Technology Gives Students with Disabilities Access to College Courses

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Program Coordinator Jennifer Lang-Jolliff (green sweater) speaks about Mission Middle College program with guest Michael Yudin, seated on right.

Last week, I met with a group of high school students with learning disabilities who attend a dual-enrollment high school/college program at Mission Middle College in Santa Clara, California. The program emphasizes the use of technology, including the Bookshare accessible library, to help students earn college credit while still in high school.

The Mission Middle College educational program is a collaboration of Santa Clara Unified School District and Mission Community College. The program takes on a student-centered learning environment where seniors can complete required high school courses while accumulating college credits. Each student focuses on individual educational choices and academic and vocational studies relevant to future goals. The idea is to provide learning choices and empowerment for students.  The program is inclusive of all students, with or without a disability.

Some of the students have print and learning disabilities that impede their ability to easily read and comprehend grade-level text and complex curricula in print. Many of these students felt stuck and considered dropping out of school. Their instructors believe in every student’s learning potential and set high expectations. They teach students first to choose appropriate reading technologies for their learning needs, and then to find the reading assignments in digital accessible format, such as DAISY text and DAISY audio.

“We expect high standards from all students,” said Jennifer Lang-Jolliff, the Program Coordinator at Mission Middle College. “And we provide them with the instruction, tools, and resources to rise to the challenge of learning rigorous curriculum. Individualized instruction and timely access to curriculum in digital formats enable many students to feel more confident and prepared. Our high expectations and the e-literacy services available to students helped to shift their views of themselves personally and academically. They see their way through to college, community service, and good careers.”

Indeed, I was pleased to learn that starting with the graduating class of 2009, 100% of graduates at Mission Middle College had a viable postsecondary plan that included a college or university. This is right in line with President Obama’s key goal of being first in the world in college completion by 2020, and Mission Middle College is helping America meet that goal.

The students at Mission Middle College with print disabilities (including visual impairments, physical disabilities, and severe learning disabilities) are empowered to find the right assistive technology, computer software application, or device to help them achieve academically.

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A senior demonstrates technology for Michael Yudin (center) and Benetech’s GM, Betsy Beaumon (standing). Kate Finnerty observes the tech demo.

The students I met are members of Bookshare, a free and federally funded online library from the U.S. Department of Education. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs. Bookshare provides timely access to curriculum in digital formats and offers a large collection of eBooks (currently over 190,000 books and growing) as well as reading technologies to enable students to experience multimodal learning—the ability to see and hear text read aloud.

I met Kate Finnerty, a high school senior with dyslexia, who qualifies for Bookshare. Kate has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that requires technology accommodations to aid her in her studies. She told me, “The library is very helpful. I use it to keep up with reading and research. Without it, I would have fallen behind.”  Kate is pursuing graphic design—she received acceptance letters from five U.S. colleges!

During the roundtable discussion, students, educators, parents, and administrators explored how Mission Middle College’s use of assistive technologies (AT) helps each student face their learning challenges with individualized approaches, which include digital books and reading technologies. Roundtable takeaways include:

  • The emphasis on self-advocacy. The students set clear goals and high expectations for their future.
  • Teachers give each student individualized attention, creating plans for their future and how to get there.
  • Students who qualify with print disabilities can receive timely access to curriculum and feel more independent and empowered in the reading process through Bookshare and the AT it provides.
  • Many of the students will be doing internships at Benetech this summer and will get work-based experience that will help prepare them for college and career.
  • Technologies can deliver flexible instruction based on learning needs and preferences, including multimodal reading (to see and hear text aloud) that may unlock the reader’s ability to decode words and more fully comprehend information.

Programs like this at Mission Middle College are about making sure every student graduates from high school and is college and career ready. Students who once had to wait for books now receive timely access to the curriculum in alternative formats. Many activities are streamlined for students who may not fit traditional models, and those who once felt like academic failures are now completing high school courses and are on track to college.

I often speak about the broad values of inclusion, equity, and opportunity for youth with disabilities to actively participate in all aspects of school and life. Programs like that of Mission Middle College, which use assistive technologies and digital accessible books provided by Bookshare, are truly models for others. They promote high academic standards for all, enabling more students to be college and career ready.

Michael Yudin is acting assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.  

Migrant Life and the Inspiration of a Mother

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Left to Right: Merylee’s husband Reymundo Juarez, daughter Lizelena Marie, son Angel Manuel, father Mario Alcala, daughter Alexandra Ines and Merylee Juarez on the day of her GED graduation.

“Termine la escuela. No queremos que sea como nosotros, a trabajar en los campos en el frío y la lluvia.” [Finish school. We don’t want you to be like us and work in the fields in the cold and the rain.] My mom has always encouraged me to get an education and now that I am a mother myself, I truly understand the significance of her words. Even though agricultural work is honorable, migrant life is difficult and as a student, this is especially true. Time becomes a precious commodity when balancing work, school and family responsibilities.

At 10 years of age I started blueberry picking with my family in Michigan for eight months out of the year and then would live in Texas for the rest of the year. Since then I’ve held several migrant jobs including price tagging and shipping field plants. My parents, trying to give us a better tomorrow, would work long hours every day and as one of seven children, I would help to watch my siblings while my parents were gone.

I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, but watching my mother learn English to apply for a better job while still caring for her family, inspired me to go back to school. I passionately love to help people, just like my mother, but I realized that in order to help others, I had to help myself first. After several hurdles, I enrolled in the U.S. Department of Education’s High School Equivalent Program (HEP).  The HEP assists migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their children to obtain a GED and serves more than 5,000 students every year. It has made a tremendous impact in my life by not only helping me educationally but by also providing job placement assistance.

mother and children

Merylee’s mother, Maria De La Luz Alcala

The HEP really helped me get on the path to achieving my dreams. I may have a long way to go in becoming an elementary teacher and then ultimately a Migrant Student Counselor, but I want my children to look at me like I have looked at my mother since I was a child – as a role model. Her drive and encouragement has been a huge force in my life. This Mother’s Day, I hope she reads this blog and understands how grateful I am for her never ending support and for providing for her children the best way she knew how.

Gracias mama. I will continue to make you proud and prove that all your hard work was not in vain. ¡Porque cuando se quiere, se puede! [Because when you want it, you can achieve it!]

Merylee Jaurez is now a proud college student at South Texas College and President of the Migrant Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and Secretary of the Title I PAC in Monte Alto, Texas.

Interested in learning more about ED’s migrant programs?

Migrant Education Program (MEP): Ensures that children of migrant workers have access to and benefit from the same free, appropriate public education, including public preschool education, provided to other children. The MEP funds help state and local educational agencies remove barriers to the school enrollment, attendance, and achievement of migrant children.

College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP): Assist migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their children to successfully complete the first undergraduate year of study in a college or university, and provides follow-up services to help students continue in postseco

Finding the Right College For You – Tools & Resources from ED

If you are a high school senior who has yet to decide where you’re going to college this fall, you are most likely not alone. May 1st marks the National College Decision Day where the vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities require students to notify them of their decision to attend.

As you navigate the college decision process, the U.S. Department of Education provides tools for you and your family to make it easy to compare important information such as college costs, average student loan debt, and graduation rates across different institutions.

If you are a student or the parent of a college-bound teen struggling with this decision, here are a few tools that can help:

Federal Student Aid The College Scorecard

The College Scorecard includes essential information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow, all in an easy-to-read format. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

Net Price Calculator Center

Federal Student Aid

The Net Price Calculator Center provides an easy tool to explore the net price of any given college- that is, the price after subtracting the scholarships and grants you are likely to receive. Then, you can easily compare estimated net prices across the institutions that you are considering.

Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

Many colleges and universities have adapted a Shopping Sheet which will be included in your financial aid package. The Shopping Sheet provides personalized information on financial aid and net costs as well as general information on institutional outcomes- all in a standardized format. This tool provides an easy way to make clear comparisons among financial aid offers that you may receive.

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College Navigator

College Navigator is an interactive website that allows you to explore and compare features of different institutions, including programs and majors, admissions considerations, campus crime statistics and more.

For additional tips visit Federal Student Aid’s Choosing a School resources and follow @USEDGOV & @FAFSA on Twitter.

Now that you have the resources and the tools to pick the right college, you can let out a sigh of relief and show your campus pride with that coveted university sweatshirt. Congratulations!

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

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. 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Making College Safety a Factor in Decision Making

With National College Decision Day (May 1st), just around the corner, many students along with their parents are making the difficult decision on which college to attend in the fall. What factors play a role in this decision? For students it might be the academic reputation of the school, employment opportunities after graduation, and financial assistance. But what about campus safety? Can this also be a factor in the college decision?

Finding information on campus safety is easier than you’d expect. College campuses that receive Title IV funding from the Department of Education must comply with the Clery Act by collecting and publishing the last three years of their campus crime statistics as well as developing and implementing security policies for a safe campus. Statistics for each college and university are available to view on the Department of Education’s website.

sexual assault awareness month ribbon

With April designated National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month by President Obama, it reminds us that college-age women are at the greatest risk of an attempted or completed rape. While these statistics about sexual assaults should be captured accurately, some assaults remain unreported or misclassified. When that information is inaccurate, it leads to a false sense of personal security.  And while there are many factors that could be contributing to underreporting, it can be exacerbated by a campus culture that is still adjusting to Federal regulation regarding Clery reportable crimes.

The Department of Education believes school safety is a requirement to ensure students have access to education free from harm. The Department enforces colleges’ compliance through program reviews conducted by Federal Student Aid’s Clery Act Compliance Division and investigations by the Office of Civil Rights.  If Clery violations are found, the Department makes findings which the school must address and correct, in addition to potential financial penalties for those infractions.

Parents and students can investigate the reported safety of the campus not only through the Department’s website, but also by reviewing the college’s annual security report located on the college’s website.  Through program reviews and additional assistance, the Department is working with colleges and universities to improve reporting procedures and campus awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault.  Together, we are working to create a campus culture that is more supportive and safe for students.

Lauren Bloom is a budget analyst in Budget Service within the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development and works on the Student Aid Administration account.

Early Learning: A Prerequisite for Success in the Hispanic Community

Hispanic Students Attending College Graph

The biggest jump we’ve seen among students attending college is for Hispanic students – 32% now attend college, compared to 24% in 2003.

It is no surprise to see a room full of business leaders, but what made the meeting on March 19, different was that the leaders in the room were focused on a different kind of investment: education. Secretary Arne Duncan set the stage for the America’s Greatest Investment: Educating the Future plenary session during the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., by delivering remarks celebrating the educational successes in the Hispanic community and highlighting key components of President Obama’s call for universal high-quality early education.

The good news is that Hispanic high school graduation and college enrollment rates have increased over the last four years. About three in four Latino high school students graduate with their class, and there are now more than half a million additional Hispanic students enrolled in college compared to 2008. But there is still a great deal of work to be done, because while college enrollment is soaring, college completion rates have not kept pace.

Duncan speaks at Hispanic Summit

Secretary Duncan at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C.

The shortage of Hispanic students on graduation day in college has its roots at the beginning of the education pipeline. One of the best, most strategic ways to continue and build on the educational progress in the Hispanic community is to expand access to affordable, high-quality preschool while also boosting college completion rates

High-quality early education offers the highest rate of return with some studies projecting a return of $7 for every $1 spent. During his State of the Union address, President Obama introduced a new universal preschool plan that would launch a new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program and expand the Administration’s evidence-based home visiting initiative. It would create a groundbreaking federal-state partnership that will enable states to provide universal, high-quality preschool for four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families, up to 200 percent of the poverty line.

To garner support for universal high-quality early education programs, Secretary Duncan called on business leaders “to make the case for the significant return-on-investment and greater equity that high-quality early learning will produce for America’s future workforce.” He continued that “business leaders [need] to encourage employees, customers, and neighbors to push for and to participate in high-quality preschool in greater numbers.”

Now is the time for every child in America to have an opportunity for high-quality early education so that all students arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. As he concluded his remarks, Secretary Duncan stated, “With bipartisan backing, with your commitment and leadership, I believe our nation will soon take its next step to transform preschool education. I believe state and local leaders, CEOs, teachers, and moms and dads and grandparents will stand up and say: It is time.”

Read Secretary Duncan’s speech and learn more about President Obama’s plan for early education for all Americans.

Marco Davis is Acting Executive Director for the White House Initiatives on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

The Economic Case for Higher Education

As the semester draws to a close at schools and universities across the country and college applications are submitted, the Treasury Department has released a report that should be food for thought for students scrambling to complete their work and finish their exams. The new report, prepared in conjunction with the Education Department, shows that investing in education expands job opportunities, boosts America’s competitiveness, and supports the kind of income mobility that is fundamental to a growing economy.

While post-secondary education has become increasingly important over time, there have also been growing concerns about the accessibility and affordability of higher education. In particular, students and their families are bearing a greater share of college costs than a generation ago. In an effort to help counteract these trends, the Obama Administration has implemented several new policies to provide relief for students and their families, including increasing Pell grants, introducing the American Opportunity Tax Credit, keeping Stafford loan interest rates low, and expanding “income-based repayment.” This report confirms the critical importance of higher education, showing the personal economic benefits of attending college, and includes data and analysis on the broader role of a well-educated workforce, which is vital to our nation’s future economic growth.

American companies and businesses require a highly skilled workforce to meet the demands of today’s increasingly competitive global economy. This report explores the current state of higher education, with a high-level overview of the market and a more detailed discussion and analysis of the financial aid system. The report also outlines the important steps the President has already taken to make higher education more accessible and affordable.

Key findings include:

Students are bearing a greater share of the college costs than a generation ago. At public four-year colleges and universities, tuition and fees as a percent of revenue has doubled since 1987, while the proportion funded by state and local governments has fallen by about one-third. Meanwhile, in-state tuition at public four-year colleges and universities has grown by two-thirds since 2000 after adjusting for inflation.​

People with more education typically earn more and have a lower likelihood of being unemployed. In 2011, the typical worker with just a bachelor’s degree earned about $1,000 a week, roughly two-thirds more than those with only a high school diploma.  The unemployment rate for workers with a bachelor’s degree was 4.9 percent, about half of the rate for people with only a high school diploma.

employment education chart

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012). Data are for individuals age 25 and over. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers.

Education significantly increases the ability of children to move up the economic ladder. For example, having a college degree means that children born into the middle three income quintiles are more than 75 percent more likely to advance to a higher income quintile as adults than those who do not get a college degree.
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Source: Brookings analysis of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (Isaacs, Sawhill, & Haskins, 2011).

Recognizing these trends, the Obama Administration has implemented several new policies to provide relief for students and their families The Administration’s actions include:

    • Raising Pell grants: The maximum Pell grant increased from $4,731 in 2008 to $5,550 in 2010.
    • Introducing the American Opportunity Tax Credit: This replaced the Hope Credit with a more generous credit amount (up to $2,500 compared to $1,800), is available for four years instead of two, and is available to a broader range of families due to its partial refundability and higher income limits.
    • Keeping Stafford loan interest rates low: The reduced 3.4 percent interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans was extended for another year this summer, rather than rising to 6.8 percent as scheduled under then-existing law.
    • Expanding “income-based repayment”: Starting in 2009, student borrowers participating in the Direct Loan program may qualify for the “income-based repayment” (IBR) plan, which caps monthly student loan payments at 15 percent of discretionary income. In 2010 legislation, IBR was made more generous starting in 2014, with a lower maximum on payments (10 percent instead of 15 percent) and forgiveness after 20 years (instead of 25 years).  And in Fall 2011, the Administration announced its new “Pay as You Earn” program that would provide similar benefits to new qualifying borrowers
    • who will be able to use the program by the end of 2012.

Read the full report and fact sheet here.

Jan Eberly is the Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy and Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Carmel Martin is the Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.
This post originally appeared on the Treasury Notes Blog.

Dallas Delivers: Insights from the Trenches

My recent visit to El Centro College (part of the Dallas County Community College District) stood in sharp contrast to the sweltering 113-degree temperature reflected on my rental car thermometer.  The El Centro visit – which included a campus tour and a College Affordability Summit – reinforced three key themes within the President and the Department of Education’s post-secondary educational agenda: (1) college affordability; (2) career readiness and educational opportunity linked to employability; and (3) vulnerable student success, including America’s returning Veterans who pursue further education.

Paul McCarthy, El Centro College’s president since 2008, took me on a campus tour before the actual Summit launched. I walked through the College’s newly renovated building dedicated to the health professions that included state-of-the-art simulation laboratories.  I saw a group of students learning to be highly employable invasive cardiovascular technologists. I observed the Food and Hospitality Institute where students learn to design and cook meals and bake; they also run a small restaurant on campus that can be frequented at low cost by the campus and wider Dallas community.  This tour punctuated the College’s effort – similar to that on a growing number of campuses — to provide a meaningful set of engaged educational opportunities for their growing student population through degrees and certificates that can lead to employment.

A Dart train

El Centro helps its students get to and from school by providing DART passes.

One key initiative at the College is a program to facilitate travel to and from the College. With a diverse population of low-income students and no College provided parking on the main campus, the College provides each student registered for at least six credits with a free DART card that enables that student to use the Dallas area rapid transportation system to get to/from campus.  Students can also use the card to get to and from work and for personal travel including evenings and weekends.  While the College pays for these cards (at discounted rates from the city transportation authority), the benefits to students vastly outweigh the costs, and this program helps students who might otherwise not be able to pursue or continue their education to progress to and through college affordably.  A similar benefit is offered, with positive results, in the ASAP initiative within the CUNY system.

One other topic explored in depth at the Summit was the College’s effort to provide educational opportunities that will meet the needs of their growing Veteran population.  The conversation demonstrated how the Senior Leaders are deeply aware of the challenges Veterans face when they return to civilian life; the College is engaged in efforts to provide added support systems and faculty and staff training opportunities to foster Veteran success at El Centro. Two of the College’s leaders will be participating in the upcoming August 1st convening to be held at the Department of Education on best practices for Veteran students on America’s campuses, based on the lessons learned from the Department’s Veteran Center of Excellence FIPSE grantees.

In short, the Dallas June day’s soaring heat was well matched by soaring efforts in support of the President’s 2020 goal of getting more and more Americans to progress to and through post-secondary education.

Karen Gross is a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

The University and the Economy

America’s colleges and universities often make a significant difference in the lives of their communities. This was apparent at the University of Northern Colorado where President Kay Norton, faculty and staff have taken bold steps to keep Greeley and the university inextricably linked through the thick and thin of the region’s economic recovery. With 6,700 postsecondary institutions across our nation, I think it’s critical for government to learn from what I call examples of excellence so we can provide the incentives that will spread positive change more broadly.

Arriving on campus for a summit on College Affordability and Completion that took place on Feb. 23, I was given a report on a University District initiative that contained a map of the region dotted with blue marks. President Norton explained that the blue dots marked the locations of the residences of thousands of Greeley students, alums and employees with deep roots in the community.

Kanter and Norton

University of Northern Colorado President Kay Norton and U.S. Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter in front of "Front Range Rainstorm" by Artist and Professor Emeritus Fredric L. Myers

In fact, one of every seven residents has a connection to UNC. At the meetings with business, government and academic leaders of the region, the interdependencies created between Greeley and UNC stood out. Company leaders were expanding their investments in Greeley. These business leaders clearly regard the university as their partner. As President Norton drove me around the region, she pointed out several areas ripe for redevelopment in which the university, government and business are working together to plan, design and construct a University District that exemplifies “An America Built to Last,” a central tenet of the Obama Administration’s Education Blueprint released on January 24.

President Norton told me that UNC’s partnership with the community dates back to the institution’s beginning, when residents lobbied the Legislature to establish a state school for training teachers in Greeley and then funded much of the start-up cost. Then, like now, residents recognized the role of higher education in building both economic and social value. She went on to say that UNC is one of the region’s largest employers and pointed out several other major employers, including North Colorado Medical Center, State Farm, the local school district and the City of Greeley, which are growing the local workforce as they work closely with the university to ensure that their employees have the requisite knowledge and skills when they earn degrees and certificates from UNC.

Those efforts matter. On average, college graduates are twice as likely to be employed as those with only a high school diploma. And the difference in earnings is growing.  Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that high school graduates in 1979 earned about 72 cents for every dollar that bachelor’s degree holders did; today they earn just 55 cents. In fact, the disparity today between weekly earnings for bachelor’s degree holders and high school graduates is greater than both the gender and racial pay gaps in our nation.

The challenge before us is great. Estimates from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce project that, unless we do dramatically better, we’ll produce three million fewer college graduates than are needed by our economy within the next decade.

That’s a gap that could make it hard for American employers to fill high-skill positions. Worse yet, this gap will hamper innovations and advancements that could open up new industries and sources of future jobs. But we can change these predictions, if we act now as UNC is doing. According to the Center, by adding an additional 20 million postsecondary-educated workers over the next 15 years, our national level of educational attainment would be comparable to the best-educated nations, help us meet the economy’s need for innovation, and reverse the growth of income inequality.

It was difficult but necessary for me to note that in just one year (FY11-FY12), Colorado reduced its state fiscal support for higher education by 15.4%, ranking 46 of our 50 states. President Norton said that UNC is becoming an “enterprise institution of higher education” as the institution’s leaders have worked to cut costs significantly over the past few years while also maintaining UNC’s commitment to access and quality as it serves the growing number of students coming to UNC.

As we returned to the campus and drove by residence halls, playing fields and the Campus Recreation Center, President Norton pointed out that “not one penny of federal or state government support was spent to build these facilities.” Reductions in state taxpayer support ultimately put pressure on students as universities rely more on tuition and fees to provide a high-quality educational experience.

President Obama has made a series of bold proposals for FY13 that includes a Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion, a new partnership between states, higher education and the federal government to help states put reasonable financial plans for education in place and give higher priority to colleges and universities who are providing good value, serving high need students well, and keeping college affordable for the middle class.

As we look ahead, UNC’s partnership with Greeley is a model for the way 21st century communities can grow and thrive as we think of creative ways to invest in education and the economy for a nation “built to last.”

Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary of Education

Students Find Success in Metro Academy Programs

After watching Camille Jackson blossom in the Metro Academy program at City College of San Francisco, her mother was inspired to go back to school and continue her own education. This is just one instance of how this innovative program is producing positive ripple effects throughout communities. Jackson and other students shared their stories earlier this month during a Metro Academy briefing sponsored by Rep. Lynn Woolsley (D-Calif.), at the U.S. Capitol, explaining how the successful partnership between San Francisco State University (SFSU) and City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is helping them work their way to fulfilling the American dream.

Panel at the Capitol

SF State Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Sue Rosser, from left, Metro Academies Program Director Mary Beth Love and Metro Academies Curriculum and Faculty Affairs Director Savita Malik participate in a Capitol Hill briefing on Metro Academies in Washington, D.C. Photos by Rishi Malik, courtesy of San Francisco State University.

Metro Academy is a structured two-year program, supported in part with a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant from ED’s Office of Postsecondary Education, that helps lead students directly to an associate’s degree and then into a bachelor’s degree program. The Academy programs cover all the general education requirements of the bachelor’s and are designed around career themes.

The problem-based curriculum keeps students engaged, and the lockstep sequence of courses shortens completion time and raises completion rates. So far, the SFSU-CCSF partnership has Academy programs in health and early childhood education, with another program focused on STEM careers starting in the fall.

As reported by Savita Malik, the Metro Academies’ curriculum and faculty affairs director, the program adopts many of the best practices in higher education, such as the learning outcomes recommended by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and high-impact educational practices such as learning communities, writing-intensive courses, integrated student support services, and others.

The results have been remarkable: higher persistence rates, higher GPAs, and faster progress to degree. And best of all, these practices are cost-effective. While they require a small additional investment per student, it actually lowers the cost per completed degree, as Jane Wellman—a higher education cost expert—informed the briefing attendees.

Like Camille Jackson, Alexander Leyva-Estrada is another student who credits his success to Metro Academy, from which he graduated in 2010. Leyva-Estrada, a first-generation college student, is now a junior majoring in health education at San Francisco State, and thoroughly enjoying the new world of learning and opportunities that is unfolding before him. Both Camille and Alexander gave moving personal testimonials about their experience during our briefing, demonstrating that success for all our students is possible and within our reach.

Eduardo Ochoa is Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education

Win $1,500 in ED’s College Net Price Calculator Student Video Challenge

Are you, or do you know, a high school or college student with great video skills? Help the Department of Education broaden public awareness of college net price calculators, and you could win $1,500. A university or college’s net price calculator gives families a better sense of how much they would actually pay to attend a particular institution.

The College Net Price Calculator Student Video Challenge asks high school and college students to produce short videos highlighting why the calculators are a valuable resource.  A panel of higher education stakeholders will judge the entries, and the top three contestants will each win a $1,500 cash prize. Video submissions are due Jan. 31, and the winner will be announced this spring.

Net price calculators allow prospective students to enter their financial information to find out what students with similar financial needs paid to attend the institution in the previous year. The calculator includes all grants and scholarship aid that might be available to the student. While the calculator won’t be able to tell an individual student exactly how much he or she will have to pay to attend that school, it will give students a realistic estimate of how financial aid might lower the net cost of enrolling in that institution.

You can find a college or university’s net price calculator on their website, or use ED’s College Navigator to find a link to a school’s calculator.

To learn more or submit an entry, visit http://netpricecalc.challenge.gov/.

ED and ONDCP Ask Universities to Join Efforts to Reduce Illegal Drug Use

[On Friday,] Director Kerlikowske and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reached out to higher education institutions highlighting President Obama’s 2011 National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy). The 2011 Strategy supports two of President Obama’s goals for our Nation – reducing illegal drug use by ten percent within five years, and having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.  The detrimental consequences of substance use on academic performance are significant.  That is why the 2011 Strategy emphasizes the importance of responding to illegal drug use and high-risk drinking on college campuses, and the Department of Education’s continued efforts to incorporate alcohol and other drug abuse prevention into higher education.

Given these goals, Director Kerlikowske and Secretary Duncan invite college and university leaders to join them along with other Federal agency partners to work collaboratively to prevent illegal drug use, and high-risk drinking in our Nation’s college and university communities by ensuring the most effective prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services are available to all students.

The release of the Strategy reaffirms the commitment by ONDCP, Department of Education and other Federal agencies to address substance use in the college population today, and to collaboratively work together to achieve the President’s goals.

Read the letter.

David K. Mineta is Deputy Director of the Office of Demand Reduction

Cross-posted from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.