A Call to Action on College Completion

Vice President Biden

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Grad Nation Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park, in Washington, DC, March 22, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann).

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

College access and affordability has been a key area of focus for the Middle Class Task Force over the last two years.  On this blog, we have frequently updated you on our Administration’s commitment to expanding student aid through Pell Grants and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Providing every American child with the opportunity to go to college is critically important, but we can’t stop there.  We need more American students to graduate from college. The President has set a clear goal: By 2020, America will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  Right now we are ninth.

70 percent of students go on to pursue some kind of postsecondary education after high school, but less than half actually get a degree or certificate within 6 years.  Why is this so important? Because more than half of all new jobs created in the next decade will require a postsecondary degree.  And college graduates make more money and are less likely to be unemployed than individuals with only a high school diploma.  Ensuring that more students graduate from college is essential to maintaining a strong middle class.

Today the Vice President challenged every Governor to host a state college completion summit, and promised that the Department of Education would help any state develop a plan to boost completion.

The Vice President also announced the release of a new “College Completion Tool Kit,” produced by the Department of Education.  The tool kit includes information on seven low-cost or no-cost strategies that states can use to boost completion.  For example:

  • Aligning high school exit standards with college expectations.  Forty percent of college students have to take remedial classes in college.  It makes college more expensive, because it takes more time to finish.  And it increases the likelihood students will dropout in college.
  • Making it easier for students to transfer.  Two out of three students transfer at least once.  Arizona, for example, helps ensure transfer students don’t fall through the cracks by making sure introductory course credits transfer fully among all public colleges in the state.
  • Linking state higher education funding to levels of or improvement in college completion.  Right now, the vast majority of colleges get funded based on enrollment numbers, not success.

Finally, the Vice President announced that the Department of Education is launching a new grant competition to reward colleges that come up with innovative plans for boosting completion, like summer academic boot camps for students between high school and their freshman year; redesigned courses that make learning more interactive; and emergency financial aid for unexpected crises. We are looking for plans with the potential to become national models.

As the Vice President said today, “right now we’ve got an education system that works like a funnel when we need it to work like a pipeline. We have to make the same commitment to getting folks across the graduation stage that we did to getting them into the registrar’s office.”

Brian Levine is Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

NCAA Graduation Rates

“The math on this is not complicated,” Secretary Duncan told USA Today. “If you can’t graduate one in two of your student-athletes, I just question the institutional commitment to academics. And I think if the NCAA were to draw a line in the sand, you’d see this behavior change very rapidly.”

Secretary Duncan also penned an op-ed in today’s Washington Post shedding light on the fact that 10 of the 68 men’s teams in the NCAA tournament are not on track to graduate even half of their players:

“Colleges and universities need to stop trotting out tired excuses for basketball teams with poor academic records and indefensible disparities in the graduation rates of white and black players. And it is time that the NCAA revenue distribution plan stopped handsomely rewarding success on the court with multimillion-dollar payouts to schools that fail to meet minimum academic standards.

“Like millions of fans, I’ll be watching the tournament, rooting for my favorites. As a kid on the South Side of Chicago who loved basketball, I got to see the best and the worst of college sports. I spent time on the court with inner-city players who had been used and dumped by their universities. When the ball stopped bouncing, they struggled to find work and had difficult lives. Some died early. The dividing line for success was between those who went to college and got their degrees, and those who did not. If a team fails to graduate even half of its players, how serious are the institution and coach about preparing their student-athletes for life?”

Secretary Duncan joined Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, University of Central Florida on a press call to discuss NCAA graduation rates. Read the transcript, or listen to the call Audio icon.

National Security Through Quality Education

Image of Secretary Duncan and General George Casey in a Classroom

Secretary Duncan and Army Chief of Staff General George Casey speak to JROTC cadets at North Middle School, Radcliff, Kentucky

What do national security, military readiness, and education have in common?  It turns out that national security and quality education are closely tied together.  A recent study found that 75% of America’s youth are NOT qualified to join the Armed Forces.  This could have serious effects on America’s ability to defend itself.

Secretary Duncan and ED have been working to address this national security problem by committing to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Secretary Duncan continued that commitment earlier today when he joined Army Chief of Staff General George Casey in Radliff, Kentucky to help launch Project PASS, a new program to help put middle school students on the track to earning their high school diploma. (See photos.)

Project PASS is a new partnership between the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), the U.S. Army, and community leaders from around the country.  The initiative applies tenets of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) to middle schools in order to reduce dropout rates, increase citizenship, academics, and community and school service.

Read more about Project Pass.