Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the Congressional Caucus Hispanic Institute

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Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the Congressional Caucus Hispanic Institute

"2013 Public Policy Conference: Education, Economy and Workforce Plenary: A Stronger America" September 30th, 2013

September 30, 2013

Good morning everyone. It's great to be here and help kick off this important conference and critical conversation.

You'll hear from expert panelists in a moment, including our very own member of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Lily Eskelsen Garcia. She will speak about the vital role education plays in equipping the Latino community for success.

But first, I would like to thank Senator Menendez for the kind introduction and Representative Hinojosa for his continued commitment to the CHCI. They are passionately dedicated to advancing the educational and leadership opportunities for young Latinos--and I couldn't be more thrilled about having them as partners.

Organizations like the CHCI create important opportunities for rising leaders, including your alumni-- like Gabriella Gomez and Alex Ceja. Both are doing tremendous work for the Education Department and helping to pave the way for the next generation of leaders.

In my four-plus years on the job, I have visited literally hundreds of schools and met with thousands of teachers, parents, and students. Everywhere I go people attest to the urgency of providing a world-class education for all children, no matter their race, income, or zip code.

Why is education more important than ever before to ensure equal opportunity and economic prosperity? Simply put, because the world has changed. It is no longer enough just to have a strong back and a strong work ethic.

In today's knowledge-based, globally competitive economy, a world-class education and some postsecondary schooling is essential. As President Obama has said, "Education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success. It's a prerequisite for success."

America's economic growth is inextricably linked to the success of the Hispanic community. As we all know, Hispanics are our largest and fastest-growing minority group, and will represent 60 percent of our nation's population growth between 2005 and 2050.

The good news is that, during our Administration's first term, high school graduation rates and college enrollment increased rapidly among Hispanics. These trends are very encouraging. From June 2008 to June 2011, the on-time graduation rate of Hispanic high school students jumped more than 10 percentage points.

As a result, an additional 164,000 Latino students graduated on time. That is 164,000 young people with a better chance of getting a good job, owning their own home, and supporting a family.

Earlier this month, the Census Bureau reported that it estimates the number of Hispanic students enrolled in college jumped by more than 50 percent from 2008 to 2012, with an additional 1.1 million Hispanic students enrolled today. That is a million more people who are getting a real shot at the American Dream and the opportunity to thrive in a globally-competitive world.

That's the good news. The bad news, and the reality check, is that we're not making progress nearly fast enough. Just 22 percent of young Hispanic adults have a college degree today. Clearly, this is no time to relax or to become complacent.

We need to ensure that more of our Latino students are not just enrolling in higher education but are staying to get their degrees and credentials. We need to ensure that they are not just attending high school but are taking AP courses and rigorous STEM classes. Finally, we need to ensure that they are given the same opportunities as everyone else--and taking on those challenges.

Today, a college education is not only more essential than ever, it's also more expensive than ever. Our administration has taken historic steps to help students pay for college. The number of Pell grant recipients has increased more than 50 percent, from 6.2 million in 2008 to more than nine million just three years later.

We've made it easier for students to afford loan payments through repayment options like Income-Based Repayment, or IBR, and Pay as You Earn plans. And we've made it much easier to fill out the FAFSA financial aid form for college and provide it now in Spanish.

But it has not been enough. Far too many states cut their spending on higher education in the recession. We know that these state budget cuts have been the largest driver of tuition increases at public colleges over the past decade.

And in a double-whammy, Congress imposed the sequester. The sequester is a disaster for education at every level—it means fewer Head Start slots, less money for K-12, and less money for higher education. We are just hurting our families and our country.

President Obama has proposed to reward colleges and universities that keep higher education affordable—and to shift federal aid away from colleges that don't keep costs down or provide a good value.

As I have said repeatedly, a high school diploma is just not enough anymore. Some form of higher education is what folks need, whether it is a 4-year degree or technical training. And it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone who works hard has that opportunity.

Sadly, today hundreds of thousands of jobs across this country are going unfilled because employers simply can't find workers with the necessary skills and education. Hispanics can and should be filling these jobs, the same as any other American.

I recognize that college affordability is not the only issue for Hispanic students. Our immigration system is broken--and it is time we look seriously at how to improve it, not only for educating our nation's youth but to strengthen our economy as well.

Let me begin by saying that I believe passionately in the Dream Act. So does President Obama. It is the right thing to do, at so many levels.

As you know, last year, the President announced that certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children, and who do not present a risk to national security or public safety, will be considered for deferred action.

Those who demonstrate that they meet the guidelines will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization. This is specifically for young people who were brought to the United States by their parents and have grown up in America. They are Americans in their hearts and minds, just not on paper.

However, this is only a temporary stop-gap as many millions of undocumented immigrants are still left in an unstable place within the economy. Congress must get past its dysfunction and act on comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken system. President Obama is going to continue to fight for that because it's the right thing to do for our economy, our security, and our nation's families.

I'm convinced that our efforts to improve K-12 education for all students will be of great benefit to Hispanic students, who are now the largest minority group in our public schools.

But in addition, we must target more support to Hispanic Serving Institutions at the postsecondary level. That is why the President has committed to provide $2.5 billion over the next ten years to HSIs and other Minority Serving Institutions.

These schools are using this funding to renew, reform, and expand their programs to ensure that Hispanics are provided every chance to rise to their full potential, earn their degrees, and enter the workforce.

This past May I spoke at the Hostos Community College Commencement in New York, where over 60 percent of students are Hispanic. Over the last three years, Hostos's remarkable President, Dr. Félix Matos Rodríguez, has doubled enrollment and significantly improved retention and graduation rates.

At the University of Texas—Pan American, another HSI, President Robert Nelson is continuing to work to improve Hispanic education. Over the last ten years, the percent of students who are taking remedial classes has fallen from 47 percent to 16 percent. High school students are being encouraged to enroll in dual enrollment courses. And professors are actively going into the community to improve parent involvement in their children's education.

These are just two examples of the more than 350 HSIs across the country working hard to improve the lives of 1.5 million Hispanic students through education.

HSIs are a vitally important part of the solution to advancing Hispanic attainment-- and we must continue working together to support our most vulnerable students. Everyone has to contribute—from parents to teachers, from unions to corporations, from elected officials to philanthropic organizations. We all have a stake in accelerating the pace of progress.

With a strong work ethic and an equally strong commitment to family and religious values, the Hispanic community has demonstrated time and time again an unwavering commitment to equal opportunity and equity.

That commitment, coupled with real access to educational opportunities, can ensure that the Hispanic community is equipped to help lead the country where we need to go.

We must increase the number of Latino engineers, astronauts, principals, teachers, CEOs, and leaders in state, local, and federal government. In my lifetime, I hope to see the first Latino President.

But to realize that classic American dream, we need to ensure that more children have access to high-quality early learning, opportunities in great K-12 schools, and affordable colleges and universities.

No one individual and no single agency working in isolation can accomplish this task. It will take all of us working together to set high expectations, raise the bar, and cross the finish line. Thank you for your remarkable dedication and commitment to making that American dream a reality for younger generations.