Celebrating Progress in a Year of Action

As part of his Year of Action, President Obama has taken a series of executive actions to close opportunity gaps and ensure that more students receive the high-quality education that will prepare them for success in college and careers.

Promise Zones Launched in Five Communities
On Jan. 9, President Obama announced the first five “Promise Zones,” where communities and businesses will work together to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety. Three of the Zones involve education-focused Promise Neighborhoods.

My Brother’s Keeper
On Feb. 27, the President joined with philanthropies and the private sector to launch the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative, an effort to close persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people who are willing to work hard work are able to reach their full potential. On May 30, the MBK Federal Task Force issued its 90-day report with recommendations to improve preparation and success in early childhood education, 3rd grade reading, high school and postsecondary school completion, job-training and mentorship opportunities, and public safety.

Accountability for Unaffordable Student Debt
On March 14, ED proposed gainful employment regulations to identify career programs that leave students with debts they cannot afford. The regulations would give programs an opportunity to improve, and stop the flow of federal funding to the lowest-performing programs that fail to improve. Many career and for-profit colleges empower students to succeed by providing high-quality education and career training, but too many of these programs are failing to do so – at the expense of taxpayer dollars and students’ futures.

Increasing College Opportunity
The President is asking colleges, universities, nonprofits, and businesses to develop ways to improve students’ access to and completion of higher education, because a college education is a prerequisite for 21st-century jobs.On Jan. 16, more than 100 colleges, universities and other organizations made new commitments to expand college opportunity.

Redesigning High Schools for College & Career Success
On April 7, over $100 million in grants were awarded – using existing Department of Labor funds – to support high school models that better prepare students for college and career. DOL will finance 24 Youth CareerConnect awards to support partnerships between local education agencies, workforce investment boards, institutions of higher education and employer partners. These grants will help provide students with industry-relevant education and focus on engagement with employers through project-based learning, mentoring and postsecondary credit while in high school.

Job-Driven Training
On Jan. 30, Vice President Biden directed a review of all training programs to ensure they are “job-driven” – preparing and matching those who are ready to work with the skills needed to fill good jobs. Two new grant programs were announced on April 16 to spread models of job-driven training and apprenticeships, along with private-sector commitments that build on these efforts.

Teacher Preparation
On April 25, President Obama directed ED to lay out for public discussion a plan to strengthen America’s teacher preparation programs by this summer and to move forward to publish a final rule within the next year.

Making Progress on ConnectED
On Feb. 4, the Federal Communications Commission announced it would invest $2 billion to increase federal investment in school broadband and wireless. This includes commitments from top technology companies to provide free digital devices, content, and wireless access for K-12 students.

Bringing the Tech Revolution to to More Students
As part of the fourth White House Science Fair on May 27, President Obama announced new steps to help more students excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, including a new $35 million teacher training competition. The plan also includes a major expansion of STEM AmeriCorps to provide learning opportunities for 18,000 low-income students.

Strengthening Tribal Communities
On June 13, the President and First Lady made their first trip to Indian Country. Building on the significant progress the President has already made in partnering with tribes on a nation-to-nation basis, the Administration announced actions to strengthen Native American communities through education and economic development. These actions include a Bureau of Indian Education “Blueprint for Reform” to provide a world-class education to all students attending BIE schools and listening sessions to identify ways to improve school climate.

Student Debt: Expanding Pay As You Earn
On June 9, the President directed Secretary Duncan to propose regulations that ensure student debt remains affordable for all students who borrowed federal direct loans by allowing them to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly incomes. The Department will aim to make the new plan available to borrowers by December 2015. The Administration is also taking additional steps to help students repay their loans, including providing relief to service members, and renegotiating contracts with federal loan servicers to strengthen incentives that help borrowers repay their loans on time.

Max Luong is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.