Deadline for the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge is March 11

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

The Race to the Top Commencement Challenge is back and we’re asking public high school students from across the country to tell us about ways their school is preparing them for college and a career. In return, we’ll make sure one high school has a graduation they’ll never forget – including a commencement address by President Obama himself.

President Obama and our Administration believe education is key to winning the future. In order to ensure our long-term economic success, we need to focus on out-educating and out-competing the world. That means helping to prepare students today for the jobs of tomorrow. It means equipping students with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the 21st Century economy – encouraging them to be creative, to solve problems, to work together to design solutions to important problems.

The Race to the Top Commencement Challenge is just one of the many ways we’re encouraging young people to actively engage in their educational success. Last year, over 1000 schools applied. This year, we hope to continue encouraging applications from students from across the country. The deadline has been extended to Friday, March 11 to ensure that all interested schools have the chance to apply. Applications are available at

Apply today and don’t miss this opportunity to have an unforgettable high school commencement.

Melody Barnes
Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council

Secretary Duncan Promotes FAFSA Completion Pilot in Denver

This pilot program, along with the amazing support of the Denver Scholarship Foundation’s Future Centers, will give our students the tools and help necessary to complete the FAFSA. It will give more and more of our students the edge they need to secure financial aid to support their college goals.

— Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Duncan Promotes FAFSA Completion PilotInitiatives to simplify the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) and the Department’s new pilot program to ensure more students and families successfully complete it were on the agenda as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Colorado Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg, students, parents, teachers and business and community leaders at Denver’s Manual High School for a town-hall style forum.  The community forum focused on federal, state and local efforts to help Denver public school students access and receive the financial aid necessary to reach and complete their college and career goals.

Following a tour of Manual’s renowned Future Center college counseling suite and a dialogue with students completing the online FAFSA, forum participants launched into a discussion on strategies to increase college enrollment rates and ways to maximize the number of students who apply for and subsequently obtain federal financial aid.

Research indicates that 90% of students who complete the FAFSA will enroll in postsecondary education.  Yet many students who would qualify for aid fail to successfully complete the FAFSA.  Armed with this data, last year ED launched a pilot program to provide Denver and 19 other districts across the country with information on which of their students have successfully completed the FAFSA and those that have not.  When fully implemented, the program will provide real-time updates of FAFSA completion data and enable high school counselors to follow-up with students–repeatedly, if necessary–to ensure they receive the support they need to complete the FAFSA.  In Denver, this could pay huge dividends and move the needle dramatically on the 41% of the class of 2010 that successfully completed the FAFSA, and more significantly, the 53% of graduates that enrolled in college this past fall.

The student-centric dialogue featured questions regarding the array of federal student aid programs, initiatives to improve low-performing schools and institute a college-going culture in our nation’s high schools, and the future of college access legislation for immigrant families like the DREAM Act.  Sir Martin, a first generation college-going senior, asked Secretary Duncan about the best ways to motivate students and convince them of the importance of education.  The Secretary turned the question back on Sir and asked, “What motivates you?”  In an eloquent and emotional response, Sir described a past filled with challenges, and a choice during his high school years to follow a path of uncertainty, or one of promise.  Sir chose to pursue an education and devoted himself to reaching his college and life dreams.

The opportunity to pursue a world-class education and succeed should be based on merit, not money.  To help young deserving scholars like Sir earn their college degree, the President’s 2012 budget proposal builds on what has been the largest expansion in college student aid since the GI bill and commits over $181 billion in direct student aid and tax relief.  These investments are vital to achieving the President’s goal that, by 2020, the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Todd May
Office of Communications and Outreach

Secretaries Duncan and Geithner Host Student and Parent Town Hall on Paying for College

Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and D.C.'s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler

Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and D.C.'s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler

We cannot underestimate the impact of the American Opportunity Tax Credit on 9.4 million students nationwide. This tax credit will make college more affordable for our future business leaders, scientists and teachers and help families struggling with rising tuition bills and growing student loans.

—Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Expanded tuition tax credits for working class families, larger Pell Grants for low-income students, and making student loans more affordable for all college graduates were on the docket today as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, D.C.’s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler, nearly 50 Wilson seniors, their teachers, parents and community leaders at the University of the District of Columbia for a town-hall style forum on the Administration’s efforts to ensure all Americans reach their college dreams. (See photos.) Wilson High School, the District’s largest comprehensive high school and boasting an impressive 90% college-going rate among graduates, is currently housed on the UDC campus while a $100 million renovation is being completed at the high school campus.

The town hall forum commenced with Secretaries Duncan and Geithner extolling the benefits of the recently extended and enhanced American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The credit, initially created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and extended through 2012 as part of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, provides families with college tuition expenses the opportunity to claim a tax credit of up to $2,500 each year for up to four years per student. For students claiming the maximum credit for these four years, the AOTC will provide up to $10,000 to help pay for the cost of college.

The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 of expenses, and 25 percent of remaining expenses, up to a total credit of $2,500. The maximum available credit for 2011 would cover about 80 percent of tuition and fees at the average two-year public institution, or about a third of tuition and fees at the average four-year public institution. In addition, the AOTC is partially refundable, meaning that low-income families with no federal income tax liability can receive up to a $1,000 tax refund to help defray college expenses.

Secretary Geithner unveiled a new Treasury Department analysis showing that 9.4 million families with college students across the nation will benefit from over $18.2 billion in tax relief to help make college more affordable and accessible in 2011. He further noted that in the District of Columbia, the Wilson Class of 2011 and nearly 16,000 families of enrolled college students across the city will be eligible to file for the tax credit this year. For parents and students struggling to pay college tuition and fees or budgeting for future student loan debt, this partially-refundable tax credit will make a positive difference in their lives.

Wilson students and parents inquired about the range of federal initiatives to assist low-income families with the rising costs of college and engaged the Secretaries on the Administration’s historic increases in the Pell Grants program as well as access to Federally subsidized student loans and college work-study programs; discussed actions taken to simplify and streamline the FAFSA form and federal financial aid process and pressed the Secretaries for opinions on the future passage of college access legislation for immigrant families like the DREAM Act. Angela Benjamin, a physics teacher at Wilson, and feted at the forum by Secretary Duncan for her recent designation as one of the seven most effective teachers in DC Public Schools, asked about the benefits of the recently expanded income-based repayment program (IBR) and whether its existing loan forgiveness provisions for teachers would be “grandfathered in” for experienced educators like herself. To the delight of the crowd, Duncan replied, “Angela, me and you lose on this one”.

However, for millions of America’s future college graduates and our nation’s future public servants, IBR will make a huge difference in their personal finances and ability to afford their student loan payments. Under IBR, borrowers who assume loans after July 1, 2014 will be able to cap their student loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income. If they make their payments, all borrowers will have loan balances forgiven after 20 years. Teachers, nurses and other public servants will have any remaining student loan debt forgiven after 10 years.

To read more about what Secretary Duncan and Geithner wrote about today’s visit and the benefits of AOTC, see their blog post.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Todd May
Office of Communications and Outreach

Educating Our Way to a Better Economy

Secretary Arne Duncan joined Labor Secretary Hilda Solis today to announce a historic $2 billion investment in helping meet the President’s goal of having the “most-educated, most-competitive workforce in the world by 2020″: the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program.

In our globally competitive, knowledge-based economy, employers need workers with postsecondary skills, credentials, and degrees. Our postsecondary institutions must dramatically increase their completion rates and build partnerships with industry to ensure that the skills that are being taught are the skills employers need.

These grants also represent one of the largest expansions of access to high-quality job training and educational resources in history. They are designed to use evidence to replicate success, build institutional capacity to use evidence to increase outcomes, and build a body of evidence to inform investment decisions. All learning materials created in this process—from full courses to textbooks—will be made freely available online. Additionally, institutions can apply to develop a new generation of high-quality, cutting-edge shared courses and resources to help students learn more quickly at lower costs.

This program is being run by the Department of Labor, in close collaboration with the Department of Education.

You can find the Department of Labor’s press release at

You can find the solicitation for grant applications at

Amy Laitinen
Office of Vocational and Adult Education

Aligning the GED to College and Career Readiness

The New York Department of Education and the sponsors of the General Educational Development program yesterday took an important step in the effort to raise expectations for all students.

At an alternative education center for youth and adults in Manhattan, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and Molly Broad, the president of the American Council on Education, which sponsors the GED, announced the start of a pilot program to align expectations for GED program to standards that prepare participants for success in college and careers.

“The GED needs to be more than a substitute for a high school diploma. It needs to be a passport to college and careers,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at the event. “This pilot project will demonstrate ways to ensure that all individuals who pass the GED are prepared to succeed in college and careers.”

The pilot project is building on the state-led effort that has created a common core of standards in math and English. So far, 40 states and the District of Columbia this year have adopted the Common Core standards in math and English.

Now, New York City is leading the way to make these standards a game-changer for adults in the GED program. The 500,000 adult learners who pass the GED exam every year deserve to know whether they truly are ready to succeed in college and careers.

The success of our adult learners is essential for the economic future of our country. President Obama has set a goal that the United States once again be first in the world in college completion by the end of the decade. To reach that goal, we will need to add 8 million new graduates over the next decade. We will succeed only if adult learners enter postsecondary schools at record rates and complete their degrees.

Just as our high schools award diplomas that guarantee students are ready for college and careers, the GED has to raise its standards so that adult learners are prepared for the challenges of postsecondary education and to work in the 21st Century economy.

Economic Prosperity and National Security Through the DREAM Act

Cross-posted from The Hill

Even in tough times, Americans have used their freedom, common sense and respect for one another to do the right thing for the nation. Today, we face one of those times. There are thousands of hard-working, patriotic, young people who are leaders in their communities and who are looking for an opportunity to attend college or serve our country in the military, but they cannot, through no fault of their own. Congress has the opportunity to offer them and our country a brighter future by coming together in a bipartisan way to pass the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act will open the doors of higher education and military service to young people who were brought to America without documentation by their parents when they were children. If they are able to meet several requirements, they will have the chance to earn a legal status. Specifically, they will have to prove that they came to the United States before the age of 16, have lived here for at least five years, don’t have a criminal record, are not removable or inadmissible from the country, are of good moral character and graduated from a U.S. high school, obtained a GED, or have been admitted to an institution of higher education. Today, these students are living in fear of the next step of their lives, and attending college or other postsecondary education is difficult, while serving our country in the military is near impossible.

Passing the DREAM Act will unleash the full potential of young people who live out values that all Americans cherish — a strong work ethic; service to others; and a deep loyalty to our country. It will also strengthen our military, bolster our global economic competitiveness and increase our educational standing in the world.

By opening the American Dream of college for these bright, talented youth, we will unleash an academic force into the U.S. higher-education system. The result will be a new generation of college graduates who will help strengthen our economic security. This new generation will be a new set of future taxpayers who will contribute much more as college graduates than they ever would as struggling workers moving from one under-the-table job to another. They will help build the economy of the 21st century.

From a national security perspective, the DREAM Act will give the military the opportunity to recruit students who are eager to serve at a time when there’s a growing shortage of potential soldiers. The Defense Department’s strategic plan names the passage of the DREAM Act as one of its goals to help maintain a mission-ready all-volunteer force. Military leaders understand that at this critical time in our history, when we face countless threats to our way of life and the supply of soldiers does not match the demands being placed on our armed forces, a new pool of highly qualified candidates willing to put their lives on the line for America is a major plus for the country.

The students who will benefit from the DREAM Act are some of our country’s best and brightest. They were raised and educated in America. They include community leaders and volunteers who are committed to service in their neighborhoods. They are valedictorians and star athletes. They text and go to the mall. They are Americans in every sense of the word. They have deep roots here and are loyal to the country that has been the only home they’ve ever known. They want to serve our country and hope to become pediatricians, teachers and engineers. They are exactly the type of young people America should be embracing.

But, unlike their classmates, DREAM Act students are in a bind. It goes against the basic American sense of fairness to punish children for the choices of their parents. But thousands of young people find themselves in that position. We can’t let them continue to live unfulfilled lives of fear and squandered hopes. We must rise above the heated political rhetoric and embrace this common-sense approach. And we need to do it now before we lose this generation. It’s who we are as Americans, at our best.

Secretary Arne Duncan

Improving Career and Technical Education

CTE Community Conversations

Career and technical education has the potential to engage students through relevant learning experiences and, when infused with rigorous academic standards, to thoroughly prepare students for college and career success. Yet, in many areas of the nation and for a variety of reasons, career and technical education yet to achieve its full potential for students. Whether the right partnerships have yet to be formed, updated instructional approaches have yet to be implemented, or data systems have yet to be aligned, many students do not have access to the most effective career and technical education programs. Read Secretary Arne Duncan’s recent remarks on the need to revitalize and bring to scale effective career and technical education programs.

For this reason, the Department has established a career and technical education strategy group that is seeking solutions to ensure that all students are ready for, have access to, and complete college-career pathways leading to 21st Century jobs. The Department also is gearing up for the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (Perkins) Act, which is the primary source of federal funding for career and technical education. Although the legislation does not expire until 2013, a set of guiding principles will be formulated to ensure that this legislation most effectively supports strong college-career pathways in the future.

To develop its reform strategies and reauthorization principles, the Office of Vocational and Adult Education is holding a series of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Community Conversations across the country. These sessions are designed to gather feedback on four broad questions:

  • How can states and local programs better prepare students for college (without the need for remediation) and careers?
  • What has been your experience in implementing programs of study [career pathways] and what actions need to be taken to further support their availability and effectiveness for students?
  • What partnerships have you formed to implement your programs of study and what supports should be provided to continue and expand those relationships?
  • How do you measure your student’s success, particularly as it relates to college and career readiness, and what information (data) do you need to better track and improve program outcomes?

Comments are now available from the CTE Community Conversation kick-off session at the National Association for State Directors for Career and Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) Fall 2010 Meeting in Baltimore, MD.

Comments are also available from the following sessions:

Please share your comments about career and technical education on this blog (below) or via e-mail to

A New Partnership to Promote Financial Education and Savings Programs

Secretary Duncan visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, to announce a new partnership to promote financial education and savings.  Participants in the partnership include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the National Credit Union Administration.

Secretary Duncan visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, to announce a new partnership to promote financial education and savings.

Yesterday Secretary Duncan visited historic T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, to announce a major new partnership with two other federal agencies: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which regulates banks and protects deposits in bank accounts, and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which regulates credit unions and protects deposits in share accounts. The three agencies will work together—and with schools, financial institutions, federal grantees, and other stakeholders—to increase access to safe, affordable, and appropriate deposit accounts at federally-insured banks and credit unions; increase savings; and provide effective financial education.

The day started when Secretary Duncan met with José Cisneros, San Francisco’s Treasurer, who recently launched the “Kindergarten to College” savings program that will provide a college savings account to all students in the public school system. Some years back, Cisneros developed “Bank on San Francisco.” The model has spread to cities across the country and was picked up with the Obama Administration, which recently proposed to create “Bank On USA” with the same goal of providing low-cost deposit accounts and basic financial services to the 25% of American families who don’t currently have regular access to banks or credit unions.

Secretary Duncan then joined FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair and NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz to sign the official interagency agreement that outlines how the agencies will work together before visiting the student-run credit union branch just off the cafeteria. Students from the Academy of Finance who manage the credit union were proud to talk about the work they do and the value of the program in their school. They even gave Secretary Duncan their business cards and encouraged him to open an account!

Upstairs, the press event started with remarks by Alexandria mayor Bill Euille and Jennifer Murphy, a parent participating in the Parent Leadership Training Institute who partners with a local credit union and uses an FDIC financial education program to help the school teach students about managing their money. Later, Euille, Murphy, and the school principal signed a commitment to continue working together on this issue.

Bair, Matz, and Duncan all addressed the audience, which included students from T.C. Williams High School; leaders of banks and credit unions and associations that represent them; education leaders from DC, Maryland, and VA; foundations; and experts in asset development.

Duncan emphasized that this partnership, with its focus on financial literacy and savings for low and moderate income students and families, will help us reach President Obama’s 2020 college completion goal to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Secretary Duncan talked about the lack of financial literacy in this country as a barrier to college access and success, told the audience about research that shows that even low- and moderate-income families can and do save if given access to appropriate accounts and the right incentives, and highlighted work done by Washington University in St. Louis that demonstrates students with a savings account are up to seven times more likely to enter college.

The three agencies have already gotten a jumpstart on implementing the agreement. NCUA has committed funding over the next five years to support partnerships between credit unions and schools; FDIC will soon send a letter to all the banks they regulate encouraging them to develop partnerships; and at the Department of Education, we’ll include a new priority in the 2011 GEAR UP competition to encourage school savings programs in connection with financial education activities. There will be more to come from us, but we’re really hoping that banks, credit unions, schools, federal grantees, local governments, foundations, parent organizations, and others will take the initiative to come together in their states, cities, and towns to develop partnerships that increase access to deposit accounts, savings, and financial literacy, especially among low- and moderate-income students and families.

In the coming weeks, look for more detail on what the agencies will be doing to implement this agreement, including a toolkit for stakeholders who are interested in working together on this important topic. If you have suggestions for youth financial education and savings programs as we’re developing guidance—promising program models, strategies for getting the right people around the table, etc.—feel free to contact me at

Phil Martin
Office of the Secretary

Community Colleges: The Gateway to Success

Note: This post is adapted from Secretary Duncan’s remarks at the summit.

Yesterday’s summit was a moment to both celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of community colleges and to take stock of and action on the challenges that lie ahead. For too long, community colleges were underappreciated, underfunded, and misunderstood. Working with modest resources, community colleges now educate almost half of all college students. About half of all first-generation college students and minority students attend community colleges. It is a remarkable record. No other system of higher education in the world does so much to provide access and second-chance opportunities as our community colleges.

 Community colleges have never been more important. They are educating the workforce of the future—the radiologic technicians; the registered nurses; the installation experts on solar and wind power; the IT and cyber-security technicians; the displaced workers in need of retraining and new careers; and scientists and other professionals.

President Obama set a goal that the United States will once again having the highest college attainment rate in the world by 2020. If we are to meet that goal, community colleges must lead the way. The math is stark. According to our projections, five million of the eight million additional college graduates needed to meet the 2020 goal will be community college graduates. All of higher education must contribute to reaching this goal. But community colleges will be the linchpin.

The Obama administration has committed unprecedented federal support for community colleges, but the financial pinch on community colleges is brutal—and it is unlikely to fade anytime soon. At the same time, full-time enrollment at community colleges increased nearly 25 percent in the two-year period from 2007 to 2009. Most revenue for community colleges comes from the states—and state revenue shortfalls stemming from the recession are making it tougher and tougher for community colleges to fulfill their promise of open door enrollment policies.

Yesterday’s summit was a beginning point, not an end point. We challenged those at the summit to replicate and take to scale the outstanding examples of community colleges. We have never before had more examples of success of community colleges boosting transfer and graduation rates with a certificate or degree; of schools building partnerships with industry that lead to real jobs; and of effective remedial instruction and online learning. But our students and our nation need success to be the norm, not a sometimes-thing.

In the years ahead, the overarching aim for community colleges must be dramatically boosting college completion and success.  This is not about tinkering; it’s about transformation. This is not just about getting more students to enroll; it’s about getting more students to graduation day. To meet the President’s 2020 goal, we project that all institutions of higher education will need to increase their college attainment rates by 50 percent over the next decade.

At present, only one in four community college students earns a degree or certificate, or successfully transfers to universities for their baccalaureate degrees. That has to change if our nation, our communities, and our students are to thrive and remain competitive in the knowledge economy.

For the sake of our students and our nation, let us work together to strengthen community colleges. Let us build the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world, and let us nurture the citizens of tomorrow.

Building Skills for America’s Future

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Today, President Obama announced the launch of a new initiative Skills for America’s Future – an effort to improve industry partnerships with community colleges to ensure that America’s community college students are gaining the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the workforce.

In his remarks before the start of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) meeting today, President Obama laid the vision for Skills for America’s Future program:

The idea here is simple:  we want to make it easier to connect students looking for jobs with businesses looking to hire.  We want to help community colleges and employers create programs that match curricula in the classroom with the needs of the boardroom. 

We’ve already seen cases where this can work.  Cisco, for example, has been working directly with community colleges to prepare students and workers for jobs ranging from work in broadband to health IT.  And all over the country, we know that the most successful community colleges are those that partner with the private sector.  So Skills for America’s Future would help build on these success stories by connecting more employers, schools, and other job training providers, and helping them share knowledge about what practices work best.  The goal is to ensure that every state in the country has at least one strong partnership between a growing industry and a community college.  Already, companies from UTC to Accenture to the GAP have announced their support for this initiative, as well as business leaders like my friend Penny Pritzker and the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson.   I hope other business leaders will follow suit, and I’m also setting up a taskforce to work directly with the business community on this effort.

The President also emphasized the importance investing in education as a means of investing in our long-term economic growth.

But what I won’t do is cut back on investments like education that are directly related to our long term economic performance.  Now is not the time to sacrifice our competitive edge in the global economy.  And that’s why I disagree so strongly with the proposal from some on the other side of the aisle to cut education by 20% in next year’s budget.  It’s a cut that would eliminate 200,000 children from Head Start programs; a cut that would reduce financial aid for eight million college students; a cut that would leave community colleges without the resources they need to meet the goals we’ve talked about today.  That just doesn’t make sense to me.

President Obama understands that the education and skills of the American workforce is crucial to our ability to compete in the global economy. That’s why the President has set a goal of having an additional 5 million community college degrees and certificates by 2020, and called on PERAB to develop new steps to ensure that those degrees and certificates will provide graduates with the skills they need to get ahead in their careers.

To respond to the President’s call, PERAB reached out to private sector employers, labor leaders, philanthropy organizations, and policy leaders within the Administration solicit their views on the workplace development challenges of the 21st century.  Many employers identified public-private partnerships as one of the most effective ways to ensure that college graduates and certificate earners have the skills they need to be successful in the workforce. 

The Skills for America’s Future initiative will match up the employers like PG&E, United Technologies, McDonald’s, Accenture and Gap Inc. with community colleges in every state to develop curricula and programs that will prepare graduates to excel in the workforce.  To learn more about this initiative visit

Tomorrow, Dr. Jill Biden will host the first ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, an effort to bring together bring together community colleges, business, philanthropy, federal and state policy leaders, faculty and students to discuss how community colleges can help meet the job training and education needs of the nation’s evolving workforce.  Leaders from the Skills for America’s Future will be leading a breakout session during the summit to discuss best practices for building robust, successful partnerships. 

You can join the conversation as well, by submitting your ideas and comments in our online dialogue on community colleges.  Visit to get started.

Make Higher Education Available to 100% of Americans

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

This week’s upcoming first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges is all about the lives and future of America’s students. During my years as a community college president and chancellor, I always asked my professional colleagues the same simple question whenever we faced a difficult challenge or issue:  what is the best way to help students succeed?

That’s the key question that will be on the table on Tuesday when President Obama, Second Lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis convene this historic gathering of community college students, faculty, presidents, business leaders, unions, philanthropists, members of Congress and other important stakeholders to honor community colleges and help support their mission. This Summit is evidence that the President  and the Administration understand the crucial role community colleges must play to achieve the goal he set for our nation: that by 2020 “the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” Community colleges are the gateway to access and opportunity for America’s students, for building strong local communities, for keeping our nation in the forefront of the global marketplace, and for opening the doors for all to succeed in the workplace and in life, especially those from underserved and low-income populations.

For decades, I have been privileged to lead and support community colleges to transform the lives of our students.  As you can see, I believe deeply in the purpose and power of community colleges to change the lives of Americans for the better. Our social and economic prosperity as a nation depends on leaders at all levels who are educated. Our nation needs highly trained plumbers and radiologic technicians just as our nation needs highly educated climate scientists, artists and physicians. To prepare students with the skills, knowledge and critical thinking skills for success, community colleges must partner with four-year universities, business, government and others to make the full range of educational opportunities available to everyone seeking a college education.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan have expressed an unwavering commitment to make higher education available to the top 100% of Americans. Community colleges educate nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates, but not enough community college students are earning degrees and certificates. Not enough minority students are graduating. And not enough students from the poorest communities in America are succeeding in higher education. We need to change these facts.

When President Obama signed the Healthcare and Education Reconciliation Act which enabled us to implement Direct Lending, that single action of Congress has already resulted in thousands more Americans entering higher education because of the availability of Pell grants. These federal grants have enabled students from low-income families to go to college, students whose families believed a college education would not have been possible.

So we’re at a crossroads. We’ve made progress to increase access to college, though not nearly enough, but we have put our intellectual capital and energies together to change the fact that today only 25% of community college students earn degrees or certificates, or successfully transfer to our universities for their baccalaureate degrees.

We have to challenge the status quo and change these facts as quickly as we can, without compromising quality. The challenge ahead of us is to increase college access, quality and completion so millions more Americans are able to fully participate in the civic life of our country and contribute to an economy that stimulates a democratic society second to none.

I am delighted to be part of the broad cross section of committed citizens coming together for this historic summit — community college campus leaders represented by faculty, staff, administrators and students, as well as members of the business community, foundations, unions, researchers, policy makers, and others who will bring diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to inform and inspire us to increase college access and affordability AND realize higher levels of education attainment.

With more than 1100 community colleges around the country, we knew that many more people than could fit in one room would be eager to participate — and we were eager for their views and voices to be heard!  Anyone who wants to participate can go to to post a comment, send in a video, or ask a question.  We’ve also created a special online White House forum for others to participate during the summit, and will be live-streaming the opening and closing sessions. 

I’m especially thrilled to know that many community colleges are interested in hosting their own summits on October 5th – including local stakeholders in the conversation is the best way to keep the focus on the education and workforce training issues relevant to your own communities.

In almost every speech I give, I call for more collaboration to achieve our shared goals.  If all of us work together to overcome these challenges, more students will succeed. The White House Summit on Community Colleges is a fantastic step to move our nation toward that goal!

Martha Kanter
Under Secretary of Education

Gearing Up to Go to College

Earlier today, Secretary Duncan and Congressman Fattah headlined a live, national event that celebrated and encouraged the work of GEAR UP projects across the country.  GEAR UP is a grant program that assists students in obtaining a secondary school diploma as well as preparing for and succeeding in postsecondary education.

The event was held at Friendship Public Charter School (FPCS) in Washington and included video and audio connections with GEAR UP projects in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas. The event was emceed by FPCS student Trayon Barber,

The event highlighted the work of the Pennsylvania GEAR UP project in the area of academic performance improvement, the North Carolina GEAR UP project’s use of data and the efforts of the Texas GEAR UP project to involve family in efforts to get students through high school and into college.

Secretary Duncan and Congressman Fattah said that they happy to hear that students in these GEAR UP programs were on track to graduate from high school and enroll in college.  In particular, Congressman Fattah spoke out in favor of early college efforts that offer high school students the chance to earn college credits while still in high school.  Secretary Duncan noted that “without a college education, many doors will be closed to you.  With a college education, you can pursue your passion.”

When Secretary Duncan asked the students at FPCS if they planned to go to college, they all raised their hands.

Edward Pacchetti
Office of the Secretary

View more photos