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

ED Announces First Open Forum on the Administration’s College Value and Affordability Plans

In August 2013, President Barack Obama announced the Administration’s plans and proposals for combating rising college costs and making college affordable for American families.  The President’s plan included three parts: paying for performance; promoting innovation and competition; and ensuring that student debt remains affordable.

As part of an effort to gather public input about these proposals, and in particular the development of a college ratings system, the Department of Education will be hosting open forums around the country.  These open forums are designed to offer the opportunity for members of the public to provide feedback and input on the Department’s plans and proposals, and to hear the input of others.

Read More

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

Making College Affordable for Every American

I’m thrilled today that President Obama is moving forward with an ambitious new plan to make college more affordable for every American. We know that higher education is more important than ever, but we also know it’s never been more expensive. We have heard from students and families across the country who are worried about affording college, and we believe that higher education cannot be a luxury that only advantages the wealthy.

Cost of College GraphicsCollege must remain an accessible and affordable opportunity that provides a good value for all Americans. We want college to be a secure investment for every student from every background who is willing to work hard, an investment that prepares our nation’s students for a good job and a bright future.

We believe the cost of college is a shared responsibility among the federal government, states, colleges and universities, and our students and families. Since 2009, the Obama Administration and Congress have worked together to make historic investments in higher education. We  raised the maximum Pell Grant grant award by more than $900, created the American Opportunity Tax Credit, now offer additional loan repayment programs that help students manage their debt, and enacted landmark federal student aid reforms that eliminated wasteful bank subsidies and increased by more than 50 percent the number of students attending college from low-income families.

There are remarkable examples of states and institutions across our nation who have taken innovative steps to help American families afford college. New York has committed to restraining tuition growth in its public community colleges and universities over five years, and the University of Maryland system, which operates an Effectiveness and Efficiency Initiative, has saved more than $356 million and helped stabilize tuition for four straight academic years.

But we need to see more innovation and initiative to ensure that college remains a good value for students and families, and that’s what the President’s announcement today is all about. Earlier today at the University at Buffalo, the President laid out a plan with three concise steps to make college affordable. The steps are outlined in this White House fact sheet, and include:

  • Linking federal financial aid to college performance, so colleges must demonstrate they provide good value for the investment students make in higher education
  • Sparking innovation and competition by shining a spotlight on college performance, highlighting colleges where innovations are enabling students to achieve good results, and offering colleges regulatory flexibility to innovate
  • And – because we know that too many students are struggling to repay their debt today – President Obama is committed to ensuring that students who need it can have access to the ‘Pay As You Earn’ plan that caps federal student loan payments at 10 percent of discretionary income, so students can better manage their debt

We need more colleges and universities to keep college affordable while delivering a high quality education, not only for students who are first in line, but for all, especially students who are first in their families to enter college, students from disadvantaged circumstances, students with disabilities and veterans who chose service before completing their education. We need states to increase higher education funding, with proven strategies for student access and success. And we need to make sure that our annual investment of over $150 billion in federal student aid is achieving all that it can to ensure the economic and social prosperity of our nation.

The Obama Administration is going to continue to do everything we can to make college more affordable, and ensure students and families get as much value possible from their investment of effort, time and money in higher education. We’re looking forward to seeing states and institutions do their part, as well.

Additional reading: President Obama Explains His Plan to Combat Rising College Costs.

Martha Kanter is the U.S. Under Secretary 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

Steps Forward to Improving Quality and Strengthening Accreditation

Every student who wants the opportunity deserves a high-quality postsecondary education. For what? For lifelong success, not only in his or her educational pursuits, but for long-term success in the workforce, in civic life and – ultimately – for the personal and professional rewards that come from living a life of accomplishment, contribution, and satisfaction! At the U.S. Department of Education, we are keenly focused on how to use the various federal levers for change and improvement at our disposal to encourage successful student outcomes and improved educational performance, institutional, state-level and national. As the president has said, we all share responsibility to provide educational opportunity and value. The accreditation community is an important partner in this work and plays a key role both in assuring a basic level of quality and in improving quality.univeristy photo

While the United States has some of the world’s best postsecondary institutions, we also have too many that are of poor quality, with track records that give their students little chance of attaining the postsecondary credentials and preparation that they intended to earn—and that are so vital in today’s society and economy.  The College Scorecard that we introduced earlier this year highlights the differences among different institutions related to net price, degree completion and student debt repayment all too starkly. Making performance transparent is a lever we are using to highlight success and fix the most pressing of our problems.

But these indicators are only indicative of a part of educational performance.  We also need to know whether students are successfully achieving the level of learning they need for lifelong success in work, civic participation, and life.  And we need to ensure that high-quality learning is affordable.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan are strongly committed to strengthening collaboration for results with the nation’s diverse accreditation stakeholders to clarify, simplify and improve accreditation processes, with a more targeted, rigorous focus on value and affordability. When President Obama announced his proposals for the FY2014 budget, he called on the accreditation community to work with the Administration to:

“…consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”

Responding to recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), last week our Department announced its intention to strengthen and better focus the accrediting agency recognition process.  Eight regional and 47 national accrediting organizations seeking renewal of their recognition from the federal government will benefit from a streamlined review process, which will focus in more depth on about 25 of up to 93 criteria that are most relevant to assessing institutional quality and the quality of student learning. This will result in a better, more targeted process that is simpler and less burdensome for accrediting agencies, NACIQI and the federal government. It is our hope and expectation that these improvements will also enable the postsecondary institutions they accredit to focus additional time and effort on quality enhancement and value.

With the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act commencing next year, the Department is also eager to engage in broader conversations with the postsecondary education community and its stakeholders (e.g., students, families, businesses, non-profits, states, philanthropies, etc.) about proposals to improve the accreditation processes to increase quality—with particular attention to value and affordability.

If we define value as high quality at an affordable cost, how can we help to ensure that we achieve it?  We are looking to the accreditation community and stakeholders to help us understand and measure such concepts as “quality,” “affordability” and “value” in ways that honor and preserve the diversity of our postsecondary landscape, yet hold all of us accountable for learning and completion outcomes and their improvement. We need far more attention to qualitative and quantitative methods that can strengthen institutional quality and student learning outcomes.

This effort to strengthen the accreditation process is just one example of how the Department is working to improve quality, while also increasing access, affordability, and completion. We will also continue to address value by encouraging innovation, whether through new developments in competency-based education, new validation models that can demonstrate what students know and can do, new attention to the faculty role in high quality learning, and/or alternative accreditation systems designed to produce high quality student outcomes at an affordable price. Experimentation, innovation and reliable evidence must drive the effort to achieve better student outcomes, both in terms of completion and in terms of demonstrated achievement; thus the great need for more and better postsecondary R&D.

In the months ahead, we look forward to engaging in an ongoing and robust national dialogue with our partners and stakeholders about accreditation and other ways we can improve quality in America’s postsecondary education, with a far clearer understanding of, and focus on, value and affordability.

Martha J. Kanter is the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and David Soo is a Policy Advisor for the Office of the Under Secretary.

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.

FSA2

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

2014 Education Budget: What’s the Bottom Line?

Budget LogoAs Education Secretary Arne Duncan often says, budgets aren’t just numbers in a ledger – they are a reflection of our values. President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal, released today, demonstrates his belief in education as the engine that will keep America competitive in a global innovation economy and grow a thriving middle class.

The proposal builds on momentum for reform and protects the most vulnerable.  Nowhere is this more true than in the president’s historic proposal to make high-quality preschool available to all four-year-olds.

The administration’s request for $71 billion in discretionary appropriations for education represents an increase of more than 4 percent over the previous year. Nearly three-quarters of that funding goes to financial aid for students in college, special education, and aid to schools with high numbers of children in poverty (Title I).

The remaining 28 percent of the budget invests in specific areas that can move major change – particularly through making preschool accessible for all students; funding a set of strategic reforms at the K-12 level; ensuring that college is affordable; and coordinating services that help students living in poverty.

What’s the bottom line?:

Early learning: Making quality preschool available for all 4-year-olds

President Obama has committed to a historic new investment in preschool education that supports universal access to high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and creates an incentive for states to serve additional middle-class children.

The President’s budget request includes $1.3 billion in 2014 and $75 billion over 10 years in mandatory funding, along with $750 million for competitively awarded Preschool Development Grants and other funds.

Learn more about Preschool for All.

K-12: Deepening reform in key strategic areas

President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposes significant new investments in areas where states and school districts face key implementation challenges from earlier investments such as Race to the Top and the Race to the Top-District competition, as well as continuing substantial investments in critical formula programs that support state and local reform efforts.

Learn more about the K-12 reforms.

The 2014 budget proposal also includes:

High School Redesign and Career Readiness

President Obama has called on all Americans to commit to at least one year of postsecondary education. Yet, for too many American students, high school is a time of disengagement that fails to put them on a path to college and career success. That’s why the Obama administration has laid out plans to redesign high schools and career and technical education (CTE).

Learn more about high school redesign and career readiness.

Strengthening Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education

Economists project strong growth in careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but far too few American students are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. The Obama administration proposes an aggressive STEM push that will improve the delivery and impact of STEM education.

Learn more about STEM.

Teachers and Leaders

The Obama administration has laid out a plan to strengthen teaching and school leadership, building on significant investments in the first term.

Learn more about the teachers and leaders plan.

School Safety

The President’s plan to increase school safety and to decrease gun violence includes investments not only to prepare schools for emergencies, but also to create nurturing school climates and help children recover from the effects of living in communities plagued by persistent violence.

Learn more about school safety.

Making College Affordability

The Obama administration has taken major steps to help students afford college, and proposes to build on that momentum with programs that will drive major reforms to reduce the escalating costs of higher education.

Learn more about making college affordable.

Ladders of Opportunity

Through “Ladders of Opportunity,” the Obama administration will establish comprehensive, coordinated approaches to improving support for America’s most vulnerable students.

Learn more about ladders of opportunity.

Additional Budget Resources:

3 Things You May Not Know About Financial Aid For Veterans

3 Things You May Not Know About Financial Aid For Veterans

I recently separated from the Navy after 10 years of active duty service. Shortly after separation, I decided to go back to college. I knew that I had Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits that I could use, but there were a few things I didn’t know.

You still qualify for federal student aid.

Even if you are receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, you can still receive federal student aid as well. I was unaware of this when I started my graduate degree. If you would like to apply for federal student aid, then you will have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can save yourself some time by making sure you gather all the documents needed to apply.

You may be eligible for a Monthly Housing Allowance.

Remember the Basic Allowance for Housing you used to get while you were active duty? You can get a Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) while attending college classes when you use your Post 9/11 GI Bill! Even if you are taking online courses, you can still receive up to $684 a month in MHA. The Post 9/11 GI Bill also covers tuition and fees, and even provides an annual stipend of up to $1000 for books and supplies.

Applying for benefits is easier than I thought it would be.

I won’t say that the application is a short one, but Department of Veterans Affairs has a tool called the Veterans On-Line Application (VONAPP) that you can use to apply for your education benefits and many other veteran benefits as well. Also, by using this tool, your application is sent directly to the VA office with jurisdiction over your application, and processing will begin as soon as possible. Keep in mind that the VONAPP is specifically for aid from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In order to qualify for Pell Grants, Stafford Loans and other forms of federal student aid, you still need to fill out the FAFSA.

Transitioning from military to civilian life can be a bit difficult. However, with the help of Federal Student Aid and the Post 9/11 GI Bill, paying for my college didn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be for you either. You have devoted years of your life to serving your country; now you can take advantage of a few of the benefits that you have earned. Your military service is appreciated. Happy Veterans Day.

Dominique Ramirez is a New Media Analyst at Federal Student Aid and a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserve

Institutions Commit to Providing Millions of Students with Easy-To-Understand Information About College Costs

We know that students and their families face a difficult task in deciding where to enroll for higher education, and understanding the cost of college—and how to pay for it—can be daunting. Too often, students are left without a clear explanation of what the costs mean or how they compare to other colleges they are considering, and as a result, many students leave college with debt that they didn’t fully understand at the time they entered school.

Shopping Sheet Example

An example of the information on the Shopping Sheet

While many financial aid award letters provide understandable information, some can be confusing, lacking clear distinctions between grants (which don’t have to be paid back) and loans (which do), as well as important information about outcomes like graduation rates and default rates. This confusion can make it difficult for students to decide which college is the right fit for them, best suited to their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their career and educational goals.

In July, I sent a letter to college presidents nationwide, asking them to adopt a new Financial Aid Shopping Sheet clearly showing prospective students what a college education would cost. For prospective students, this model disclosure letter for financial aid offers helps explain the total cost of a program—including tuition and fees, the costs that are covered by federal loans and grants, the type and amount of financial aid they may qualify for, their estimated student loan debt upon graduation, and information about graduation rates. This information can help students easily compare financial aid packages offered by different institutions, and ultimately make an informed decision on where to invest in their higher education.

Our goal is to help students arrive at school each fall less worried about how they will pay for college, and more focused on how they will complete college. Institutions of higher education share that goal, and many have shown their support by adopting the Shopping Sheet for use as part of their financial aid award packages starting for the 2013-14 school year.

To date, 316 institutions* serving over 1.9 million undergraduate students, or 10 percent of all undergraduates, have agreed to adopt the Shopping Sheet [MS Excel, 1.4MB]. Of those schools who have signed on, about 43 percent are public institutions, 43 percent are for-profit institutions and 14 percent are private schools. Among the institutions that have voluntarily agreed to adopt the Shopping Sheet are several state college and university systems—including the University System of Maryland, the State University of New York System, the University of Massachusetts System, and the University of Texas System—as well as several institutions with large undergraduate populations, including Arizona State University, Miami Dade College, and the University of Phoenix online campus. All of the systems and institutions that committed to financial aid transparency at the June roundtable with Vice President Biden—including North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Syracuse University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Vassar College—have also adopted the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet for the 2013-14 school year.

Additionally, to ensure that service members, veterans, spouses and other family members have the information, support and protections they deserve, in April 2012 the President signed an Executive Order establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members. This Executive Order requires educational institutions receiving funding from federal military and veterans’ educational benefits to provide prospective students with the financial aid Shopping Sheet to help students understand the total cost of their education. Already, more than 2,900 institutions have agreed to implement the Principles of Excellence.

Students should not have to wait until after graduation to learn the size of their monthly student loan payment. Families choosing a college should have clear and comparable information, in a common format, to guide their choice. And no one should forego college because they think they cannot afford it. We will continue to work with the institutions that have already signed up to use the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet for the next school year, and we look forward to more colleges and universities committing to use this common-sense tool to provide students and parents with clear information about costs.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

* Update Nov. 29, 2012: The Department will provide updated figures periodically on its Financial Aid Shopping Sheet website.

Arne on Cost of College and Pell Grants

Secretary Arne Duncan sat down recently to answer questions he received via social media, email and mail. Zack wanted to know if Arne thought the rising cost of college would keep Americans from a post-secondary education.

Arne says that college is the best investment one can make, and explains how the Obama Administration is working to keep the cost of college low, as well as it’s unprecedented investment in Pell Grants, and making repayment options easier.

However, Arne says keeping college costs low is a shared responsibility. States need to invest in education, and colleges and universities need to help keep tuition low and build cultures around college completion.

Arne also answers Jason’s question about Pell Grants, explaining that Pell Grants are the best investment we can make for a young person’s future and for a strong economy.

Watch the video:


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ED’s Wilson Discusses Importance of Historically Black Colleges & Universities

Ed. Note: This post is the first in a series of blog posts that highlights leaders at the Department of Education.

John Silvanus Wilson, Jr.’s heroes as a student were college presidents. As someone who places due importance on brain power, experiences in higher education continue to inform his perspective and mission as Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Born in Philadelphia and raised by a preacher and teacher – his father and mother, respectively – he would go on to get his masters in theological studies and educational administration planning and social policy at Harvard after undergraduate work at Morehouse College. At Morehouse he came to admire the former President Benjamin Elijah Mays, whom many considered a living legend for his social activism and mentorship of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reminiscing about his education, Wilson loved attending Morehouse and Harvard equally but drew distinct differences between them.

“I contrasted the two and concluded in my mind that Morehouse needs exactly what Harvard has, and Harvard needs exactly what Morehouse has,” he said. “I think that convergence has pretty much been what my career has been about, and explains a lot of the way I think in this position.”

Morehouse was deep into what he calls character capacity – the education to impart a sense of calling and mission in life.  Harvard excelled in capital capacity with an established financial infrastructure.

After Harvard, Wilson served as director of foundation liaisons and assistant provost at MIT. He helped lead two major capital campaigns that raised nearly $3 billion. After 16 years in that position, he left in 2001 and moved to Washington D.C. to work at The George Washington University as an executive dean, then an associate professor in their school of education where he researched black colleges and fundraising.

Then he got the call from the Obama administration. Wilson now assists Secretary Duncan as a liaison between the executive branch and HBCUs, as well as work with 32 federal agencies that offer support through federal grants and contracts.

The White House Initiative boils down to four components: capital enlargement, strategy development, campus enrichment, and perception enhancement.

“We have enlarged the capital flow to HBCUs, federal funding is up, and private sector partnerships through our office with HBCUs are way up. We will soon be launching an arts and HBCUs initiative, and enhance teacher prep,” he said.

According to Wilson, perception is a key area.

“There are still some people who see HBCUs as symbols of the past rather than forces for the future,” he said. “We’re trying to shift those perceptions and trying to get more people to understand they are positive forces. The President and Secretary Duncan have established that they want 8 million more college graduates by 2020. We know that 2 million of those 8 million need to be African Americans. We also know that 167,000 need to come from HBCUs.”

There are currently 105 HBCUs serving approximately 300,000 students. They graduate about 35,500 students per year, but will need to graduate more than 57,000 students per year by 2020 to meet the President’s goal. HBCUs produce half of the African American K-12 teachers in the country.

“Not only are HBCUs necessary,” Wilson said, “but this nation needs them to produce a lot more students than they’ve been producing.”

Solid education is the key to living a rewarding life for yourself and for others around you, Wilson explained.

“There’s no substitute for the life of the mind. I have three kids, so I come at education not just professionally but in terms of my family.”

Natalie Torentinos is a graduate student at The George Washington University and an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach.