Education chief: Higher learning will fix economy
NORTH LAS VEGAS – U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Tuesday that a post-secondary education remained the surest path to professional and economic success, even as more Americans than ever are going into debt to pursue higher learning.
Duncan said students should consider some form of higher education, including college or vocational training, if they want to more easily secure a job after high school graduation. Outside of mortgages, student loans are the top source of household debt.
“Going to college, by far, is the best long-term investment any individual can make for their future,” Duncan told reporters in North Las Vegas. “Some form of higher education has to be the goal of every single young person in this country.”
Duncan touted President Barack Obama’s student loan relief plan, which would reduce the maximum repayment on student loans from 15 percent of discretionary income annually to 10 percent, among other measures. About 1.6 million borrowers could be affected.
The Education Department has loaned $490 billion to 23 million borrowers this year, compared to $102.2 billion to 11.5 million recipients last year.
Duncan’s remarks came during his tour across the nation to promote Obama’s American Jobs Act, which would set aside tax dollars for teacher salaries and school construction. In all, Duncan made two stops in southern Nevada on Tuesday, first addressing more than 8,000 financial aid workers and students at the Federal Student Aid Fall Conference on the Las Vegas Strip, and later participating in an education panel at the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas.
Duncan also addressed the nation’s wounded economy in this hardest-hit state, telling educators and students gathered at the College of Southern Nevada that investment in public schools is the only way to strengthen the nation’s work force and compete globally. Nevada tops the nation in foreclosures and unemployment and has some of the most underfunded public schools in the nation.
“We have to educate our way to a better economy,” Duncan said. “We are fighting not just for children or education. I really think we are fighting for our country.”
Duncan joined education leaders throughout southern Nevada during the town hall, noting Nevada’s record high school drop-out rate and urging parents to get more involved in their children’s education. Nevada has had the lowest graduation rate of any state since at least 2005, according to a U.S. Department of Education report released earlier this year.
“There’s no reason why this state can’t move forward in a very rapid rate,” Duncan said.
Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones said roughly half of all 12th graders in the district are vulnerable to dropping out this year. He said schools needs to be more flexible by helping students achieve proficiency in basic subjects or catch up after falling behind by using online classes and other programs.
He said teachers have the most impact on student proficiency and graduation rates, and that teachers and principals need to be trained on how to create a more fair and effective learning environment.