Deliver Your News to the World

Secretary Spellings Delivers Remarks at Boston Higher Education Summit


U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today delivered remarks at her regional higher education summit, “A Test of Leadership: Committing to Advance Postsecondary Education for all Americans,” in Boston. This is the fourth of five regional higher education summits the U.S. Department of Education is holding across the U.S. to discuss the Secretary’s Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization priorities, as well as the importance of access, affordability and accountability in higher education.

Following are her prepared remarks:

Our country’s investment in higher education has yielded a tremendous return. Our colleges and universities have given generations of citizens the ability to pursue the American Dream and have long been the envy of the world.

But recent data shows we’re in danger of losing that position.

By 2012, we will have 3 million more jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree and we won’t have the college graduates to fill them.

Only about 17 percent of our high school freshmen are getting bachelor’s degrees within ten years—and when we disaggregate the data, it’s much worse.

By age 24, 75 percent of students from the top-income bracket have earned a degree.

At the same age, less than 9 percent of low-income students have earned one. Nine percent!

Our competitive economy is making new and greater demands. Ninety percent of the fastest-growing jobs require postsecondary education or training. 60 percent of Americans have no postsecondary credentials at all.

At a time when more Americans need a degree, it’s becoming more difficult to get one—particularly for low-income and minority students.

That’s why I’ve made higher education reform a priority. We’re all engaged in a robust dialogue. Many stakeholders—states, institutions, Congress—are working pro-actively to address the challenges around access, affordability, and accountability and momentum is building.

Since my Higher Education Commission released its’ report last September, my Department has made tremendous progress to address the issues that fall under our responsibility:

We’ve called for increased high school rigor as part of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind...

We’ve proposed the largest Pell increase in 30 years and...

Launched a new FAFSA Forecaster tool to give high school juniors early notification of their potential financial aid.

We’ve been hard at work, but some of the most important work is ahead.

Congress must act to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. HEA has been up for renewal since 2003. In the absence of new legislation we can’t address all these critical issues.

We’re working on our proposals with Congress. The House just marked up its’ bill yesterday. And the Senate is scheduled to do the same next week.

It’s encouraging to see progress on this critical issue. I’d like to talk for a few minutes about how we must use this opportunity to make the higher education enterprise more user-friendly for students and families.

The federal government is a one-third investor in higher education. If you held that kind of stock in a company, you’d expect... and receive... a detailed annual report on company performance.

As shareholders in the higher education system, we don’t know much. For far too long, we’ve invested hundreds of billions in taxpayer money and hoped for the best.

A Seattle mom, who is using her retirement money to pay for her daughter’s college, recently asked: “How do I know if it’s worth it? Will she graduate? What kind of a job will she get?”

Systems like North Carolina, Texas, and South Dakota are working to answer those questions—looking at ways to measure student learning—and provide a better understanding of value.

For most families, this is one of the most expensive and important investments ever made. Students and parents need and deserve information about cost, graduation rates, and learning outcomes in order to make more informed decisions.

Over the past year, my Department has worked with the higher education community to inject more transparency into the system. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of misinformation about our work... some of which you’ve probably heard like—

We’re federalizing higher education, we’re creating a “one-size-fits-all” measure of quality, we’re trying to circumvent Congress and create new laws.

None of this is true, but there’s a lot of confusion around our proposals.

So what have we been doing? Let me set the record straight.

For the past 10 months, we’ve been engaged in a negotiated rulemaking process. Negotiated rulemaking is Washington-speak which means we’ve brought all parties to the table. Accreditors, a range of institutions, state higher education officials, and others—we’ve brought them to the table to engage on the issues and develop recommendations.

So first, far from circumventing Congress, we’ve been adhering to the process they established. And the process does not produce new laws—it provides recommendations to clarify and improve existing laws.

Recommendations open for public comment and that serve as a jumping off point for further discussion and action. Just as the Academy is so famous for doing—an airing and sharing of divergent talk.

Second, the purpose of our efforts is not to federalize higher education. I know very well that our great strength is the diversity of our system. All we want to do is help more students gain access to it.

For example, we’ve been looking at issues around transfer of credit. It’s one of the most persistent barriers students face in obtaining a degree.

Every year, millions of students who attempt to transfer are forced to spend more money and time repeating coursework. Billions are wasted by students and institutions because of this issue—not to mention lost time and productivity.

Currently, an institution can deny consideration of a student’s credits based solely on the sending institution’s accreditation. For example, we received a letter from a student—a firefighter involved in 9/11—who applied to a masters programs and was rejected out of hand simply because his degree came from a nationally accredited institution.

We’re asking that for those students who attempt to transfer—an institution must at least consider their credits.

Third, we’re not calling for a “one-size-fits-all” measure of quality. We simply want the current system of accreditation to better emphasize student learning and achievement as the law requires.

The proposed regulations would place responsibility where it belongs—with colleges and universities. They would set educational objectives tailored to their unique mission and determine how they should measure effectiveness.

Students and families deserve a system that promotes greater transparency and accountability.

Next, I’d like to talk about access. Too many of our high schools are failing to prepare students for college and the workforce. In addition to an epidemic dropout rate, less than half of those who do graduate are ready for college-level math and science.

Taking rigorous classes in high school is the best way to increase college access and success. So, it’s disheartening that only four percent of our low-income students complete a college prep curriculum.

Through NCLB reauthorization, we’re working to increase rigor and better align high school coursework with college and workforce expectations.

We’ve called for expanded access to AP and IB programs. And, we’re also investing more money in our AC/SMART grants that are rewarding thousands of Pell-eligible students who complete a rigorous high school curriculum.

We must build on these efforts by making sure college prep and student support programs, like Gear Up and TRIO, are also aligned to more rigorous standards.

And when we talk about access, we need to make sure we’re talking about the adults and non-traditional students who now make up more than half of our higher education population.

For example, we’ve proposed that Pell Grants be made available year round to help accelerate college completion for adults balancing work and family responsibilities.

Finally, affordability. Qualified students should not be locked out of pursuing an education because of cost and confusion. Students and families deserve a more user-friendly financial aid system. The current system is redundant... Byzantine... and broken!

At the federal level, it’s a maze of 60 websites... dozens of toll-free numbers... 17 different programs. As you can see from the chart behind me, it’s a mess!

And those of you who attempt to work with it every day need no convincing. We must find a better way.

The role of the federal government has always been to help those most in need. We must increase need-based aid.

Consider that in 1975, the Pell grant covered 84 percent of costs—today only 36 percent.

That’s why, I applaud efforts in the U.S. House to raise the Pell grant. And, I would encourage them to go further and increase the grant as the President has called for to a maximum of $5400 over the next five years.

Additionally, I’m also recommending that savings generated as part of HEA be focused on increasing Pell and helping current students meet their education expenses.

To meet that goal, we must also better target campus-based aid and loan programs that now help only a few. We should build on the President’s budget recommendations and direct those funds into the Pell Grant and AC/SMART grants, which are far more effective in helping low-income families.

This is just a small sample of the issues we’re engaging with Congress on as we work to strengthen higher education.

We must also engage the public. That’s why we’re holding these regional summits around the country because improving higher education is not just a federal issue.

Whether you’re a business leader who needs talented workers, a state who needs an educated workforce, a parent who needs to figure out how the heck you’re going to pay for college, or a student who needs an education ... each and every one of you has a role to play in maintaining the strength of our colleges and universities.

We’ve outlined specific actions that you can take today and we stand ready to be your partner. The New England region is home to some of our nation’s oldest and most prestigious universities.

You have established the reputation for quality our universities have earned. This region can once again be a leader in ensuring that higher education remains a well-traveled path to the American Dream.

I’m honored to share this responsibility with you and encouraged that together we can and will make the dream a reality for many more Americans.

Thank you, and I’d be happy to take your questions.


This news content was configured by WebWire editorial staff. Linking is permitted.

News Release Distribution and Press Release Distribution Services Provided by WebWire.