U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will make a stop at Arizona State University on Sept. 11 to discuss two issues related to the college experience.
Duncan, who will travel to Tempe as part of his “Strong Start, Bright Future” bus tour through the southwest, is scheduled to visit the campus at 4:30 p.m. to address issues tied to college affordability and increasing college availability for Hispanic students as part of a town hall event. Duncan’s trip to Tempe also includes a visit to the healing field in Tempe at 7 p.m. to recognize the victims and responders from the Sept. 11 attack in 2001.
The issues from the former, he said in a phone interview on Sept. 10, stem from a combination of confusing information about the process — one area of confusion he noted was an inability for families to differentiate between loans and grants — and an uptick in the cost to attend.
“The overall cost of college has gotten way too high,” he said.
A step the U.S. Department of Education has taken to make that process easier is the formation of a website, collegecost.ed.gov, which provides offers tools like a pricing calculator and college scorecards to evaluate schools based on affordability and overall value.
The second topic Duncan will discuss is an issue that has undergone rapid improvement in the last two decades. According to a study by the Pew Research Center from May 2013, the percentage of Hispanic students that enrolled in college immediately after graduating high school has improved from 59 percent in 1992 — it was as low as 49 percent in 2000 — to 69 percent in 2012.
The 69-percent figure pushes the percentage of Hispanic students to enter college immediately after high school above the rate for Caucasian students, which the Pew study indicates is at 66 percent. The study, however, does indicate the two groups attend different types of colleges and have different rates of degree completion, and a higher percentage of Caucasian students attend “academically selective institutions.” Hispanic students are also less likely to attend college full time than their Caucasian counterparts.
While Duncan lauded the recent gains for high school students in general — a report from the Education Department from January indicates rates are at their highest nationally since 1974 — he said more needs to be done to ensure the country remains competitive.
Much of the additional steps are based in the post-secondary level, as the aforementioned Pew Center research poll indicates 11 percent of Hispanics between the ages of 22 and 24 have at least a bachelor’s degree — half the percentage of Caucasians between the same age range.
As Duncan said, the purpose isn’t to go to college, but to earn a degree and graduate.
“At the end of the day we’re 12th, 12th, in college graduation rate,” he said. “That’s not something we should be proud of.”
Another issue facing students is the funding cuts to the Head Start program that has affected thousands of children across the country since the Sequester went into effect. Duncan said many of the students who have felt the ding are children of military members, Native American families and African American families, among others.
Duncan said the cut to the program is “unacceptable,” and it “epitomizes what’s wrong” with the current political climate. He also challenged representatives and senators to visit schools to see the effect the cuts are having on classrooms across the country.
“Sequester is simply an unmitigated disaster, and I can’t believe it actually happened,” he said.
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