Duncan Touts College Access and Completion as Top Higher Education Policy Goals

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by Ronald Roach

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said increased college access and higher college completion rates are key U.S. higher education goals being targeted with stimulus package funding. Following President Barack Obama’s Tuesday announcement in Los Angeles of his education priorities, Duncan outlined specific K-12 and higher education goals in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

“What we’re trying to do, and again this is an unprecedented level of resources, is dramatically increase access and opportunity. Over the next two years with over $31 billion that’s going to go into increased financial aid and grants to students more than 7 million students will get more money and 2.6 million students will get access to aid for the first time,” Duncan said.

“It’s an unprecedented commitment to increase access to college,” he added. The stimulus package, approved last month to revive the ailing U.S. economy, authorized a total of $787 billion in federal spending.

Duncan emphasized the administration wants to see college completion rates dramatically increased and has directed stimulus package towards that goal. Obama has challenged the U.S. higher education system to produce the world’s highest rate for college completion by 2020. According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States is ranked 10th among industrialized nations in the rate of associate degree completion and higher by adults aged 25 to 34. Thirty-nine percent of American adults 25 to 34 have completed an associate degree or higher.

“We also have in the package $2.5 billion — $500 billion (each year) over the next five years — to increase completion. We want to dramatically increase the numbers of students not just going to college but completing it,” Duncan said.

Calling the commitment the Obama administration is making to K-12 and postsecondary education in the United States ‘extraordinary,’ Duncan endorsed reformist measures, such as opening charter schools and lengthening the public school year, which the president touted in his education remarks before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

“(President Obama) put forth a litany of policy proposals. He challenged all of us to think differently,” Duncan noted.

The education secretary emphasized that the federal government will be looking for leadership from the states that have demonstrated improvements in public education.

 

“We’re going to work with a set of states that are going to reverse this race to the bottom and do exactly what (the education plan) is called — it’s called the ‘Race to the Top.’ And we’re going to work with states who are willing to challenge the status quo,” Duncan said.

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