country as part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative. The grants promote skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers.

The Department of Labor is implementing and administering the program in coordination with the Department of Education. The grants announced in September are the second installment of a $2 billion, four-year initiative.”These federal grants are part of the Obama administration’s ongoing commitment to strengthening American businesses,” Solis said.

“It’s a big deal,” St. Petersburg College President Bill Law said in the same Tampa Bay Times article. His college is leading a consortium of a dozen Florida colleges in developing programs to prepare workers for advanced manufacturing jobs. “Our goal is to take the Florida college system and see if we can build on some success across the state.”

Patrick Kerr works in the ED Office of Communications and Outreach’s Region VII office, based in Kansas City, Mo.

Inspiration Overcomes Anxiety for Future Teachers in Rural Illinois

Why teach?

“This may sound like a hippie answer, but I want to change the world,” said future teacher Joelle Schulda, when asked what drew her to education. “If I can reach just one child—who knows?—that child could grow up to be the president of the United States.”

A small group of future educators shared their career inspirations and concerns with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Rural Outreach John White during a recent TEACH campaign town hall at the Illinois Valley Community College in rural Oglesby, Illinois.

Some current and former IVCC education students stand with ED’s John White: (front, from left) Kris Sienza, White, Megan Mikesell and Marissa Vicich; (second row) Cortney Mikesell, Joelle Shulda, Jackie Heim and Aseret Gonzalez; (back) Abby Derix and Chris Tidmore. Photo courtesy of IVCC.

White was joined by Illinois State University Dean of Education Deborah Curtis, IVCC Education Program Coordinator Jill Urban-Bollis and IVCC Early Education Program Coordinator Diane Christianson for the panel, moderated by IVCC Vice President for Learning and Student Development Rick Pearce.

Aseret Gonzalez said she sees a “lack of mentorship” in her community and wants to help fill that void as an educator.  Another student hopes to follow in the footsteps of numerous family members who are current or former teachers. “I’ve always known that I wanted to teach,” said IVCC student Kris Sienza.  “I chose math because I used to love it, but found the classes to be really boring as I got older.  I want to get kids excited about math.”

While the students’ passion for education was clear, several discussed concerns about their chosen career path.  “Everything that’s known about teaching is very much changing,” remarked Christianson, as the dialogue turned to teacher layoffs, labor disputes, and other issues facing present-day educators such as the restrictive demands of NCLB.

White discussed the President’s Blueprint for Reform which would “stop labeling schools as failures” by changing its accountability provision to focus on students’ growth over time rather than “measuring different kids each year on one test on one day.”

Despite their concerns, the IVCC students embraced the goals of the TEACH campaign described by White — recruiting nearly 1 million new teachers over the next 5 years to replace the retiring teachers of the baby boomer generation, and celebrating today’s great educators.

The participants plan to work with ED’s communications and outreach team for the Great Lakes Region, based in Chicago, to serve as TEACH “ambassadors” with local high schools in order to encourage more students to consider the teaching profession.

Julie Ewart is the Senior Public Affairs Specialist in the Chicago Regional Office. She is the mother of three school-aged children.

Community Colleges Critical to Winning the Future

Five time Jeopardy winner, rocket scientist, and Congressman, Rush Holt (D-NJ), teamed up with U.S. Department of Education Undersecretary Martha Kanter last Wednesday to highlight the important role community colleges play in meeting President Obama’s goal for the U.S. to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Wednesday’s community forum hosted by Mercer County Community College (MCCC) in Trenton, NJ brought students, administrators, and other stakeholders together to discuss student success in community college programs.  Both Kanter and Holt emphasized the need to increase postsecondary access and accelerate college completion to build stronger bridges from high schools, adult education, community colleges, four-year universities, and the workforce.

In her opening remarks Undersecretary Kanter, who is a former community college president, underscored their importance.  “Our ability to win the future will depend on the nation’s community colleges, the institutions that incubate nearly half of our country’s undergraduates,” Kanter said.  “This is the new generation that will move our nation forward.”

Congressman Rush Holt and ED Undersecretary Martha Kanter

Congressman Holt told Mercer County students and faculty that “as a former educator, I see a vital need for federal investment in education. If America is going to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world, we need to have a smart, well-trained workforce.”

They heard from students like Pam Prather who described her struggles as a youth and how community college gave her another opportunity to reach her potential, while several other students expressed appreciation that the Obama administration had increased the maximum Pell Grant awards to $5,550.

Click here to read more posts on how ED and the Obama administration continue to support community colleges in their efforts to help today’s students graduate career-ready.

Will Ragland
Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs

ED Hosts Community College Virtual Symposium

“As we try to educate our way to a better economy, community colleges are absolutely going to help lead us where we need to go,” said Secretary Duncan earlier this week at the first-ever Community College Virtual Symposium.

The symposium, streamed live over the Internet from Montgomery Community College in Silver Spring, Md., brought together ED staff and other education experts for a discussion about recent research findings related to student success in community college programs.

On four separate panels, scholars spoke about policies and practices that support bridge programs for low-skill adults, alignment of secondary and postsecondary education, improved developmental education, and college-employer partnerships that promote curricular change.

On hand to help kick off the conversation were Secretary Duncan, Undersecretary Martha Kanter, Dr. Jill Biden, Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Montgomery College President, Dr. DeRionne Pollard.

In his opening remarks, Secretary Duncan talked about the critical role community colleges play in providing pathways of opportunity for millions of Americans.  “Community colleges have been the unrecognized, unpolished gems on the education continuum,” Duncan said.  “Our country can’t be great and can’t be strong without community colleges leading us there.”

The symposium capped off a series of events that began with last year’s White House Community College Summit hosted by President Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.  Since then, ED has hosted four regional community college summits in Philadelphia, Houston, Indianapolis, and San Diego to help extend the conversation across the country.

Click here to learn more about ED’s regional community college summits and this week’s virtual symposium.

Final Community College Regional Summit Focuses on Veterans, Military Members and Families

Tomorrow, April 15, ED will hold its fourth and final Community College Regional Summit at San Diego City College in San Diego, Calif. The focus of this one-day event is on Exemplary Programs for Veterans, Military Members, and Families, and will bring together federal, labor, industry and philanthropic partners to discuss how each entity can support local community college efforts to meet the President’s goal of having the best-educated workforce and the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Other topics to be discussed at the summit include solutions and promising practices in college completion, developmental education, industry-education partnerships, services to military service-members and veterans, transitioning adults to community colleges, and successful transfer programs to four year colleges and universities. The Summit will also provide a forum to identify local, state and national recommendations for increasing community college completion in order to meet the President’s 2020 goal.

Join us at 12:00 PM EDT on April 15, 2011 for a LIVE webcast of the summit (link will become active when the summit begins).

Community Colleges + Businesses = Jobs


Teri McClure of UPS talks about successful community college and business partnerships. (Photo courtesy of Ivy Tech Community College)

President Obama frequently talks about the importance of educating our way to a better economy, and partnerships between community colleges and businesses are vital to getting there. That was the key message of the U.S. Department of Education’s Community College Summit at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis on Wednesday, March 23.

“These summits are an opportunity for us to ‘listen and learn’ from all of you.  These discussions will help us to make future decisions about higher ed,” said Under Secretary Martha Kanter to a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 200 educators, business executives, policymakers, philanthropists and students.

Kanter discussed President Obama’s goal of increasing the number of American college graduates from 40 percent of working adults today, to 60 percent by 2020. That goal will better prepare students for the 21st century job market, and help the U.S. regain its position as first in the world in educating its students. She said that meeting this goal will require the U.S. to turn out at least 8 million additional graduates, and at least 5 million will come from community colleges.

It’s critical we think not only about the students coming up from high school, but the two-thirds of adults who need to come back  or go to college for the first time to move into a new career.

The meeting was the third of four regional summits convened to follow on the success of the White House Summit on Community Colleges held last October, where the President launched “Skills for America’s Future,”  an initiative to improve industry partnerships with community colleges. The summits were developed to identify promising practices for improving community colleges, with the first gathering in Philadelphia focusing on adult learners and an earlier meeting in Houston highlighting transitions to 4-year institutions.  Collaboration between community colleges and the private sector was the special focus of this meeting.

The decision to have this summit in the Midwest and specifically at Ivy Tech was no accident.

“We selected the Midwest specifically because so many of the community colleges here have really stepped up to the plate,” said Kanter, noting Midwestern colleges’ “responsiveness to the 21st century needs of employers” in developing tailored programs for retraining displaced workers.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is thanked by Under Secretary Martha Kanter following his remarks at ED’s Community College Summit. (Photo courtesy of Ivy Tech Community College)

As one of the largest community college systems in the U.S. with nearly 200,000 students at 23 campuses throughout Indiana, Ivy Tech Community College has formed more than 1,200 distinct partnerships with businesses. One of those collaborations is with the Northern Indiana Public Service Company. “We were going through a period where we could not get very many applicants to pass our pre-entry aptitude tests,” said Kris Emaus, manager of training for NIPSCO, during a lunchtime panel discussion.

NIPSCO joined forces with other state utility companies facing similar challenges to form the Indiana Energy Consortium. The consortium reached out to Ivy Tech, which has established a customized curriculum to provide students with the skills they need to fill an array of positions with salaries ranging from $25,000 to $105,000.  So far, about 100 students have enrolled in the program, she said.

ED’s dialogue with community college stakeholders will continue at a San Diego summit on April 15, with a special focus on programs for military members, veterans and their families. A virtual summit is also planned for April 27. To submit your name for consideration as a summit participant in San Diego please send your name, organization, title and e-mail address to: regional.summit@ed.gov

Julie Ewart is senior public affairs specialist for the Department of Education’s Region V office (including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin), and proud mom of three public school students.

Secretary Duncan Kicks Off First of Four Community College Regional Summits

Earlier today at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), Secretary Duncan joined Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in kicking off the first of four Community College Regional Summits aimed at boosting college completion.

The regional summit follows the White House’s successful Summit on Community College in October, and brought together 150 participants from surrounding states – representatives from community colleges, business and industry, philanthropy, labor, state and local government, and students – to explore and take to scale strategies that work in helping students succeed.

“I hope [community colleges] feel that this is their time in the sun,” said Secretary Duncan at this morning’s event. “Community colleges are an unrecognized gem along the college-career continuum.”

To coincide with the Regional Summit kick off at CCP, Dr. Jill Biden submitted an op-ed in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer reminding us of the importance of community colleges in helping students achieve the American dream:

“I have been a teacher for more than 30 years and a community college instructor for the last 18 of them. Every day in my classroom, I see the power of community colleges to change lives and put students on the path to opportunity and success.

“Community colleges are uniquely American institutions, in which anyone who walks through the door is one step closer to realizing the American dream. And they will play a vital role in the nation’s economic recovery.”

While today’s summit will focus on transitioning adult learners to community colleges and the workforce, the remaining three summits will each have a different focus and will be held at a community college in a different part of the country:

  • March 9 – Lone Star College System, Houston: “Successful Transfer Programs”
  • March 23 -Ivy Tech Community College, Indianapolis: “Partnerships Between Community Colleges and Employers”
  • April 15 – San Diego Community College District, San Diego: “Exemplary Programs for Veterans, Military Members, and Families”

Click here for more information on the Department of Education’s Community College Regional Summits.