Innovation and Quality in Higher Education

Much is changing in higher education.

Most fundamentally, students themselves are changing. After long decades of exclusion, college access has expanded opportunities for minority students, first-generation students, and low-income students. In 2015, students are more likely to attend community college than any other postsecondary option, and more likely to be older, living away from campus, and may be attending part-time while balancing work and family.


The iconic picture of an 18-year-old high school graduate walking across a leafy campus toward her dorm room no longer reflects the reality of today’s college student.


Institutions of higher education are responding to these changes, in part by making course delivery more flexible. Technology has made this even more possible, introducing teaching and learning that is less constrained by time and place. Technology is also making new kinds of embedded assessment and adaptive curriculum possible, allowing instructors and students to discern with greater accuracy a student’s mastery of material or skills.

The demand for higher education is increasing, well beyond the capacity of traditional institutions. It’s easy to see why. As President Obama has said, the time when a high school diploma could lead to a good middle class job is gone. In today’s economy and tomorrow’s, some kind of postsecondary degree or credential is essential. That’s why we are committed to policies that increase access to high-quality programs, to keeping those programs affordable for all, and to ensuring quality outcomes for students.

Outside of the traditional colleges and universities, a vibrant marketplace for learning is emerging, whether through stand-alone MOOCS, “boot camps” that focus on training students for particular skills like computer coding, online skills courses, and institutional experimentation with competency-based programs and degrees. We applaud this wave of innovation and believe that the innovators are leading the way to a system of higher education that is more open, often less costly, more customizable to the needs of students, and more transparent in terms of its outcomes.

Many of the programs now offered outside of traditional higher education are of high quality and many earn learners access to new knowledge, new skills, and new opportunities. Some, however, are not. That’s not the problem, though. The problem is that we have few tools to differentiate the high-quality programs from the poor-quality ones. The normal mechanism we use to assess quality in higher education, accreditation, was not built to assess these kinds of providers. Moreover, even if they were, even the best programs and those serving low-income students would not, under current rules, be certified to receive federal financial aid because they are “programs” or “courses,” and not “institutions.”

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is interested in accelerating and focusing the ongoing conversations about what quality assurance might look like in the era of rapidly expanding educational options that are not traditional institutions of higher education. We are particularly interested in thinking about quality assurance through the lens of measurable student outcomes and competencies. We have no stake in supporting one or another specific set of learning outcomes. Rather, we are interested in the fact that outcomes matter and ought to be the centerpiece of any kind of quality assurance. Outcomes, in this vision of the future, are clear claims for student learning, move beyond mere statements of knowledge to what students can do with that knowledge, and are measurable.

Join a Conversation

Over the coming weeks and months, we seek to engage broadly with the field to help deepen our understanding of how to recognize high-quality non-traditional programs. We think that a new set of quality assurance questions will need to be developed to ask hard, important questions about student learning and outcomes. These questions will help students, taxpayers, and those evaluating educational programs separate programs that are high-quality from those that do not meet the bar. Such a quality assurance process will rely much less on inputs, where the emphasis of much accreditation still rests, and will instead focus on outputs and evidence.

Based on some preliminary input we have received, we have identified several general categories in which questions should be asked:

  • Claims: What are the measurable claims that a provider is making about student learning?  Do those individual claims combine into a coherent program of study?  Are they relevant and do they have value; how do we know?
  • Assessments: How is it clear that the student has achieved the learning outcomes?  Are the assessments reliable and valid? Do the assessments measure what students can do with what they have learned?
  • Outcomes: What outcomes do program completers achieve, both in terms of academic transfer or employment and salary, where relevant?  What are other outcomes we should ask about?

These quality assurance questions are designed to focus on student learning and other critical outcomes at a much more granular level. We welcome feedback and sustained dialogue on how to foster and improve quality assurance, particularly in this moment of tremendous innovation and change. We seek to convene, participate in, and hear the results of many conversations with diverse stakeholders.  To join those conversations, please fill out the form below, or send us your thoughts, questions, and ideas for engagement at collegefeedback@ed.gov.

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Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education

Helping families navigate their higher education options

From the start of this Administration, President Obama has charged our team to join him in doing everything we can to make college an affordable reality for everyone. As part of that effort, in August 2013, he asked us to develop a system that will help students compare the value offered by colleges and that will hold institutions accountable for preparing their students to be successful.

Today, I want to update you on our progress as part of that effort.

Since the President outlined this initiative, we have seen even more progress toward these broader goals. The higher education conversation has shifted from simply ensuring access to one that focuses on success – supporting students through completion and readiness for careers, citizenship and life. We’ve recognized that there is great value in the colleges and universities who serve students from all backgrounds and provide them with a quality education at an affordable price – and that spending more money and excluding more students are not necessarily signs of quality. We’re seeing important signs of progress. Some States and colleges are taking bold steps toward lowering costs and improving outcomes. And in addition to a higher-than-ever high school graduation rate, more Americans are completing degrees than ever before, including more Latino and African-American students.

Building on this momentum, consistent with the objectives laid out by the President, it is critical to ensure that we are doing all we can to:

  • Help families choose a college that works for them – and that they can afford – and create a user-friendly tool that supports that selection and comparison process
  • Increase transparency and make information about schools’ outcomes free and useful
  • Improve our measurements of college outcomes so that students and taxpayers get the most for their investment
  • Engage students, parents, higher education leaders, researchers, experts, counselors and advocates about how best to meet these objectives

We are pleased to report that we are making progress toward those goals. And as part of this update, as we have over the course of the last two years, we want to share some of what we have heard as we have continued working on this project:

  • Students of all backgrounds, but especially lower-income students and those who counsel them, are eager for additional information that will help them make smart choices among their college options, and they would welcome the federal government lending its credibility and resources to this effort.
  • Colleges have many missions and serve many different kinds of students. Developing meaningful ways to evaluate them through a rating system is an extremely complex and iterative process that appropriately takes time and thoughtfulness.
  • While no single measure is perfect, and many important elements of education cannot be captured by quantitative metrics, cultivating and releasing data about performance drives the conversation forward to make sure colleges are focused on access, affordability and students’ outcomes.

Taking into account that feedback, and to advance the overarching goals set by the President, later this summer we plan to release new, easy-to-use tools that will provide students with more data than ever before to compare college costs and outcomes. This college ratings tool will take a more consumer-driven approach than some have expected, providing information to help students to reach their own conclusions about a college’s value. And as part of this release, we will also provide open data to researchers, institutions and the higher education community to help others benchmark institutional performance.

Through our research and our conversations with the field, we have found that the needs of students are very diverse and the criteria they use to choose a college vary widely. By providing a wealth of data – including many important metrics that have not been published before – students and families can make informed comparisons and choices based on the criteria most important to them. With assistance from the creative U.S. Digital Services team, we are using feedback from students, parents, college advisors and high school guidance counselors to examine how we can make critical information about college cost and outcomes relevant and useful to guide decisions about college search and selection.

At the same time, we will continue our efforts to identify colleges providing the best value and encourage all colleges to improve. We will share this new data and methodological considerations with institutions, researchers, app developers and other interested players to jumpstart and accelerate efforts across the country to develop meaningful metrics for accountability, and – as the President asked – we will continue to improve these measurements and find ways to make sure that student aid investments are directed to colleges that provide meaningful opportunities and deliver a quality, affordable education for their students.

We are looking forward to unveiling the new tools later this summer, and continuing to work with the community to make sure that we all are helping to make affordable, high-quality higher education a reality for everyone.

Jamienne Studley is the Deputy Under Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education.

Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies at Austin Community College

 ted_drbiden

Earlier this week Dr. Jill Biden and I had the privilege of visiting Austin Community College (ACC), in addition to meeting with innovators at the SXSWedu education conference. Once again I was inspired by the tremendous collective effort to increase student success—from the students themselves to college leaders to technology entrepreneurs.

During our visit, Austin Community College student Jenny Bragdon allowed us to observe her work at the Learning ACCelerator lab. The school believes the lab to be the nation’s largest computer lab, and it combines computers—more than 600 — with faculty and tutors who help students when they need assistance.

When Jenny arrived at ACC, she was told she was prepared for college-level English courses, but needed to take some courses to get her ready for college-level math, since it had been over 20 years since her last math course.   She enrolled in one of the classes that meet in the Learning ACCelerator, a developmental math class that allows students to reach college-level math in a self-paced environment.

In addition to the faculty and tutor assistance in the lab, Jenny’s professor, Prof. Vance, schedules optional small lessons in one of the adjoining conference rooms on subject areas where many students indicated they needed assistance. In one example, Prof. Vance offered a lesson on fractions, which was a topic Jenny had already moved beyond. But by attending the lesson, Jenny learned some helpful tips that reinforced her understanding. ACC has worked to build a model that integrates the best of technology-based and face-to-face teaching and learning on a large scale.

Jenny said that the impact of the developmental math class has been tremendous. She is on pace to finish three semesters worth of content in just one semester. And while she has always had the goal to teach, she is now considering teaching math, based on her rich experience in the math lab. Jenny, who has a young daughter, wants to encourage all young people—especially girls—to love math as much as she has come to.

The Austin Community College ACCelerator lab is just one example of innovative thinking by community college leaders, a strategic use of technology tools, and the hard work and dedication of students. My visits to the two community colleges and with technology entrepreneurs at SXSWedu underscored the importance of bringing all of these resources together to ensure student success.

At the Department of Education, we’re working to identify, support, and build the evidence base for these kinds of innovations. Our First in the World grant program will award $60 million in the upcoming competition for innovations to increase student success, and is currently inviting comments on its proposed priorities (due March 25). And our current round of Experimental Sites in Federal Student Aid includes a focus on competency-based education, to better support students in self-paced programs.

Our great thanks to the students, faculty, and leadership of ACC and those across the country working to increase student access and success.

Ted Mitchell is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

Highlighting Success in Delaware

Howard HS of Technology

Students at Howard High School of Technology. (Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

Secretary Arne Duncan made several stops in Delaware yesterday to get a firsthand look at the incredible progress made in education throughout the state. Delaware’s graduation rate has gone up, and dropout rates are at a 30-year low. The state is also making huge investments in early education and has emerged as a national leader in making college more affordable for everyone.

His first stop was at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, a school that was really struggling when he visited the school with Vice President Biden four years ago. But thanks to key reforms put in place since then, the school has made significant strides. While acknowledging the school’s accomplishments, he underscored the need to keep moving forward.

“Long way to go, no one’s putting up a huge ‘mission accomplished’ banner, but… as I’ve seen in schools as I’ve traveled the nation, schools that historically have struggled, have seen significant turnarounds in a relatively short period of time,” he said.

While there, he met with Governor Jack Markell, Education Secretary Mark Murphy, and a group of teachers who are leading key efforts at their schools to transition to higher standards and better assessments.

Other stops included a visit to the Rotary Club in Wilmington, and a stop at Delaware Technical Community College in Stanton with Labor Secretary Tom Perez for a roundtable discussion with students and business leaders and a conversation about the President’s proposal to make two years of community college free for responsible students.

The trip was both an affirmation of the hard work being done, but also an opportunity to remind stakeholders that there is still much left to do. While recognizing the many challenges that come with implementing big and bold changes to education (such as college and career readiness), he strongly urged educators to persevere.


“The lessons here are really profound, and the progress is fantastic, but what happens here, I think has national implications,” he said.


Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach

The President Proposes to Make Community College Free for Responsible Students for 2 Years

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Today, the President unveiled a new proposal: Make two years of community college free for responsible students across America.

In our growing global economy, Americans need to have more knowledge and more skills to compete — by 2020, an estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree, and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree. Students should be able to get the knowledge and the skills they need without taking on decades’ worth of student debt.


The numbers:

If all 50 states choose to implement the President’s new community college proposal, it could:

  • Save a full-time community college student $3,800 in tuition per year on average
  • Benefit roughly 9 million students each year

Under President Obama’s new proposal, students would be able to earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree, or earn the technical skills needed in the workforce — all at no cost to them.


The requirements:

  • What students have to do: Students must attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completing their program.
  • What community colleges have to do: Community colleges will be expected to offer programs that are either 1) academic programs that fully transfer credits to local public four-year colleges and universities, or 2) occupational training programs with high graduation rates and lead to in-demand degrees and certificates. Community colleges must also adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes.
  • What the federal government has to do: Federal funding will cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. Participating states will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate the tuition for eligible students.

Expanding technical training programs:

President Obama also proposed the new American Technical Training Fund, which will expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs across the country. Specifically, the fund will award programs that:

  • Have strong employer partnerships and include work-based learning opportunities
  • Provide accelerated training
  • Accommodate part-time work

Community Colleges: Helping the U.S. Become “First in the World”

About three-quarters of college students in this country attend a community college or public university. President Obama understands the crucial role that community colleges play in helping students and our nation skill up for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. That’s why, in a recent speech on the economy, he called them “gateways to the middle class” – and it’s also why they’re a key part of his ambitious plan to improve higher education in America.

I recently had an opportunity to visit LaGuardia Community College in Long Island, New York where I was able to deliver some exciting news. During my visit, I announced that LaGuardia is among the 24 winners of our new $75 million First in the World (FITW) grant program, designed to fund innovation in higher education in ways that help keep the quality of a college education up, and the costs of a college education within reach, so more students of every background can fulfill their dreams of getting a degree.

As this award made clear, community colleges are often at the forefront of innovation. They also promote the dual goals of academics and career readiness. To learn more about how LaGuardia and countless other community colleges across the country support students, I sat down with a group of them to hear their stories.

Hassan Hasibul, a former cab driver and alumnus of LaGuardia’s Tech Internship Placement Program, explained how he learned to thrive in the workplace and gained new skills – skills that got him noticed. “My internship site hired me, and even gave me a portion of their stock,” he said.

One of the most exciting innovations at LaGuardia, which the FITW grant will support, is the development of an integrated set of tools to increase and enhance student success, including the use of ePortfolios, learning analytics, and outcome assessments. With the extra funding, LaGuardia will help students navigate their educational and career goals as they transfer to other institutions or join the workforce.

Faculty and staff aren’t the only ones helping students make academic and career decisions. Students are also helping other students plot out their courses and career trajectories. Jenny Perez shared her experience in helping her peers. “Even if they aren’t planning on transferring, I help them open their mind about the possibilities in their future,” she said.

For Enes “Malik” Akdemir, who came to the U.S. at age 18, without money or relatives, the LaGuardia faculty and students have become a huge, supportive family. After a year and a half in intense English immersion classes, he discovered his passion for aeronautics.

During a school tour, he stopped to admire a vintage picture of a plane flying over Manhattan. Pointing to the flight deck, I said, “Someday, you’ll be right there.”

“Someday,” he agreed.

Stories like those of Hassan, Jenny and Malik offer a glimpse of the great work happening every day in these incubators of innovation. They also serve as reminders of the clear role that community colleges play in ensuring that. America’s more than 1,100 community colleges are playing a major role in helping to ensure that our higher education system is once again, first in the world. And, every step of progress brings us closer to reaching our North Star Goal – to reclaim our place as the nation with the world’s highest proportion of college graduates.

Ted Mitchell is Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.

Community College Students Talk Transitions with Secretary Duncan

When someone says, “I want to go to college,” a traditional four-year college or university often comes to mind.

Many don’t think of community colleges as an option, even though they are the single largest sector of the U.S. higher education system, enrolling nearly half of all undergraduates each year.

Community colleges provide opportunity and access to millions of students, helping them prepare for a degree at a four-year institution, obtain an associate’s degree, or retrain and retool for the 21st century global economy.

On March 18, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with student leaders from the American Student Association of Community Colleges to discuss the importance of community colleges. The student leaders were in Wastington for their annual national Student Advocacy Conference.

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Looking Back at 5 Memorable School Visits of 2013

Bret Tarver

Secretary Arne Duncan received a daily weather forecast from students during his visit to Bret Tarver Education Complex in Phoenix.

I visit a lot of schools each year, and it is probably the greatest highlight of my job. Getting out of Washington and into classrooms provides me with the opportunity to talk with students, teachers, parents, and college leaders on what is working and what we still need to accomplish. Their voices are the driving force behind improving education in our country.

In 2013, I visited my 49th state as Secretary of Education, and with each classroom and school visit I walk away with meaningful and memorable lessons. As 2014 gets underway, now is a good time to reflect on 2013, and particularly on five schools that left a lasting impression.

  1. Columbus Elementary, Columbus, N.M.
Columbus

Secretary Duncan speaks with a Columbus Elementary School student on a bus ride to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Columbus Elementary, situated just a few miles from the Mexico border is unlike any school I have visited before. Of the approximately 700 students, from Pre-K to 5th Grade, roughly 400 students wake up before the sun rises to cross the border for school each day. All the students are U.S. citizens and during the afternoon bus ride back to the border, listening to their stories inspired me.

The experience shed new light on educational challenges and youthful grit—not to mention a need to fix our broken immigration system that affects even our youngest learners. Read more about my visit to Columbus during our annual back-to-school bus tour.

  1. Macomb Community College, Warren, Mich.

Community colleges have never been more important. They are the cornerstones that will help us build the best-educated, most competitive workforces in the world. Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., is a shining example of a community college that is providing students with an affordable high-quality education that meets the needs of local employers.

Macomb inspired me and my hope is that more community colleges will follow suit and become regional economic engines. Read more about my December visit to Macomb.

  1. Northwest Middle School, Salt Lake City, Utah

After years of struggling, Northwest Middle School is now ranked number one in its district and is making exciting progress with the help of a School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the Department of Education.

During my recent visit I received candid feedback from the students, parents, and teachers about the challenges the school has overcome and the work that lies ahead. Like all turnaround successes, I am hopeful members of this school community will continue to share their successes with school leaders across the country. Read more about my December visit to Northwest.

  1. Ecole St. Jean de Dieu, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

    Haiti

    Secretary Duncan speaks with community members outside of Ecole St. Jean de Dieu in Haiti.

The first school we visited during a recent trip to Haiti was Ecole St. Jean de Dieu. The school is part of the Haitian Minister of Education’s initiative to promote access for vulnerable school-aged children who are outside of the education system.  Most of the students at this school are homeless and live on the streets during the day but attend classes in the afternoons.  

Set in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods, the school’s bare walls and dusty classrooms were filled with bright-eyed students and commanding teachers. The students that attended this school, many lost parents or guardians in the earthquake and are trying to get a basic education to hopefully live a productive life on their own. I was inspired to see their commitment to receiving an education and working towards a better life. Read more about my trip to Haiti.

  1. Bret Tarver Early Education Complex, Phoenix, Ariz.

The Bret Tarver Education Complex in Phoenix was a vivid reminder of not just the importance of high-quality pre-k but the need to expand it. The staff at this preschool facility is doing a tremendous job of serving over 300 kids in the community, yet another 200+ remain on a waitlist.

It is encouraging to see Arizona make such a crucial investment in our children, but more than a few lucky children deserve a high-quality pre-k experience like the one offered at Bret Tarver. If we plan to meet the long-term educational challenges, we must place greater emphasis on what happens to children during their most formative years from birth to the early grades, and make high-quality early learning available to all students. Read more about my September visit to Bret Tarver.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education

Auto Industry, Community College Investments at Work in Motor City

Community college investment in Detroit

Community colleges play a critical role in meeting President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college attainment by 2020. In fact, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called community colleges the “linchpin” that will ensure the vitality of our nation’s economy through a better prepared and better educated workforce.

That’s why Duncan recently joined U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez at Macomb Community College near Detroit to learn more about the institution’s innovative workforce training programs. Macomb is leading a consortium of eight Michigan community colleges that won a nearly $25 million grant designed to create and expand innovative partnerships between community colleges and businesses to educate and train workers for in-demand jobs. The money comes from the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program – jointly administered by the Departments of Labor and Education.

During the visit, Duncan and Perez toured Macomb’s Michigan Technical Education Center that trains students for careers in advanced manufacturing. Afterward, they joined Macomb President Jim Jacobs – along with college staff, students, businesses and workforce leaders – for a roundtable to talk about workforce training in Michigan. Sitting in a large clean room full of equipment used on auto-assembly lines, one Macomb alum talked about losing his manufacturing job and working as a valet – well below his skill set – until his wife told him about the TAACCCT program at the college. Within a week of graduation, the student had seven interviews and three job offers – not to mention a sense of hope and restored self-confidence.

“The auto industry is not dead in Macomb County,” said Jacobs, flanked by a Chevrolet Tahoe and a Ford Focus – both hybrids.

Secretary Duncan lauded the efforts at Macomb to help supply major industries in Michigan with highly skilled workers, saying the TAACCCT grant was an investment, not a gift.

“We have to help bridge the gap between employees who want to work and employers who want to hire,” Duncan told reporters after the roundtable, calling community colleges “regional economic engines.”

Colleges like Macomb work closely with local employers like Gonzalez Production Systems and Gentz Aero in Michigan to design programs that meet the growing demand for highly skilled graduates in the rapidly growing field of applied engineering and advanced technology.  In Washington, Spokane Community College is working with the Boeing Company and other local aerospace companies to improve aerospace workforce training in the entire state.  And in Maryland, GlaxoSmithKline provides scholarships to encourage students at Montgomery Community College to pursue careers in the bio-manufacturing field.

Community colleges are uniquely positioned to design their curricula to match local labor market conditions, making them flexible and relevant to today’s economy and job market. They are open access institutions committed to providing job-relevant educational opportunities to a broad population of students in their local communities. And their graduates are finding that they are able to participate in a knowledge-based economy, which demands a far greater level of credentialing and skills development than ever before. These companies partner with community colleges to invest in students with the kind of expertise they need – and the students are presented with real and specific career paths.

President Obama is looking to community colleges to play a key role in increasing the number of U.S. college graduates and helping more Americans get the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly interconnected global world. The President has called for an additional 5 million community college graduates in the next seven years, and institutions like Macomb are the key to making that a reality. 

Dorie Turner Nolt is press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

Getting a Strong Start in New Mexico

Last month we announced the Strong Start, Bright Future annual back-to-school bus tour and today we’re happy to announce the details of the tour’s first two days. Drum roll please!

Santa Fe

Strong Start LogoOn Monday, September 9, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will kick things off at the Santa Fe Children’s Project Early Learning Center with classroom visits and a town hall on the importance of quality early learning programs.

Albuquerque

Following the town hall, the bus will roll south through the “Land of Enchantment” for classroom visits and a roundtable discussion with district and labor leaders, teachers, parents and students at Emerson Elementary in Albuquerque. The focus at Emerson will be their turnaround efforts and Duncan will discuss the Department’s School Improvement Program.

Polvadera

The back-to-school bus will continue to the Rio Grande Valley Monday afternoon for a classroom discussion with teachers at Midway Elementary School in Polvadera, N.M., north of Socorro. Duncan will discuss digital learning and hold a community meeting on rural education at the school.

Day Two

El Paso

Day two of the Strong Start, Bright Future tour will get its start at the El Paso Transmountain Early College High School (Home of the Mavericks!) in El Paso, Texas, where Secretary Duncan will join a town hall on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The high school is located adjacent to El Paso Community College and by the time students graduate from high school, they’re already earning college credits. This is the type of great collaboration the Department of Education is calling for in its high school redesign initiative.

Columbus

On Tuesday afternoon, the bus will cruise back into New Mexico and make a stop at Columbus Elementary School where Duncan and Department officials will listen to teachers talk about the challenges of teaching a diverse student population.

Following Columbus the bus keeps moving, and in the coming days we’ll provide details of our stops in Arizona and California.

For now, stay up to date by following the Strong Start, Bright Future tour on Twitter using the hashtag #edtour13, visit our bus tour page at ed.gov/bustour and subscribe to Strong Start, Bright Future email updates.

 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 

Maine CTE: It’s Not Your Parents’ Vocational Education

Students at the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology in Biddeford, Maine are excited about learning — and they’re eager to tell you why.  They can also show you some pretty impressive proof that they’ve mastered the concepts they’ve studied.

Take, for example, the house they built as the capstone of one project.

Programs at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

A selection of CTE programs offered at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

“It’s not just about wiring a house, it’s about the theory and science [of] what is actually happening in the wires. In my other classes, you don’t really get hands-on, you just do what’s in the book,” a senior at the Center recently explained to visitors from the U.S. Department of Education.

Part of my role as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) is to help teachers and other educators around the country learn about the Department’s efforts to support world-class teaching and learning. But, it’s just as important for us to bring teacher, principal, and student perspectives back to policymakers in Washington. For both those reasons, I traveled to Biddeford.

Right now, there’s an important shift taking place in schools and districts across the United States: a shift away from vocational education, and toward career and technical education, or CTE. The narrow vocational training of our parents’ and grandparents’ day was often separated from the college preparatory curriculum, and geared to the needs of the industrial age. Today’s CTE programs are designed to meet the needs and opportunities of the global economy and the digital age, and prepare students for equal success in college and careers.

When change is this ambitious, it can take a while for old perceptions to catch up to new realities. CTE teachers and students in CTE courses often find themselves having to correct the belief that CTE courses are less rigorous than traditional “college prep” classes. The experiences of the students and teachers at Biddeford certainly debunked this myth.

Biddeford offers professionally certified programs in career fields like legal studies, architecture, early childhood education, and health sciences. The students told us they feel good about learning a combination of academic, technical and employability skills that will equip them for success in college and in the 21st century’s technology-rich, team-based, results-oriented professions.

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