Expanding Opportunity with Help from the FFA

FFA Students

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan meets with FFA students before the 2013 FFA National Convention in Louisville, KY last November. This week is National FFA Week.

Editor’s Note: In celebration of National FFA Week (Feb. 15-22), we asked McKenzie Baecker a former ED intern and current student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to guest author this post.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and graduating high school with a class size of 40 makes it easy to assume that I didn’t have the opportunities or the quality education needed to succeed beyond the classroom. However, since joining the FFA (formerly known as the “Future Farmers of America”) as a seventh grader, a foundation was laid to open many possibilities for my future. The student organization helped me network with agricultural leaders, interact with students from across the country, and grow as an individual.

McKenzie Baecker

McKenzie Baecker a FFA member, former ED intern and current student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

In nine years of FFA membership, my agriculture teacher pushed me outside my comfort zone by encouraging me to compete in speaking contests and attend leadership conferences to meet new people. I served in leadership capacities and have given back to my community through a variety of service projects. It did not take me long to realize the positive impact that FFA can make on students and I found myself developing a passion for the organization and agricultural education. After experiencing all of this and watching the enthusiasm of other agriculture teachers, it felt natural for me to pursue my own career in agricultural education.

Along with my classroom/laboratory instruction and Supervised Agricultural Experience, FFA opened the door to the opportunities and quality education that many believe does not exist in a small, rural school. The combination of all three of these elements and dedicated agricultural education teachers, I left high school both college and career ready.

In 2010, I started college at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls as an agricultural education major and FFA came with me. While college has been filled with many wonderful experiences, one of the most valuable was this past fall when I had the opportunity to intern with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in Washington, D.C. After receiving the offer, I traded my barn boots for heels and this small town girl hit the city. While working on rural education outreach efforts at ED, the puzzle piece I had of growing up in rural Wisconsin and graduating from a small school suddenly fit into a much larger picture. I was surrounded by talented individuals who were all working to ensure our nation’s students receive the quality education they deserve.

As I approach my final year of college, I am eagerly awaiting my turn to make a positive difference in the lives of students, whether that is teaching in a classroom, or working on educational issues at the government level. Agricultural education puts in students’ hands what they need today so they can be themselves tomorrow, and I am ready to play my part in that noble task. FFA has led me here and my desire to influence positive change in education is keeping me here.

McKenzie Baecker a former intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach and a senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Fall.

Students, Educators to Join First Lady During State of the Union

In less than 12 hours, President Barack Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union Address. Education is sure to be one of the topics the President addresses in a speech that will lay out “practical proposals to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and empower all who hope to join it.”

For decades, First Ladies have invited extraordinary Americans that match the themes of the State of the Union Address to join them in her viewing box. This year, educators and students are well represented:

Joey Hudy
“Maker” and Intel Intern – Anthem, Ariz.

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Joey Hudy is a self-described “Maker,” part of a growing community of young people, adults, and entrepreneurs who are designing and building things on their own time. Joey first shot to fame in 2012 when, at 14-years-old, he attended the White House Science Fair where the President took a turn using the contraption he had made — the “extreme marshmallow cannon” – and launched a marshmallow across the East Room. Joey then handed the President a card with his credo: “Don’t be bored, make something.” Now 16, he has continued to live by his motto, appearing at Maker Faires all across the country. Joey, a proponent of STEM education, is determined to teach other kids about how they can make and do anything they want. Joey lives in Anthem, Arizona with his mom, dad, and older sister. Earlier this month, he started as Intel’s youngest intern, a position Intel CEO Brian Krzanich offered him on the spot at his Maker Faire exhibit.

Kathy Hollowell-Makle
2013 DCPS Teacher of the Year – Washington, D.C.

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Kathy Hollowell-Makle was named 2013’s District of Columbia Public School’s Teacher of the Year after more than 15 years teaching in the District. Kathy began as a Teach for America corps member in the District in 1998 and currently teaches at Abram Simon Elementary in Southeast Washington, DC. By the school year’s end, more than 90 percent of her students demonstrate early literacy at proficient or advanced levels and last year, more than 80 percent of her students advanced two or more reading levels. Kathy contributed some of her experience and expertise to a roundtable with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding early childhood education. Kathy emphasizes a positive attitude and focuses on fluency in reading, writing and counting, explaining: “The best part of teaching is having former students recognize me, and being able to see how wonderful they turned out to be.” Kathy lives in Washington, DC with her husband Stephen and two sons Amir and Ian. She is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Aliana Arzola- Piñero
2013 Kids State Dinner Attendee – San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Aliana Arzola-Piñero, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, is in fourth grade at the Colegio Puertorriqueño de Niñas. Aliana is an avid reader and gymnast who loves to cook with her grandma, something she’s done since she was two-years-old. She participated in the 2012 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge sponsored by the First Lady. While she didn’t win, she worked hard, tried again, and her perseverance paid off as she proudly represented Puerto Rico at the 2013 Kid’s State Dinner hosted by the First Lady. Her winning recipe “Yummy Eggplant Lasagna Rolls,” incorporates the “My Plate” guidelines. Aliana has worked hard to translate her experience visiting the White House into concrete steps to benefit her community, championing healthy eating and an active lifestyle for kids.

Cristian Avila
DREAMer, “Core Faster” and Voter Engagement Coordinator, Mi Familia Vota – Phoenix, Ariz.

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Cristian Avila, 23, was brought to the United States with his younger brother and sister when he was nine-years-old. Though Cristian became an All-American scholar by 7th grade and received a full scholarship to a private Jesuit high school, he was limited by his undocumented status. Last year he received temporary relief from deportation through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The 23-year-old Arizona resident started volunteering with Mi Familia Vota, a non-profit Latino civic engagement program, at the age of 16, and he was one of the core fasters in the Fast for Families demonstration late last year at the foot of the Capitol, which the President, Vice President, First Lady and Cabinet and Administration officials visited. After 22 days, he passed on the fast to others but has continued to push Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform. Cristian is fighting for commonsense immigration reform so he can one day join the US Marine Corps and serve our country in uniform.

Sabrina Simone Jenkins – Charleston, S.C.

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Sabrina Simone Jenkins – through obstacle after obstacle – has persevered in getting herself educated, determined to make a better life for herself and her family. Sabrina is a single mother to her teenage daughter Kenya. After serving in the Air Force, Sabrina took classes at DeVry University while working full time, graduating with a 3.7 GPA at the age of 42 – all while caring for ailing family members and becoming seriously ill herself. Sabrina then earned her master’s degree in human resources in 2012. Sabrina is currently saddled with nearly $90,000 in student loan debt, something that will only worsen as she pays for Kenya to go to college. Sabrina’s remarkable resolve through incredibly difficult circumstances brought her to the attention of The Shriver Report, which seeks to highlight the 1 in 3 American women living on the brink of poverty. The President is determined to help people like Sabrina – Americans who are working hard and doing the right things – get ahead.

Antoinette Tuff
DeKalb County Bookkeeper – Atlanta, Ga.

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On August 20, 2013, the world learned of the compassion and heroism of Antoinette Tuff, the DeKalb County bookkeeper who prevented a shooting at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school in the suburbs of Atlanta. Tuff, a mother of one daughter and one son, talked the would-be shooter down, sharing her personal struggles, discussing love and doing her best to connect with him until he surrendered before harming anyone. Now, instead of being known for another tragic school shooting, August 20, 2013 is remembered for one woman’s grace under pressure. The President called Tuff after the ordeal and has said what she did was “remarkable.” Antoinette has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism.

Estiven Rodriguez
Student, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School – New York, N.Y.
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Estiven Rodriguez is the son of a Dominican immigrant, he arrived in the United States when he was nine years old and didn’t speak any English. When he entered Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in the sixth grade, he still spoke and understood very limited English. Now a high school senior, Estiven is one of the top students in his class and will attend Dickinson College in the fall on a Posse Foundation Scholarship, making him a first-generation college student. “At only 16, 17 years old, he, in many ways, embodies the spirit of a life-long learner. He is a model student,” said Erick Espin, Estiven’s 11th grade United States history teacher. Outside of his academic studies, Estiven is also a member of the school’s math club, and soccer and track teams. Earlier this month, Estiven attended an event at the White House on expanding college opportunity.  His story underscores the importance of the President’s goal to give all kids a chance to get ahead, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

Watch an enhanced version of the State of the Union on WhiteHouse.gov, and find out how you can engage with the Administration following the address.

 Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Duncan Invites Student Feedback on College Access and Affordability

Student Voices Session

Students from the Washington, DC, metro area met with Secretary Duncan to discuss college access and affordability.

At a recent convening at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan turned to a group of student experts for answers to the college accessibility, affordability, and completion challenges America faces today. The 15 high school and college students – who brought their firsthand knowledge to the Student Voices session from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania — identified key improvements to the college application process throughout a conversation with Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Martha Kanter.

While the national conversation often focuses on the cost of college courses, books, and housing, one student said that expenses begin before setting foot on a college campus. “I’ve already spent a lot of money just applying to colleges,” said the student.

Another student said that the Department should standardize and publicize fee waivers so that students know waivers exist and apply for them.

The Secretary said that most students who fill out the FAFSA apply to just one school. “We have the best [higher education] system in the world and we think [students] should have choices,” said Duncan. “How do we get more students to comparison shop?”

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Duncan Seeks Feedback During #StuVoice Twitter Chat

The voice of students has never been more critical to education than it is today. We know that our young people’s capacity to influence society cannot be underestimated, which is why Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his team are dedicated to listening to students’ ideas and concerns. We know that youth are concerned about the quality of their education, getting in and paying for college, and finding a good-paying job.

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Secretary Arne Duncan regularly meets with students during school and classroom visits, but also in discussions at the Department of Education headquarters in Washington.

Last year, President Obama directed the Department of Education to develop a ratings system to identify colleges that provide a good value and to increase college affordability information available to students. Over the past several months we have been getting feedback from across the country, but it’s important that we get this right.

On January 13, 2014, Secretary Duncan will be moderating a special one-hour #stuvoice Twitter chat to get feedback from students on how we can keep college affordable and how the Administration’s college rating system can be useful for students and families.

What: #StuVoice Twitter Chat with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

When: 8:30pm EST Monday January 13, 2014

Where: Follow the Twitter conversation starting at 8:30pm on Jan. 13, with the #stuvoice hashtag and follow @ArneDuncan and @Stu_Voice.

Your voice is important, and even if you can’t make the Twitter chat, please don’t hesitate to leave feedback in the comments below.

Subscribe to the Department of Education’s Youth Voices newsletter, and follow ED Youth Voices on Facebook.

 Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Department Launches College Affordability and Value Outreach Initiative Today – Starting with Student Advocates

President Obama

President Obama discusses his plan to make college more affordable during a speech at Henninger High School, in Syracuse, N.Y. Official White House photo.

We know a college degree is the best investment students can make in their future. But despite historic investments and reforms, attending college has never been more expensive. Too many young adults are burdened with debt as they seek to launch a career, start a family, buy a home or save for retirement – and too many students are afraid to pursue higher education because they think it’s too expensive.

The federal government provides over $150 billion each year to support students as they pursue postsecondary education – from public and private universities to community colleges to technical schools and online programs. Although choosing a college is one of the most important decisions that students face, clear and useful information about the cost and quality of different colleges is often hard to find.

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Back-to-School Tour Launches in the Land of Enchantment

Duncan speaks with child

Secretary Arne Duncan kicked off his annual back-to-school bus tour in New Mexico. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Santa Fe, N.M., is a testament to our country’s diversity and beauty. That’s where Secretary of Education Arne Duncan launched his fourth annual back-to-school bus tour yesterday morning. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, runs September 9-13 and includes visits to New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California.

Each stop on the tour will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities.

See a collection of social media posts about day one of the tour.

Santa Fe

Duncan kicked things off at the Santa Fe Children’s Project Early Learning Center where he spoke with teachers and students during classroom visits and then held a town hall on the importance of quality early learning programs.

Many people come to Santa Fe to see its art, architecture or even a world-famous opera said Joel Boyd, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, but “we believe you’re here to see our most precious resource: our children,” he said.

Duncan noted that high-quality early education is the ultimate bipartisan issue, and that the U.S. Department of Education is looking to partner and help states that are willing to do “the right thing.” Learn more about the Obama Administration’s Pre-K For All proposal.

Albuquerque

Following our Santa Fe visit, the back-to-school bus made its way to Emerson Elementary in Albuquerque for a roundtable discussion on the school’s recent turnaround efforts. The school, with just under 500 students, nearly half of whom are English language learners, has made a turnaround that dramatically improved student proficiency in math and reading.

During the discussion, Duncan listened to administrators, teachers and students on what is working to turn the school around. He also praised the district and the local teachers union for their collaboration and courage.

Polvadera

Day one closed out at Midway Elementary School in Polvadera, a small community just north of Socorro, N.M. Duncan highlighted the Obama Administration’s ConnectED proposal to connect 99 percent of America’s students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within five years. One of the teachers at the town hall expressed frustration she felt in the past because her class in previous years had only one computer for more than 20 students.

In the video below, Duncan also talks about one of the students at the town hall who challenged him, and said she wasn’t receiving enough support. Duncan said that we have to be doing more to support our students.

Today the tour takes Duncan to El Paso, Texas, and Columbus, N.M.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up his experiences from day one:


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

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy and is blogging and tweeting his way from the bus during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Cities Announced! 2013 Back-to-School Bus Tour

Bus Tour MapIt’s back-to-school time, which means that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior ED officials are hitting the road once again for the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run September 9-13 and includes visits to states throughout the Southwest with stops in the following cities:

  • Santa, Fe, N.M.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Columbus, N.M.
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Tempe, Ariz.
  • Phoenix
  • Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Yuma, Ariz.
  • Chula Vista, Calif.

Each stop will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, including Preschool for Allcollege affordabilityConnectEDfirst-term education efforts, and comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on education.

This is the fourth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan. Last year, the Department’s tour took us coast to coast, in 2011, the tour rolled through the Midwest, and in 2010, Duncan and his team visited the South and the Northeast.

Check back soon for additional information on the tour, or simply sign up to receive Strong Start, Bright Future tour updates in your email inbox.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Higher Education Student Leaders Talk Policy with Arne

During the recent State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) meeting in Washington D.C., the focus was on high-level strategies and ideas. However, not too far away, there was a lesser-known meeting between Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and 17 college student leaders from across the country who were nominated by SHEEO members to meet with the Secretary.

The students were comprised of State Boards of Education representatives, state-wide student government association presidents, and campus leaders like Ryan Campione, an industrial engineering major and Student Government Association President at West Virginia University, and Alice Schneider, a senior at Texas A&M College Station and a student representative on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Overall, these students ensure that their peers have a voice in education both at the institution and the statewide level.

During the meeting, the dialogue and policy recommendations were astounding, with Secretary Duncan noting that when he was the students’ age, “I wasn’t thinking about these complex policy issues. We need these innovative and creative ideas that students design.” The policy recommendations from the students included:

  • Ensure work study correlates to a student’s concentration area or public service.
  • As ED looks to make college more affordable, they should look into Oregon’s proposal to allow students to attend college tuition-free and debt-free but sign a contract pledging to pay to the State of Oregon or their institution a set percentage of their income for a set number of years.
    • Rethink the way Federal financial aid is disbursed, because many students are looking at school year round especially during the summers. Specifically allow students to plan their courses for the year, including summer, and allow them to decide where to allocate their aid. Additionally, disburse payouts in a two weekly format rather than a lump sum, because students can better manage their funds in small installments.

Towards the end of the session, two adult learners spoke up to Department of Education Senior Policy Advisor Leigh Arsenault when she probed further about ways to personalize the FAFSA. Lisa Latour, a non-traditional student at Towson University suggested, “Change the way FAFSA is calculated; specifically look into ways of ‘personalizing’ the form to include other metrics that are attached to an IRS form, for example mortgage an credit card debt.” Latour went on to suggest that ED could look into using IRS information to tailor a personalized holistic view of a person’s true economic value and it would better describe their financial need.

As the meeting came to a close, the students were energized and looked to keep the dialogue going, and Duncan relayed his commitment to having student voices integrated into the policy dialogue at the Department of Education.

Watch the video below for more about this meeting, and sign up to receive email updates from ED’s youth liaisons.


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

Samuel Ryan is special assistant to the assistant secretary and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach

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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Active Civic Engagement-Creating a New Normal for Youth

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“This may not mean anything to somebody who is accustomed to civic action or to somebody who has always recognized the power they have. But for me, being a poor black girl from Baltimore, knowing I helped pass two pieces of important legislation makes me feel invincible.” –Taikira White, The Intersection

Through civic engagement, Taikira White and Dawnya Johnson, high school juniors from Baltimore, learned to advocate for themselves and their peers on issues that impact their daily lives. Both students participate in The Intersection, an organization that helps students from underserved areas in Baltimore attend and complete college, give back to their communities and engage in civic action. By canvassing their neighborhoods, organizing rallies, telling stories and holding press conferences, White and Johnson’s engagement contributed to Maryland’s adoption of the  Maryland DREAM Act last year and Governor Martin O’Malley’s Firearm Safety Act this year.

In June 2011, Dawnya’s cousin, her closest friend and mentor, was shot on the streets of Baltimore and died before an ambulance arrived. “I lost hope,” she said, “I came extremely close to dropping out of school…and I didn’t care about anything or anyone, least of all myself.” Since becoming involved with The Intersection, Dawnya transformed herself from “that bad kid,” as her teachers called her, to the honor roll student and community leader she is today.

These two powerful young women recently spoke to staff from the U.S. Department of Education at the  “ED Youth Voices: Students Transforming Schools and Communities” policy briefing. We learned how their work has empowered them to be better students and leaders, both inside the classroom and out. “Too often, our voices are overlooked because we are students, because we are not able to vote! We are not roaming black mobs of youth, we are tomorrow’s leaders,” Taikira declared passionately.

Ed youth voices briefing

Heaven Reda, a recent high school graduate, spoke at the event on behalf of the  Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) describing how their civic engagement efforts to include student input in official teacher evaluations gave Massachusetts’ students a voice in their education. “There was a huge disconnect,” Reda explained, between what teachers were teaching and what students were actually learning.

BSAC’s campaign, “We’re the Ones in the Classroom: Ask Us!” to address this issue was successful, but told the audience that there is always more we can do. “So often we see a budget as a limit, when there is so much you can do with so little,” she said. “Let a student teach for a day, or help them build a curriculum or a strong student government. There needs to be someone who tells them, look, you are powerful.”

The briefing, organized by ED’s Youth Engagement Team, brought together over 100 ED staff and even more watching via online, to hear the students stories. For the past two years, ED’s Youth Engagement Initiative has worked with young people to better understand their needs and the obstacles to their successes, and ED has used that information to better align federal programs with the needs of young people. Thanks to incredible students like Taikira, Dawnya, and Heaven, our job is made easier as they step up as leaders in their communities and lend young people everywhere a voice in their government.

If you are interested in learning how to engage youth in your school or districts or are already doing that please reach out to the ED Youth Engagement Team at youth@ed.gov.

Elena Saltzman, OCO Intern attending Brown University and Samuel Ryan, Special Assistant and Youth Liaison

Road to College: Summer Tips for Rising Seniors

college arne quoteYes, soon-to-be high school seniors- your time has come! As you bask in the excitement of the upcoming year, set aside time this summer to lay the groundwork for a smooth college process. Trust me, you will be thankful you did later!

With all the information available for seniors, it’s essential for students and their families to take advantage of the tools that can help best inform you on taking the right path for secondary education.

Here are tips & tools from ED to get a head start this summer:

Tip: Search for the type of college that will best suit you. Narrow down the program, size, type, location, and tuition cost of colleges, this will help you zero in on a concise list of institutions to apply to come fall.

  • College ScorecardIncludes information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

Tip: Research the tuition and fees of the institutions that top your college list. This will help give you and your family a clearer view of the potential cost of each institution right from the start of the college process.

  • College Affordability and Transparency Center: ED has compiled lists of institutions based on the tuition and fees and net prices (the price of attendance after considering all grant and scholarship aid) charged to students.

Tip: It is never too early to look for scholarships! Some deadlines are as early as a year before college starts, so take time this summer to research and begin applying for scholarships.

  • Federal Student Aid: There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations; Federal Student Aid provides tips and resources to help you find scholarships you may be eligible for.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Duncan to Grads: Follow Your Passion

Duncan at Morgan State

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered this year’s commencement speech at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.

Summer is here and as recent grads take time to pause and reflect on their tenure in higher education, many may wonder what they will do with the rest of their lives and how they will use their degrees.

Follow your passion and help others. This was the common theme in Secretary Arne Duncan’s four commencement speeches this spring.

At the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Morgan State University, the College of the Menominee Nation, and Hostos Community College, the Secretary lauded athletic titles to academic championships.  He highlighted those that were the first in their families to graduate from college and at Morgan State University, touted the mother-daughter duo who earned their bachelors’ degrees on the same day.

“I did learn two valuable lessons in thinking about the future from my teachers, my family, and my mentors,” Duncan said at Morgan State University.

First, I learned the importance of following your passion — that your ability to adapt and be creative, to skillfully manage the inevitable uncertainty that would come, would, in large measure, determine one’s success in a knowledge-based, global economy…. Second, I learned I should strive to lead a life of consequence — to try to demonstrate my respect and gratitude to all those who had helped me growing up by working to help others.”

The Secretary expressed hope that graduates would run for school board, become teachers or tutor students so that they could positively affect their communities through education, regardless of the career path they take. He told graduates at the College of Menominee Nation that they were “a gift to [their] people,” but that with that gift came responsibilities and obligations to give back to one’s community.

He echoed this same call for action during his speech at Hostos Community College when speaking about the school’s namesake, Eugenio Maria de Hostos.

“For de Hostos, education was not just about getting a degree, it was about what you did with your degree,” said Duncan.

Duncan mentioned in more than one speech how the Obama Administration is committed to preserving investments in federal student aid and will continue to empower students and families through tools such as the College Scorecard and the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

Other tools include programs such as Income Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn that can cap federal student loan payments at ten percent of a student’s income, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness which forgives student loan debt after working in the public sector.

Below are links to Secretary Arne Duncan’s commencement speeches this spring:

Robert Gomez is the higher education and youth liaison at the Department of Education and a graduate of the University of California, Irvine