Press Room NEWSLETTERS
August 7, 2015

ED Review ... ...a bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders

What's inside...
Future of Higher Education
Second Chance Pell
Reading Day of Action
ESEA Flexibility
Reaching Disconnected Youth
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Future of Higher Education

On July 27, joined by higher education leaders from across the nation at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Secretary Duncan outlined a new vision for higher education in America. More students are graduating from college than ever before, but, for many students, the higher education system is not delivering what they need and deserve. America's students and families need—and the nation's economic strength depends on—a system that helps all students succeed. That starts with making college more affordable but goes further, to focus on whether students are actually graduating in a timely way with a meaningful degree that sets them up for future success (see fact sheet, blog post, and web site).

"There is a path to a higher education system that serves many, many more students much better," he said. "And continuing to make college more accessible and affordable—including more tuition-free and debt-free degrees—is absolutely part of that. But, it's only a part.... We must reset the incentives that underpin the system so the focus is on the outcome that really matters: completing a quality degree at a reasonable cost. And, we must have the courage to embrace innovations that meet the needs of a student body that has changed enormously in recent decades."

Nearly half of today's students who begin college do not graduate within six years. The consequences of taking on debt but never receiving a degree can be severe. Students who borrow for college but never graduate are three times more likely to default.

"We must shift incentives at every level to focus on student success, not just on access," the Secretary continued. "When students win, everyone wins. But when they lose, every part of the system should share responsibility. Today, only students, families, and taxpayers lose when students don't succeed, and that makes no sense. Institutions must be held accountable when they get paid by students and taxpayers but fail to deliver a quality education. So should states and accreditors who are responsible to oversee them under the law. By the same token, schools should be rewarded for doing the right thing, taking in students who are struggling and helping them succeed."

Over the past six-and-a-half years, the Administration has taken strong action to counteract the rising cost of higher education, increasing Pell Grants and making student debt more manageable by expanding loan repayment options that cap payments based on income. The Administration has also pursued executive actions and put forward policy proposals to address flaws in the higher education system and create incentives for all actors to focus on student outcomes. Nevertheless, despite the leadership of innovative institutions, much work remains to meet the goal of again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world—and everyone needs to join in that effort.

"My three broad themes today will guide our approach to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, as they guided our work from the very beginning," the Secretary concluded. "First, we will seek to make college more affordable, financial aid more accessible, and loan repayment easier. Second, we will concentrate on boosting student success through shared responsibility and accountability for outcomes. And third, we will promote innovation and completion through transparency and evidence of what works."

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Second Chance Pell

As part of the Administration's commitment to create a fairer, more effective criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and combat the impact of mass incarceration on communities, the Department announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program to test new models to allow individuals incarcerated in federal or state penal institutions to receive Pell Grants and pursue a postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around. Participation in high-quality correctional education has been shown to measurably reduce re-incarceration rates. By reducing recidivism, correctional education can ultimately create safer communities and save taxpayers money (see press releaseand joint op-ed by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary Duncan).

In 1994, Congress eliminated Pell Grant eligibility for those in federal and state penal institutions. Under this pilot program, incarcerated individuals who otherwise meet applicable eligibility requirements and are eligible for release, particularly within the next five years, could access Pell Grants. This pilot builds on a Dear Colleague Letter that the agency issued in December 2014, which clarified that students who otherwise meet applicable eligibility requirements and are confined in locations that are not penal institutions, such as juvenile justice facilities and local or county jails, are eligible for Pell Grants.

The Department is authorized under the Higher Education Act to periodically administer experiments to test the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for participating postsecondary institutions in disbursing federal student aid. When determining which institutions will be selected for participation in this pilot, the agency will consider evidence that demonstrates a strong record on student outcomes and in the administration of federal student aid programs. The deadline for postsecondary institutions to apply for this pilot is October 2 for the 2016-17 academic year.

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Reading Day of Action

The White House and the Department launched a day of action (July 29) to raise awareness about the importance of reading wherever you are over the remaining days and weeks of summer before school starts. Reading over the summer makes a difference during the school year. When students are able to keep reading, they can keep learning, remain sharp, and be more prepared when the new school year begins.

This effort began when agency staff met with barbershop owners about how to use all tools—including scissors—to cut the achievement gap.

Secretary Duncan celebrated the day with a "Let's Read! Let's Move!" event at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C., reading "The Incredible Book Eating Boy" by Oliver Jeffers to over 120 children.

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ESEA Flexibility

On August 6, the Department announced that seven additional states have received approval for continued flexibility from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act(ESEA). These recipients are implementing comprehensive, state-designed plans to ensure student success and a continued commitment to college- and career-readiness for every student. Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi, and Wisconsin have three additional years of flexibility, through the 2017-18 school year, while Arizona, Arkansas, and New Hampshire have one more year of flexibility. (Note: Approved flexibility requests and renewal letters are available here.)

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Reaching Disconnected Youth

Also this week, Secretary Duncan posted a piece on Medium on the need to connect more youth. "All young people—no matter where they grow up—need havens of hope and safety," he emphasized. "They need skills to succeed in society and the workplace. They need positive adult role models, mentors, support, and structure, as well as clear pathways to a bright future.... If we care about our country's future, we must work together—at the local, state, and federal levels—to reconnect all young people with the education and career pathways that lead away from poverty, desperation, and violence and toward a renewed sense of community, stability, and success." The Secretary asked others to weigh in and highlight success.

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Odds and Ends

  • Interactive maps and resources have been added to the Department's Rethinking Discipline web site, illustrating out-of-school suspensions to help educators and communities understand the extent of this practice.

  • To date, the Teach to Lead initiative has engaged with more than 3,000 educators spanning 38 states—in person and virtually—giving voice to over 850 teacher leadership ideas (see fact sheet, blog post by Secretary Duncan, blog post by a participating teacher, and summits web site).

  • The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, in close partnership with Too Small to Fail, have created "Talk, Read, and Sing Together Every Day" tip sheets. These resources can help enrich a child's early language experiences by providing research-based tips for talking, reading, and singing with young children every day, beginning from birth. All tip sheets are available in English and Spanish (blog post).

  • In a new blog post, President's Education Awards Program (PEAP) Director Frances Hopkins recaps her visit to a local elementary school to congratulate recipients.

  • Don't miss recent reports from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on indicators of school crime and safety; qualifications of public middle grades teachers and high school teachers; and data on postsecondary tuition, fees, and degrees.

  • Public comments are being accepted now through September 28 on the proposed selection process, criteria, and submissions for the third round of the Promise Zone Initiative.

  • To enhance the quality of life and upward mobility for children in rural and tribal places, the Administration has announced a technical assistance demonstration initiative: Rural Integration Models for Parents and Children to Thrive (IMPACT). This initiative will provide support for up to 10 rural and tribal communities with vision, capacity, and assets to develop innovative, two-generation strategies. Join the webinar for interested communities on August 11, and letters of interest must be submitted by August 31.

  • In a joint letter, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary Duncan urge school districts to consider the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, by which schools can agree to offer free breakfast and lunch for all students and cover any costs that exceed federal reimbursements.

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Quote to Note

"I don't see a future where any postsecondary option—including residential, liberal arts colleges—disappears. Instead, the aim should be to create more postsecondary options that do a better job of meeting everyone's needs. The liberal arts must remain strong. Our nation needs campuses where professors aspire to become top-flight teachers and leading researchers look for the next big discovery to help humanity—whether that's a cure for cancer, the next amazing technology, or breakthrough ideas. But too many liberal arts colleges and research universities have built their brands on exclusivity for far too long. It's time to bring to an end the false choice between excellence and access. Excellence plus equity is a powerful win-win."

        Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (7/27/15), in remarks on a new vision for higher education at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County

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Upcoming Events

Attention higher education presidents, faculty, staff, and students! Register today for the fifth annual President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge National Gathering, September 10 and 11 on the Howard University campus in Washington, D.C. Participants will have opportunities to tell stories about what is happening on their campus, learn about best practices, and celebrate ongoing work, so that they will return to their campuses truly inspired to take the President's challenge to the next level.

The Department plans to host its first ParentCamp in October.

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Last Modified: 08/10/2015