Making it Easier to Pick and Pay for College through Ratings

For so many, this season of college commencements is a joyful one filled with visions of the future. College holds the promise of a good job, lifelong learning and community engagement. Yet for too many families the price of that vital ticket to the middle class is increasingly out of reach. That undermines the opportunity that is core to our American values, and threatens our economic growth and the common good. As a nation, we have to make college more accessible and affordable and assure that students graduate with an education of real value.

President Obama has set a goal of regaining our world leadership in college completion, and has made a commitment to keep college within reach for all students. He has also set forth specific steps to ensure that quality education beyond high school can be a reality for all families. As part of a broad plan to promote postsecondary access, affordability and meaningful outcomes, President Obama charged the Department of Education to design a college ratings system to promote these goals by increasing accountability for the federal investment in higher education and making better information available to consumers.

This is my second update on that plan, following an earlier post in December.

The President’s call for a ratings system is already driving a necessary conversation about exactly the right kind of questions: What colleges are taking on the vitally important role of educating low-income students, and assuring that they graduate with good results? What educational practices might help schools lower the cost to students while improving or sustaining quality learning? Across the country, from Georgia State to Franklin & Marshall, Purdue to Arizona State, Los Rios Community College to University of Central Missouri to CUNY and SUNY, there are exciting examples of colleges and universities engaging constructively with those questions and shaping their priorities to advance the same goals.

In an effort to build this system thoughtfully and wisely, we are listening actively to recommendations and concerns, starting with a student leader session, four open forums in California, Iowa, Louisiana and Virginia, and a national listening tour that grew to 80-plus meetings with 4,000 participants.

We hear over and over – from students and families, college presidents and high school counselors, low-income students, business people and researchers – that, done right, a ratings system will push innovations and systems changes that will benefit students. We’ve heard strong support for the President’s plan from state education leaders, who are working to figure out sensible ways to drive positive change, and also from students, educators and parents who have spoken passionately about the need to improve access to higher education.

At the same time, we’ve received useful feedback on the creation of the system and dangers to avoid. Many have spoken strongly about the need to reward schools for completion in ways that do not lead them to turn away struggling students. A viable system, they remind us, must capture the wide variety of schools and students with sensitivity. And it must thoughtfully measure indicators like earnings, to avoid overemphasizing income or first jobs, penalizing relatively lower paid and public service careers, or minimizing the less tangible benefits of a college education such as civic engagement and critical thinking.

In all of these conversations, nothing has touched me more than a young woman who testified with remarkable openness at our forum in Los Angeles.  “I want to repay the government and private lenders for the unforgettable education I received, but it’s nearly impossible,” she said. “I feel like I’m drowning every day.”

Her college debt was destroying her and her brother’s credit records. We’ve met many students, from Iowa farm families to Louisiana working adults, struggling to find a good and affordable college option and worried about debt and repayment. By contrast, I think of the astonishment and delight of a Hispanic mom at a community center parent meeting who discovered that her family didn’t have to rule out for cost reasons the respected and selective schools for which her daughter was well qualified. Sensible college ratings could help all of them.

As this conversation has evolved we’ve sought the help of higher education leaders and experts. In December, we asked technical and subject-matter experts about measures, data sources, and formulas that might be used to generate ratings. We received more than 140 responses, including some fully-developed recommendations for designing an effective system. In February, we convened a technical symposium on ratings systems with people knowledgeable about measures developed by institutions, states, and publications. The scope of responses, complexity of the task, and importance of doing this thoughtfully and usefully led us to decide that it is worth taking more time before publishing a proposal for comment, interchange and improvement. In the meantime we are continuing conversations with educators, families, leaders and researchers. We are on track to come out with a proposal by this fall and a final version of the new ratings system before the 2015-16 school year. I look forward to updating you again on progress in the coming months.

Ultimately, we are committed to significantly increasing college access, affordability and results for the good of America’s students and of our national competitiveness. Fair, clear and powerful incentives and information will let us recognize colleges’ success and scale their innovations.

Washington doesn’t have all the answers. But with the guidance of thousands of wise voices, we can take action that will help more Americans realize the dream of a college education.

 Jamienne Studley is deputy under secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Reach Higher for College

It’s easy to talk about the importance of college. But some folks really walk the walk.

I had the thrilling opportunity to meet some of them a few years ago, when I joined the college signing day at YES Prep in Houston, Texas. As I told the audience that day, I was moved nearly to tears as students announced their college plans to a cheering stadium, and signed letters committing to their college. It was the kind of unbridled enthusiasm we usually reserve for sporting events — and yet it was also like a family reunion. It was overwhelming.

Today, first lady Michelle Obama will take that experience to a whole new level when she gives a name to her college access initiative, Reach Higher, at the culmination of a city-wide college celebration in San Antonio, Texas. All week, the entire city has been focused on the vital importance of getting a college degree. Today, the first lady will witness an auditorium full of high school seniors committing to entering and completing college.

Their embrace of that goal is part of changing our country’s future. A generation ago, our young people were first in the world in their college completion rate — but now we are 12th in the world. President Obama has set a goal of reclaiming our world leadership.

And we are seeing some really important progress. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of announcing our new cohort high school graduation rate, which at 80 percent is the highest in US history. And last month, we learned that attainment of college degrees last year saw its biggest rise since 2008.

These improvements are badly needed and long in coming. African-American, Latino and low-income students have helped to drive many recent increases in high school graduation and college-going — but they still don’t have the same opportunities, or the same success rates, as many other students. The need for equitable opportunities has always been pressing — but is even more so as we project that this fall, America’s public school students will for the first time be mostly nonwhite. We are working hard to ensure stronger opportunities — but we have a long way to go.

And college matters in a way that it never has before — because without some postsecondary education, there are very few opportunities in today’s knowledge-based economy.

The first lady understands this at her core. Fighting for and committing to getting a great education isn’t some intellectual exercise for the first lady. She lived this experience on Chicago’s South Side. Her parents didn’t have a college education, but they pushed her and her brother Craig to work hard in high school and concentrate on getting a college degree. She pushed herself to study as hard as possible — benefiting from the encouragement of those who supported her, and pushing past the doubts of those who didn’t. So when students hear from her, when she tells her own story of perseverance in high school, in college, in law school — they listen. Because they understand that she’s not that different from any of them. All those struggles, whether it was picking classes, navigating student loans, or even just knowing the right sized sheets to bring that first day of college — she’s faced them, persevered, and been successful thanks to getting a great education. And she wants to make sure others understand how to navigate that path.

So I feel really lucky to have her as a better partner to inspire students across the country and push them to reach higher and commit to postsecondary education. In San Antonio, she won’t just be celebrating the importance of the college-going culture in one city, but the college-going culture she’s trying to create across the country. Her story, her candor, and her energy ensure that young people across this country will reach higher — and will achieve more.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Give me a break! It’s just a college tour!

Eight years ago, I attended my first college tour thanks to a partnership between the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Howard University’s Alumni Club of Chicago.

“Escape to Mecca” (E2M) is an annual college visit that started 11 years ago.  It has exposed more than 400 Chicago area juniors and seniors to life on Howard’s campus.  The trip is organized by current Howard students originally from the Chicago area. The CPS alumni knew that spring break would be a great time to visit Washington, DC, because students wouldn’t miss valuable class time. Unlike traditional tours, E2M fully thrusts participants into campus life; they live in dorms and dine in cafeterias with their hosts, engage in social events, attend classes, and get the chance to meet a number of administrators.

mecca_kids

First Lady Michelle Obama joins high school students from Chicago for a campus tour at Howard University in Washington, D.C., April 17, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

The most recent group of participants got an extra treat this year when First Lady Michelle Obama met privately with the E2M participants.  I accompanied Mrs. Obama as she toured campus dorms with students and then participated in a discussion about the challenges of attending college, and the importance of finding ways to overcome those challenges while using them as tools to success.  She applauded students for taking ownership of their futures by participating in a trip like E2M and not letting the opportunity go to waste.

“So the fact that you guys have this opportunity to spend a weekend on a college campus and really get a feel for what this experience is going to be like is really a tremendous opportunity that I hope you will take advantage of,” said Mrs. Obama.

As Mrs. Obama said, there are a lot of variables to consider when students and their families navigate the college decision process including: school size, location, student-to-faculty ratios and costs.  More high school students should use their spring and summer breaks to plan visits to institutions of higher learning.  She said, “Contact schools that are of interest to you, plan a visit to the campus, walk inside the dorm, sit in the class, talk to students and meet with the financial aid office.” This allows students and families the flexibility to spend quality time at colleges without interrupting important high school schedules.

The First Lady’s advice resonated with this year’s E2M participants. Though her visit was a major highlight, the best part of the spring break trip was that 27 students accepted admission to Howard University’s Class of 2018.

I can relate to what the seniors felt as they visited classes, slept in dorms, and joined their hosts at campus hangouts. My trip gave me the opportunity to get a feel for what life was going to be like as a college freshman and solidified my decision to attend Howard University.  That spring break changed my life.

As a native of the inner-city of Chicago, I realized that campus brochures and websites weren’t enough for me to fully grasp the reality of college.  It took the physical act of being there—of walking the grounds that so many trailblazers before me walked, of sleeping in the same rooms that were once inhabited by the likes of Thurgood Marshall, and visiting the library where Charles Drew studied—to realize the legacy of the institution and the legacy I wanted to leave for those after me.

I mean let’s face it: if you’re on spring or summer break, you should use the time to plan a campus visit.

Here are tips & tools from ED to get a head start this summer:

College ScorecardIncludes information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

  • College Affordability and Transparency Center: ED has compiled lists of institutions based on the tuition and fees and net prices (the price of attendance after considering all grant and scholarship aid) charged to students.
  • Federal Student Aid: There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations; Federal Student Aid provides tips and resources to help you find scholarships for which you may be eligible.

De’Rell Bonner is a special assistant and youth liaison in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach

 

How Can the Department of Education Increase Innovation, Transparency and Access to Data?

Despite the growing amount of information about higher education, many students and families still need access to clear, helpful resources to make informed decisions about going to – and paying for – college.  President Obama has called for innovation in college access, including by making sure all students have easy-to-understand information.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education needs your input on specific ways that we can increase innovation, transparency, and access to data.  In particular, we are interested in how APIs (application programming interfaces) could make our data and processes more open and efficient.

APIs are set of software instructions and standards that allow machine-to-machine communication.  APIs could allow developers from inside and outside government to build apps, widgets, websites, and other tools based on government information and services to let consumers access government-owned data and participate in government-run processes from more places on the Web, even beyond .gov websites. Well-designed government APIs help make data and processes freely available for use within agencies, between agencies, in the private sector, or by citizens, including students and families.

Read More

Helping Veterans Succeed in the Classroom

Dr Biden

Dr. Biden delivers opening remarks at Google’s veterans’ higher education event, Washington, D.C., November 13, 2013

Cross-posted from the Joining Forces Blog.

Yesterday, Dr. Jill Biden joined Google for their announcement of a Global Impact Award to the Institute for Veterans and Military FamiliesStudent Veterans of America, the Posse Foundation and Veterans of Foreign Wars to help ensure colleges and universities have the information they need to help veterans succeed in obtaining higher education.

“I have seen it in my own classroom — veterans bring the same determination and focus to their studies that they brought to serving our country,” said Dr. Biden, a lifelong educator and military mom.

Dr. Biden said the efforts were “exactly what the First Lady and I hoped to see when we started our Joining Forces initiative two years ago … individuals, businesses, and nonprofits working with the public sector to step up and do what they do best to help veterans and military families.”

Over the next few years, more than a million service men and women will end their military careers and transition back to civilian life. For many, education will be at the front line of that transition. Ensuring that our returning veterans and military families have access to the programs and resources that will help them successfully navigate their educational paths is critical.

As Dr. Biden noted, many of the student veterans she has met face unique challenges – they differ from their classmates in terms of age and experience, they often find a more relaxed schedule on campus to be very different from the rigid military schedule they are used to, and are juggling multiple priorities outside of school.

As part of Joining Forces, Dr. Biden plans to visit programs at colleges and universities around the country who are supporting veterans and military families to learn more about how successful programs can be replicated at other institutions.

The First Lady on the Power of Education

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited sophomores at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, DC. The First Lady’s remarks continued to expand her focus on issues of youth empowerment and education, in particular working to achieve the President’s “North Star” Goal.

You see, when Barack came into office,” she said, “one of the very first things he did was to set what he calls a North Star goal for America – that by the year 2020, the year that you all will be graduating from college, our country will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”


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

In her remarks, the First Lady spoke directly to young people about committing to their education so that they can create a better future for themselves, their communities, and their country. She also shared some of her personal academic experiences to illustrate her belief that circumstances do not define your future, but rather your attitude.

“My parents didn’t have much money, and they never went to college themselves, but they had an unwavering belief in the power of education, and they always pushed me and my brother to do whatever it took to succeed in school.”

“I knew that the first thing I needed to do was to have the strongest academic record possible… so I worked hard to get the best grades that I possibly could in all my classes.  I got involved in leadership opportunities in school, where I developed close relationships with teachers and administrators. I knew I needed to present very solid and thoughtful college applications… so I stayed up late at night working on my college essays and personal statements.  I knew my parents would not be able to pay for all of my tuition… so I made sure I applied for financial aid on time.  And when I encountered doubters…when people told me that I wasn’t going to cut it… I didn’t let that stop me.”

After the First Lady’s remarks, she joined Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan for a conversation with sophomores, who represent the college class of 2020. BET moderators Jeff Johnson and Keshia Chante facilitated the discussion and encouraged students to discuss their goals and aspirations, challenges and concerns as they contemplate and prepare for higher education. The conversation was a listening session in which the First Lady and Secretary Duncan could hear first-hand the valuable perspective of these sophomores as they contemplate and prepare for higher education.

flotus_bppic_11.12.2013

First Lady Michelle Obama greets students after participating in a conversation with the 10th-grade class at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C., Nov. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

The First Lady and Secretary Duncan also shared a few resources to help students navigate the sometimes tricky college application process. They suggested exploring studentaid.gov  to learn more about what it takes academically and financially to go to college. Other great resources include the College Scorecard and the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, tools that provide students and families with easy-to-understand information about colleges and institutions of higher education.  These tools help students choose schools that are well-suited to meet their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their educational and career goals.

Tina Tchen is the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady

Duncan Speaks on Vitality of Historically Black Colleges

Duncan at HBCU eventHistorically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), “must not just survive but thrive,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told those gathered at the HBCU National Conference in Washington yesterday. Duncan spoke of the enduring contributions HBCUs have made to the country and said that the tremendous historic role of HBCUs must endure as well as evolve.

Historical Role of HBCUs

Too many Americans are unfamiliar with the staggering accomplishments of HBCUs. Most of America’s civil rights giants were educated at HBCUs—Dr. King, W.E.B. DuBois, Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, and Thurgood Marshall.

In our time, Jesse Jackson, Andy Young, Barbara Jordan, Congressman John Lewis, Marian Wright Edelman, and Doug Wilder all earned their degrees at HBCUs.

Legendary artists and authors came out of HBCUs—Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison.

Yet what is most impressive about the HBCU record is not just your famous alumni. It is that HBCUs, working with meager resources, almost single-handedly created an African-American professional class in the face of decades of Jim Crow discrimination.

College Completion Rates

The math here is pretty simple. To reach the President’s 2020 goal, student populations with high dropout rates—especially minority students—will have to exponentially increase their college graduation rates.

This is not just about access—this is about attainment. Nationwide, only about one in four—28 percent—of young black adults have received a college degree.

But we know that African Americans have the highest proportion of adults who have some college but not a degree of any major racial group. Almost 18 percent of African Americans aged 25 years and older—nearly one in five adults—went to college but left without their degree.

That college completion shortfall is both a tragic squandering of talent and an unprecedented opportunity to do better.

So, in the years ahead, we want HBCUs to continue to be known not just for their storied alumni but for leading the way for all institutions in educating and graduating African American college students.

Innovation at HBCUs

I want to be absolutely clear: Support for innovation at HBCUs should be government-wide, and not just from the Department of Education. I’m excited that the Department of Energy awarded $9 million to nine HBCUs in South Carolina and Georgia to develop academic programs that promote minority involvement in STEM fields, especially in environmental management.

And just yesterday, the National Institutes of Health announced it has awarded planning grants to five HBCUs, totaling almost one million dollars in its new NIH BUILD initiative.

Read Secretary Duncan’s entire speech, learn more about HBCUs and follow the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities on Twitter.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

8 Keys to Success: Supporting Veterans, Military and Military Families on Campus

Cross-posted from White House Blog

On Saturday, at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention, President Obama outlined five 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 have committed to implementing the 8 Keys to Success 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 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.

The 8 Keys to Success on campus are:

  1. Create a culture of trust and connectedness across the campus community to promote well-being and success for veterans.

  2. Ensure consistent and sustained support from campus leadership.

  3. Implement an early alert system to ensure all veterans receive academic, career, and financial advice before challenges become overwhelming.

  4. Coordinate and centralize campus efforts for all veterans, together with the creation of a designated space (even if limited in size).

  5. Collaborate with local communities and organizations, including government agencies, to align and coordinate various services for veterans.

  6. Utilize a uniform set of data tools to collect and track information on veterans, including demographics, retention and degree completion.

  7. Provide comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff on issues and challenges unique to veterans.

  8. Develop systems that ensure sustainability of effective practices for veterans.

With more and more service members returning home in the next year, it has never been more important for schools to have a roadmap in place to make sure veterans are getting the best possible educational experience. By adopting the 8 Keys to Success, schools are taking a positive step in that direction.

VSOC, VITAL, and 8 Keys to Success Sites (Image from US Department of Education)

VSOC, VITAL, and 8 Keys to Success Sites (Image from US Department of Education)

The 250 schools that have committed to the 8 Keys to Success are helping veterans and military families afford and complete their college degrees, certificates, industry-recognized credentials and licenses, and—importantly—preparing them for jobs in high-growth sectors of the economy. More schools are expected to adopt the 8 Keys to Success on campus in the coming months.

The 8 Keys to Success are only part of the Administration’s efforts to support and protect service members in the classroom. The Keys build on the Administration’s Principles of Excellence, which President Obama established by Executive Order in April 2012. The Principles of Excellence provide protections for our military and veterans in institutions of higher education to prevent against dishonest recruiting and predatory practices. To further veterans’ success in higher education, the VA is also expanding its VetSuccess on Campus and Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership programs, which connect veterans to VA resources. Together, all of these measures will help provide our veterans and military families with the high-quality, affordable education they deserve.

We all owe a great debt to those who have served this country. Giving schools tools they can use to truly welcome and support our returning service members is one way we can help repay that debt by making sure we are providing our veterans and military families with an education worthy of their exceptional talents and experience.

Tobacco Free College Campuses

National Tobacco-Free College Campus InitiativeApproximately 18.9 percent of young adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18-24 smoke. And as documented by the 2012 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, almost no one starts smoking after age 25. Progression from occasional to daily smoking frequently occurs during the first years following high school. Thus, tobacco prevention and cessation efforts should include young adults, making college and university campuses a critical target.

College and university campuses offer unique opportunities for promoting social norms that support healthy living and lifestyle choices. The Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative, a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the University of Michigan and the American College Health Association, encourages the voluntary adoption of tobacco-free policies at institutions of higher learning across the nation. These policies not only support the many people on college campuses who are trying to quit but also dissuade young adults from starting.

Institutions of higher learning around the country are increasingly adopting new policies that reinforce their longstanding commitments to student health while strengthening and protecting their communities against tobacco addiction. When the initiative launched in September 2012, 774 colleges and universities were tobacco- or smoke-free, according to the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Today more than 1,159 university and college campuses have implemented tobacco- or smoke-free policies, reflecting exponential growth.

All are welcome to participate in the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative – university and college leaders, administrators, faculty members, students and student groups. For more information or to get started, please visit www.tobaccofreecampus.org.

Dr. Howard K. Koh is the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Road to College: Summer Tips for Rising Seniors

college arne quoteYes, soon-to-be high school seniors- your time has come! As you bask in the excitement of the upcoming year, set aside time this summer to lay the groundwork for a smooth college process. Trust me, you will be thankful you did later!

With all the information available for seniors, it’s essential for students and their families to take advantage of the tools that can help best inform you on taking the right path for secondary education.

Here are tips & tools from ED to get a head start this summer:

Tip: Search for the type of college that will best suit you. Narrow down the program, size, type, location, and tuition cost of colleges, this will help you zero in on a concise list of institutions to apply to come fall.

  • College ScorecardIncludes information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

Tip: Research the tuition and fees of the institutions that top your college list. This will help give you and your family a clearer view of the potential cost of each institution right from the start of the college process.

  • College Affordability and Transparency Center: ED has compiled lists of institutions based on the tuition and fees and net prices (the price of attendance after considering all grant and scholarship aid) charged to students.

Tip: It is never too early to look for scholarships! Some deadlines are as early as a year before college starts, so take time this summer to research and begin applying for scholarships.

  • Federal Student Aid: There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations; Federal Student Aid provides tips and resources to help you find scholarships you may be eligible for.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

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.

Read More