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Cross-posted from the White House Blog.
Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited sophomores at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, DC. The First Lady’s remarks continued to expand her focus on issues of youth empowerment and education, in particular working to achieve the President’s “North Star” Goal.
You see, when Barack came into office,” she said, “one of the very first things he did was to set what he calls a North Star goal for America – that by the year 2020, the year that you all will be graduating from college, our country will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.
In her remarks, the First Lady spoke directly to young people about committing to their education so that they can create a better future for themselves, their communities, and their country. She also shared some of her personal academic experiences to illustrate her belief that circumstances do not define your future, but rather your attitude.
“My parents didn’t have much money, and they never went to college themselves, but they had an unwavering belief in the power of education, and they always pushed me and my brother to do whatever it took to succeed in school.”
“I knew that the first thing I needed to do was to have the strongest academic record possible… so I worked hard to get the best grades that I possibly could in all my classes. I got involved in leadership opportunities in school, where I developed close relationships with teachers and administrators. I knew I needed to present very solid and thoughtful college applications… so I stayed up late at night working on my college essays and personal statements. I knew my parents would not be able to pay for all of my tuition… so I made sure I applied for financial aid on time. And when I encountered doubters…when people told me that I wasn’t going to cut it… I didn’t let that stop me.”
After the First Lady’s remarks, she joined Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan for a conversation with sophomores, who represent the college class of 2020. BET moderators Jeff Johnson and Keshia Chante facilitated the discussion and encouraged students to discuss their goals and aspirations, challenges and concerns as they contemplate and prepare for higher education. The conversation was a listening session in which the First Lady and Secretary Duncan could hear first-hand the valuable perspective of these sophomores as they contemplate and prepare for higher education.
The First Lady and Secretary Duncan also shared a few resources to help students navigate the sometimes tricky college application process. They suggested exploring studentaid.gov to learn more about what it takes academically and financially to go to college. Other great resources include the College Scorecard and the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, tools that provide students and families with easy-to-understand information about colleges and institutions of higher education. These tools help students choose schools that are well-suited to meet their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their educational and career goals.Tina Tchen is the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady
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It’s been hard to come to terms with, but I need to face the facts: I’m not in college anymore. In fact, this January marks two years since I started repaying my student loans. I know, not the most exciting thing in the world, but important. So while I don’t claim to be a student loan expert, I have learned a lot of lessons along the way, mostly through trial and error. In hopes that you won’t make the same mistakes I did, here are some things I wish I had known before I started repaying my student loans:
Let’s be real. When you take out student loans to help pay for college, it’s easy to forget that that money will eventually have to be paid back … with interest. The money just doesn’t seem real when you’re in college, and I didn’t do a good job of keeping track of what I was borrowing and how it was building up. When it was time to start repaying my loans, I was quite overwhelmed. I had different types of loans and different interest rates. When I did eventually see my total loan balance, I was pretty shocked.
You can avoid this problem. Had I known there was a super easy way to keep track of how much you’ve borrowed in federal student loans, I would have been much better off. Just go to nslds.ed.gov, select “Financial Aid Review,” log in, and you can view all of your federal student loans in one place! How did I miss that?
- I should have made interest payments while I was still in school.
If you’re anything like me, you probably consumed your fair share of instant noodles while trying to survive on a college student’s budget. Trust me, I get it. But one thing I really regret when it comes to my student loans is not paying interest while I was in school or during my grace period. Like I said, I was far from rich, but when I was in college, I did have a work-study job and waited tables on the side. I probably could have spared a few dollars each month to pay down some student loan interest. Remember, student loans are borrowed money that you have to repay with interest and more importantly, that interest may capitalize, or be added to your total balance. My advice: Even though you don’t have to, do yourself a favor and consider paying at least some of your student loan interest while you’re in school. It will save you money in the long run.
3. I should have kept my loan servicer in the loop
If you’ve recently graduated and haven’t heard from your loan servicer, make sure you check that your loan servicer has up-to-date contact info for you. When I graduated and moved into my first big-girl apartment, I forgot to change my address with my loan servicer. I found out that all of my student loan correspondence was going to my mom’s address. I hadn’t even thought to update my loan servicer with my new contact information. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Keep your servicer informed of address, e-mail, and phone changes.
- I should have figured out what my monthly loan payments were going to be BEFORE I went into repayment.
By the time my grace period was over, I had a decent idea of how much I had borrowed in total, but I had no idea what my monthly payments would be. I thought I was fine. I had started my new job and been paying rent and other bills for about six months. Then my grace period ended, and I got my first bill from my loan servicer. It was definitely an expense I hadn’t fully taken into account.
Don’t make the same mistake. Luckily for you, Federal Student Aid recently launched a repayment estimator that allows you to pull your federal student loan information in order to compare your monthly payments under different repayment plans side by side. That way, you know what to expect and can budget accordingly … unlike me.
I’ll be the first to admit that this whole process can seem a little overwhelming, especially when you’re new at it. But just remember, your loan servicer is there to help you. If you have questions or need advice, don’t hesitate to contact them.
Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.
Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the findings of the international Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The results showed that on the three domains (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technology-rich environment), the U.S. average performance is significantly lower than the international average and the U.S. has large percentages of low performers in each domain.
Clearly, we need to be more strategic and systematic and create learning opportunities for all low-skilled adults, beyond the 2 million per year we can reach through the current adult education program. To that end, the Department asked OECD to take a closer look at the backgrounds of the U.S. low-skilled population, identify policy implications, and offer a broad set of recommendations that could provide a framework to help this country build on our strengths and systemically address some of our skill weaknesses.
Today OECD released their report, Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says. This report is the first report in a decade that quantifies the population of low-skilled adults and takes a closer look at who these low-skilled adults are. The findings are alarming and should concern us all. They shine a spotlight on a part of our population that’s historically been overlooked and underserved—the large number of adults with very low basic skills. OECD identified in this report that there are about 36 million adults ages 16-65 performing below Level 2.
If adults have trouble reading, doing math, solving problems and using technology, they will find the doors of the 21st century workforce closed to them. And that will have severe consequences for all of us. That’s why all of us must find ways to help more adults upgrade their skills. Otherwise, no matter how hard they work, these Americans will fall short in the struggle to support themselves and their families, and contribute fully to our country.
PIAAC also identifies learning gaps among adults of different races and ethnicities; these indicate that the disadvantages and opportunity gaps of childhood often persist into adulthood. To combat and close these gaps, we must invest in our nation’s future workers from an early age. We must also do more to support today’s adults, who want and need to upgrade their skills to succeed.
The survey does affirm that the Obama administration’s overall reform priorities are the right ones— high-quality preschool for all children, college- and career-readiness standards, broadband access everywhere, high schools that engage students and introduce them to careers, commonsense immigration reform and affordable college degrees that lead to good jobs.
Another clear policy implication of these initial findings is that we must raise expectations for learners of all ages.
In short, the report provides ample evidence to support the Administration’s current reforms and investments, but calls for increased action in one area: significantly improving the preparedness of our low-skilled adult population, which has been overlooked and underserved for too long.
To better understand these challenges, inform the development of a national response, and gather input from a wide range of stakeholders, today I announced the launch of a national engagement process with the end goal of developing a national plan to improve the foundation skills of low-skilled adults in the United States. The Department wants feedback from individuals, state officials, education officials, businesses, industry, and labor leaders, researchers, data experts, education associations, philanthropies, policy leaders and others concerned with the health, well-being and democracy in America.
In particular, the Department wants the country’s best ideas and most creative thinking to addresses several key themes:
- Expanding opportunities for adults to improve foundation skills by scaling up proven practices and using emerging technologies to personalize and accelerate learning for America’s low-skilled working population.
- Building stronger partnerships among business, industry, labor, and state and local governments, and others, in order to sustain the nation’s workforce capacity, economic vitality, and democratic values.
- Strengthening the connection between foundation skills and workforce readiness in ways that help adults gain basic skills, particularly in the STEM fields, and pursue specific occupations and credentials more rapidly.
Based on the results of PIAAC, it is clear that the U.S. needs a stronger, more comprehensive strategy to raise the skills of significant numbers of low-skilled adults. This effort will require the sustained, systematic efforts – and the coordinated investments – of a wide range of partners from the public and private sectors, working at the national, state and local levels.
Our Department will use the feedback we receive to develop a national plan to improve the skills of low-skilled adults. And, we invite members of the general public to send their ideas and suggestions for the national plan that will be released this coming spring. More information about the adult skills outreach initiative will be available on the Department’s website in the coming days.Brenda Dann-Messier is Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education.
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