Setting Sail for Success

Photos courtesy of U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command

NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES – Nine hundred and sixty new sailors were formally welcomed into the U.S. Navy on Friday by Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, when she delivered remarks at the basic training graduation for Navy recruits.

Kanter served as the reviewing officer for the ceremony, held at Naval Station Great Lakes, where every Navy recruit in the country undergoes an 8-week boot camp for sailors.  Fittingly, it was one of the last events Department of Education staff participated in on the final day of the “Education and the Economy” bus tour.

Before the ceremony, Kanter toured the USS TRAYER, where the recruits underwent Battle Stations 21: a rigorous 12-hour capstone training exercise to test their skills in everything from routine activities like loading stores and getting underway, to handling emergency conditions like floods and shipboard fires.  The TRAYER is a _ scale model Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, housed within a 157,000-square-foot building, and equipped with salvaged components.  The training simulator uses Hollywood-style special effects – including controlled flooding and fire – to create challenging and realistic training scenarios that gauge the readiness of the recruits.

“The program has been rigorous, demanding incredible dedication and persistence from every single recruit,” Kanter said during her remarks before row upon row of sailors dressed in gleaming dress whites.  “The experiences these sailors have had here at Naval Station Great Lakes serve as a reminder of the importance of dedicating one’s self to service and education all through life.”

After her remarks, Under Secretary Kanter met with a number of graduating sailors and their families, including Dominique Wright, from Leonardtown, Maryland, who received a Military Excellence Award as the top recruit of the class.

“Watching the superior performance of these newly minted sailors, I’m confident that the nation’s future will be a secure and prosperous one,” Kanter said afterwards.

Daren Briscoe
Office of Communications and Outreach

Back-to-School Stop Puts Spotlight on STEM Initiatives Preparing Students for College and Careers

On Friday, ED’s assistant secretary for postsecondary education Eduardo M. Ochoa, held a lively discussion hosted by Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) regarding innovative STEM initiatives designed to prepare students to succeed in college and make an easier transition into the workforce.  Ochoa’s visit was part of the Department of Education’s back-to-school tour that included over 50 events throughout the Midwest.

Representatives from NEIU spoke of the success of their GEAR UP partnership grant, which helped ignite student interest in a broad range of medical careers through a partnership with Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital. The Children’s Memorial Hospital provides opportunities for middle and high school students, from low income backgrounds, to shadow health care providers and participate in internships and summer programs relating to a broad range of medical careers.  The grant also engages students in hands-on STEM activities such as robotics and game design.

Ninth grade students who participate in these types of programs typically see a significant improvement of grades and standardized test scores.  Additionally, it was noted that 89% of seniors who participated in GEAR UP programs completed and submitted Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) applications, demonstrating their motivation to finish high school and continue onto college.

Students highlighted how their participation in GEAR UP activities sparked interest in science, inspiring them to major in science fields in college.  Other forum participants, representing businesses, a museum, grant programs and other universities, passionately described their engagement and support around STEM education.

The forum sparked a great deal of cross fertilization, which we hope will provide additional opportunities for future collaboration and continued success.

Lynn Mahaffie
Office of Postsecondary Education

Back-to-School Bus Tour: Highlights from Tuesday, September 6

Dr. Kanter with Monroe Community College students

A day before the official start of the Back-to-School Bus Tour, several Department officials hit the road early for events in Ohio and New York.  Here are some highlights:

Cleveland Middle School Helps Put ED Tour in Motion
Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin got fit with students at a Cleveland-area National Blue Ribbon School, during exercises led by the Cleveland Browns’ mascot, and other guests.  Read the full post.

Students “Strive” for College and Career Success
In Rochester, New York, Under Secretary Martha Kanter spoke with students, teachers, and state and local partners at Monroe Community College, as part of the area’s Cradle-to-Career/Strive Network Forum.  Read more about the event and the Strive Network, a grassroots partnership to provide the region’s students with a roadmap to excel in school, earn a high school diploma, and attain an associate or bachelor’s degree.  The Rochester group aims to match the momentum of a nearby effort in Buffalo, funded by a Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods grant.

Classes Get a High-Tech Boost in Rural New York
Director of Rural Outreach John White celebrated the first day of school at Cuba-Rushford Central School, in upstate New York.  He joined middle-schoolers using interactive technologies to study the three branches of government, and high school students in a Fisheries and Wildlife Technology Class, planning research projects that integrate math, science, English and computer technology.  From managing their own trout hatchery, to using radio telemetry applications to track whitetail deer, students gain STEM skills through hands-on applications.  Check out this innovative classroom.

You can follow the progress of this year’s back-to-school tour by visiting, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter and by signing up for email updates from the Department of Education.

Finding an Affordable College Just Got Easier

Summer is here, and many recent high school graduates may still be weighing which college or university to attend during the upcoming fall semester. ED’s recently-launched College Affordability and Transparency Center is making that decision much easier by providing students and their families with an easy-to-use website that identifies the most reasonably-priced universities, as well as the institutions whose prices rise at the highest rates.

The Affordability and Transparency Center not only allows college applicants and their families to compare tuition rates at colleges and universities, but students can pinpoint their search on a variety of criteria, including whether the college is a two- or four-year program, public or private, or a for-profit or not-for-profit college. The site also allows comparisons of the cost of a year at college based on its listed tuition and fees or its “net price” (tuition and fees minus grant and scholarship aid). To find the cost of a specific vocational program, there is a search feature to compare the costs of similar career programs—such as nursing or computer science—across different schools. Finally, to keep students and families prepared for the future, the Affordability and Transparency Center lets you see which colleges have the highest annual tuition or net cost increases.

Higher education is a strong investment, and it is crucial that families and students are able to make informed decisions. Through the College Affordability and Transparency Center, ED is providing valuable data on which colleges are the most cost-effective. Students shouldn’t rule out college because they can’t find one that suits their budget—the Center will help students and families find the right school with the right program at the right price.

Get started by visiting ED’s College Affordability and Transparency Center.

Ben Firke is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education

A Mother’s Message To Her Eighth Grader – “It’s Not ‘If You Go To College,’ But ‘When‘”

This week, the U.S. Department of Education released a new Spanish-language video that highlights the need for students to begin thinking about college long before they enter high school.

The video introduces Demi Moreno, an 8th grader at Whittier Health Science Academy in San Antonio, Texas, who has already set an ambitious career goal of becoming a lawyer.  We watch as Demi’s parents, teachers, principal and peers encourage her to prepare for college now — by taking tough courses, paying attention to her grades, and, most of all, having high expectations for herself.

“We began talking to our children about college on their first day of school,” says her mother, Luz Moreno.  “It was never, ‘if you go to college.’  It was always, clearly, ‘when you go to college.’ And that has always put the idea clearly in their minds that they must go to college.”

President Obama has set a goal for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.  By that date, to ensure a competitive workforce, at least 60 percent of U.S. adults will need to have earned a degree from a two-year or four-year institution.

The new video is called “La universidad: el sueño comienza hoy” (“College: the Dream Begins Today”) and runs approximately six minutes.  The piece is closed captioned in both English and Spanish.   Just click the “cc” button” and select the language option you prefer.

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

Teachers: If Your Students Think They Can’t Afford College…

Secretary Arne Duncan watches a student in Denver, Colorado complete her FAFSA form online.

Secretary Arne Duncan watches a student in Denver, Colorado complete her FAFSA form online.

Point them to these FAFSA Resources!

As a high school English teacher in a rural section of North Carolina, I often found that my students avoided college preparatory classes because they believed, erroneously, that a college education was out of the question for them financially.

It didn’t help when I brought out pie charts demonstrating that of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in America, half require a bachelor’s degree or more. For them, the expense of tuition, fees, books, and board made college seem like a pipe dream.

If I could change one thing for these students, after working at the U.S. Department of Education since July 2010, it would be to let them know that even if they are the first person in their family to seek higher learning, there is money to finance their college dreams.

The federal government awards $150 billion annually in financial aid to students who might not otherwise be able to afford college. This aid takes the form of federal grants (like the Pell Grant, which doesn’t have to be paid back), federal work-study programs, and low-interest federal student loans. For students who have the desire to attend and the skills to succeed, college is absolutely possible, regardless of race, gender or income.

During class, I would also want to point my students to the following resources that can help them to make a plan to pay for college.

Current high school seniors should, if they haven’t already, go to the Federal Student Aid FAFSA site and apply for aid. The federal government has a very generous 18-month timeframe to submit the FAFSA (from January 1 of every year through June 30 of the following year) but many states and postsecondary institutions have earlier deadlines, so it is critical that high school students apply as soon as possible after Jan. 1 of their senior year. The FAFSA application form as been recently redesigned so that it is easier to complete.

Students in grades 6-11 can go to the FAFSA Forecaster, which enables them to predict what kinds of financial aid they may qualify for so that they can begin college planning.

All students may also be interested in the College Preparation Checklist, which is a “to do” list, starting with elementary school, to help students prepare academically and financially for education beyond high school. Each section is split into subsections for students and parents, explaining what to do and which publications or websites might be useful to them.

The College Board also houses a College Matchmaker that enables students to enter in characteristics of schools that interest them—such as size, location, majors available, etc.—and be matched with schools that meet their needs.

Teachers wanting to help motivate students to think about college may want to direct students to “I’m Going to College” on Federal Student Aid’s site. This site includes testimonials and a motivational video.

Students having questions or needing assistance completing the FAFSA can call toll-free: 1-800-433-3243.

At the end of their time with us, all teachers want our students to learn more, to go to a college, university, or community college. We want them to have satisfying work and financially secure futures. Pointing them to these resources is one step in the right direction.

Laurie Calvert
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County, N.C.

Your Turn to Weigh In on the 2011 Commencement Challenge

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

Do you remember your high school commencement speaker?  Neither do I.

This year, one lucky high school will have an unforgettable commencement speaker – President Obama – and we need your help to determine which school it will be.

As part of the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, public high schools around the country submitted an application earlier this year that describe how their school is preparing students for college and a career. We’ve narrowed down the schools to six finalists and now it’s your turn to weigh in.  Each school produced a short video with help from the Get Schooled Foundation and essay. You can review and rate each school on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the highest) between today and Friday April 29 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Your ratings will help us narrow down the pool to three finalists and President Obama will select the winning school from one of these three.

Check out this video of President Obama asking for your feedback on the Commencement Challenge finalists, and then head over to to rate each finalist.


The Commencement Challenge gives public high schools a chance to demonstrate how their school best prepares students for college and a career, helping America win the future by out-educating our competitors and achieving President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Each of the six finalists schools are an excellent example of the best America’s public schools have to offer.  Take a moment to watch their videos, read their essays and rate each school.

Melody Barnes is the Director of the Domestic Policy Council

Final Community College Regional Summit Focuses on Veterans, Military Members and Families

Tomorrow, April 15, ED will hold its fourth and final Community College Regional Summit at San Diego City College in San Diego, Calif. The focus of this one-day event is on Exemplary Programs for Veterans, Military Members, and Families, and will bring together federal, labor, industry and philanthropic partners to discuss how each entity can support local community college efforts to meet the President’s goal of having the best-educated workforce and the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Other topics to be discussed at the summit include solutions and promising practices in college completion, developmental education, industry-education partnerships, services to military service-members and veterans, transitioning adults to community colleges, and successful transfer programs to four year colleges and universities. The Summit will also provide a forum to identify local, state and national recommendations for increasing community college completion in order to meet the President’s 2020 goal.

Join us at 12:00 PM EDT on April 15, 2011 for a LIVE webcast of the summit (link will become active when the summit begins).

A Call to Action on College Completion

Vice President Biden

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

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Levine is Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

What’s Missing from March Madness? Better Academics

Cross-posted from The Washington Post.

As March Madness gets underway this week, 10 of the 68 men’s teams in the NCAA tournament are not on track to graduate half of their players. Colleges and universities need to stop trotting out tired excuses for basketball teams with poor academic records and indefensible disparities in the graduation rates of white and black players. And it is time that the NCAA revenue distribution plan stopped handsomely rewarding success on the court with multimillion-dollar payouts to schools that fail to meet minimum academic standards.

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

The NCAA developed a measure known as the Academic Progress Rate index (APR) to track progress toward graduation with real-time data. According to the NCAA, an APR score of 925 (on a scale of 1,000) is equivalent to having 50 percent of a squad’s members on track to graduate. This year, the 10 men’s basketball teams with APRs below 925 include basketball powerhouses Syracuse and Kansas State. At Kansas State in recent years, 100 percent of white players graduated, but just 14 percent of black players did.

A new analysis, released today by the Knight Commission, shows the current tournament revenue formula is badly skewed to reward success on the court, with little expectation of success off the court. Each game a team plays in the tournament this year earns more than $1.4 million for the team’s conference.

Over the past five tournaments, the NCAA has awarded more than $400 million to conferences and their teams for tournament appearances. Nearly $179 million of that payout—44 percent of the total—went to teams that were not on track to graduate at least half of their players. By contrast, tournament revenue provides comparatively little funding for educational uses or academic improvement.

When I raised the issue of low graduation rates among men’s teams last year, skeptical sportswriters said I didn’t understand the realities of big-time college basketball. But every year, the litany of excuses for why basketball teams cannot graduate most players and still have a championship team is less convincing.

In last year’s tournament, the two finalists, Duke and Butler, both had outstanding academic records. This year, eight teams in the tournament graduate 100 percent of both their black and white players: Belmont, Brigham Young, Illinois, Notre Dame, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Villanova and Wofford.

The top-ranked women’s basketball teams have even better records. Twenty-two women’s teams in this year’s NCAA tournament—one in three—graduate 100 percent of their black and white players. The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, which set the NCAA record for consecutive wins this season, graduates more than 90 percent of its players. Meanwhile, the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team has an APR of 930, a hair above a projected 50 percent graduation rate. Only 25 percent of its black players earn degrees.

The dramatic improvement in graduation rates among big-time football programs shows that a 50 percent graduation standard is not that difficult to meet and that teams will improve their academic performance to meet higher standards. Five years ago, 23 bowl teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision had APRs below 925. This year, one FBS bowl team had an APR below 925.

The NCAA has made considerable progress in recent years boosting the academic performance of Division I teams. But the bar for postseason play is still too low: In effect, teams must now be on track to graduate fewer than 40 percent of their players for six years running to potentially be ineligible for postseason play. Last year, out of more than 6,000 NCAA intercollegiate sports teams, one squad in men’s basketball was banned from postseason play because of a poor academic record.

A decade after the Knight Commission recommendation, coaches of teams with weak academic records should worry not just about getting athletes in a uniform—but also about getting them in a cap and gown.

The writer is secretary of education.

Community College Regional Summit in Houston

ED will host the second in a series of four Community College Regional Summits on March 9, 2011, at Lone Star College-University Park in Houston, Texas.

The Regional Community College Summit will:

  • Bring federal, labor and industry, and philanthropic partners to your region to discuss how each entity can support local community college efforts to meet the  President’s 2020  goal for the U.S. to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world;
  • Provide a forum to share institution-level barriers, solutions and promising practices in college completion; developmental education; industry-education partnerships; services to military service-members and veterans; transitioning adults to community colleges; and successful transfer programs to four year colleges and universities; and
  • Provide a forum to identify local, state and national recommendations for increasing community college completion to meet the 2020 goal.

The morning plenary session begins at 10:00 a.m. EST.  The afternoon closing session will begin at 4:15 p.m. EST.  Both sessions will be broadcast live at:

Community College Summit in Philadelphia

ED is holding a regional community college summit in Philadelphia on February 28.

Secretary Duncan and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will participate in the summit, which is the first of four regional meetings being held as follow-up events to the White House Summit on Community Colleges in October 2010.

The Philadelphia summit — “Challenges, Solutions, and Commitments” — will bring together 150 participants from 15 surrounding states, representing community colleges, business, industry, philanthropy, labor, state and local governments, as well as students. The summit focus is “Transitioning Adult Learners to Community Colleges and the Workforce.”

The morning session will be streamed live (from 9:00 am – 12:15 pm ET).

The remaining three regional meetings will be held around the country during the spring. The purpose of the meetings is to identify promising practices for increasing completion at community colleges.

Duncan has described community colleges as the linchpin for meeting the President’s national goal of once again leading the world in college completion by 2020.

While they’re in Philadelphia, Duncan and Solis will tour the 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund’s Learning Center, a joint labor-management partnership that provides job skills training in the health fields to over 2,000 adult students every year.

ED Staff