Middle Class Task Force Higher Education Meeting

Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release
April 20, 2009


The University of Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri
3:50 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Why don't we begin by inviting any questions you have. The lovely lady in the dark suit back there, if you get here. You see, right back by the cameras. Yes, ma'am.

Q Hi. I would just like to know, what is your definition of the middle class?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: My definition of the middle class -- and Cecilia can answer that more precisely, but let me tell you what my definition is, and I mean this sincerely. There's all kinds of definitions. You talk about -- you go to the median income and all that. My definition and the working operation I have in this task force which I've been put in charge of is anybody who can't go two paychecks in a row without getting in real trouble. Not a joke. I mean that sincerely.

So in some communities where the standard of living -- the cost of living is much, much higher, that could be someone raising -- having four kids, having somebody in college taking care of their mother or father like Jill and I are doing, and many of you are doing -- and it's an honor to do it. I didn't mean like it's a burden. But the truth of the matter is you could be making $140,000 and be middle class.

In other places it could be somebody who's a single person making $55,000 a year and living in a community that the standard -- the cost of living isn’t nearly as high. So I've tried to avoid, as the chairman of this task force, coming up with a specific definition of what constitutes the middle class based on income, because it varies.

The second point I'll make about that is this: that we're not just talking about those in the middle class. Part of what we're trying to do here, and what I've been given the responsibility and the opportunity to do, and I've given -- been given free reign on it here, is at the end of the day, with the help of Cecilia and Arne and the rest of the Cabinet, I'm going to hopefully be writing a report saying, this is what we're doing, to the Council of Economic Advisors, to focus on the middle class that hasn't been done before.

This is what we're doing in education to focus on the plight of those aspiring to the middle class, in the middle class that hasn't been done before. This is what we're doing at Treasury. For example, it goes from everything from child care -- child care -- how many of you women in here work? Raise your hand. How many of you have children while you were working at some point in your career? How many of you had that as your single biggest worry, about whether you're going to be able to work when you have quality health care? I'm serious, right.

Well, guess what, that affects middle-income taxpayers. That affects people aspiring to the middle class. That affects your quality of life, your standard of living. So it's not just the cost of college education. It's not just the tax cuts we put in and we're going to continue to support for the middle class. It goes across the board -- across the board.

So it's those aspiring -- we hope when we're finished, when we're finished our term, if it's two terms or one, whatever it is -- and I'm hoping it's two -- (laughter and applause) -- but when we finish, when we finish, that literally, we can look back and say we were different than other administrations, and that our focus, our measure of success was whether or not the live of average people in America in the United States is better. It doesn't mean we don't want people to be able to make millions of dollars. We do. We want to be able to produce billionaires in America. We do. But that's not our measure. That's not the measure of who we are.

Another question -- on this side. Why don't you just grab that gentlemen right there.

Q I need these.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: So do I. (Laughter.)

Q I'm going to maybe stretch the box a little bit, or step outside of it. My name is Paul Speck (phonetic). I teach here at UMSL. Most of my students are working class or middle class. Most of them work full-time. Many have families. Some received degrees five or 20 years ago, and have now returned for more education.

This year's news is hard. Our living standard and our children are in jeopardy. We must collectively re-imagine the future; create new technologies, a new economy. Success will depend on American workers.

Each year, approximately 1/40th of our national workforce turns over. Each year, a crop of new graduates marginally increases our collective productivity. Each year, most employees improve their specific job skills. But each year, most employees neglect broader and more basic skills. When economic shocks occur, many workers find it difficult to recover, and they fall behind.

Current policies and programs mostly prepare new workers for the new economy. They do not necessarily prepare most current workers for the new economy. This is a problem for the nation, and a problem for middle-class households. Yes, they need to send Johnny to school, but they also need to send Johnny's mom to school.

Economic competitiveness depends on labor productivity, labor productivity on skill level, and skill level on education. Every American worker should improve his or her skills every year. This should be a national priority.

Content can be delivered online, on the job, on campus at community colleges, at urban universities. Your administration should -- I think, must -- provide the leadership. You could call the program, please excuse me, "No Worker Left Behind." (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: The answer is, yes. (Laughter.) Look, well, now, let me -- thank you, Professor. It would be a seminar to respond -- (laughter) -- but legitimate. I mean, it warrants -- everything you mentioned warrants a response. But let me make a generic response, and then invite either of my colleagues if they would like to say anything.

Number one, we absolutely, positively agree with you. That's why in this Reinvestment Act, and in our budget, we talk about continuous free training, training people for new jobs. For example, we need a whole new economy based upon a new foundation. We can't count on the next economic growth being on a .com bubble, or a bubble that was in fact a real estate bubble.

And during that period, that last economic growth spurt, guess what -- as you know productivity increased 20 percent. Our workers did pretty darn well. They're the reason why productivity increased. They didn't get any share of that. They didn't get much of a share of it, let me put it that way, and that's got to change.

So what do we do? We have $500 million in this to train people for green jobs, not a make-work job, so that -- we hope when we come out of this, the people we’re training -- mothers, fathers, students, anyone who wishes to participate -- you're going to end up with a job when you learn how to deal with smart meters, or how you're going to deal with the new grid, people being able to -- I'll get to you in a minute -- people who in fact are going to be weatherizing all of these homes. Guess what, you're going to walk away from this, not just getting this through this hump, but transforming part of the transformative aspect of this economy.

We need a green economy. This is where the growth will come in the United States. This is where we're going to re-establish our dominance as a major -- the major economic power in the world. So we hope the people we're training jobs for now we're training for life; that we're giving them a job skill that will be for life.

Now, obviously, they have to do what everyone else does; they have to invest constantly in being kept up on new technologies. We also provide for that, as well. And we're also pushing very, very hard. I was at a -- we were having the -- what we call the Presidential Daily Briefing on the economy where Cecilia's boss, who heads up the Council of Economic Advisors, Romer, and where the Secretary of Treasury and also, Larry Summers were sitting there. And the President turns around and he says -- it's not inappropriate, he says it publicly, so I'm not talking about a private meeting, although it is a private meeting -- he looked, and he said, look, I need a long-term plan where we can begin to, through direct incentives and through cajoling, move more people into the sciences and engineering.

How do we better prepare? I want to end when I walk out of this -- put your hand down, please -- when I walk -- I want to walk out of this office having produced a significantly larger percentage of students graduating from college with engineering degrees and degrees in science.

So there's multiple facets to what the Professor talked about. Arne, but you might want to add something.

SECRETARY DUNCAN: I'll just be very quick. And I think the community college plays a huge one here. Green jobs, health care jobs, tech jobs; there's a huge opportunity for folks to go back to retool, to retrain and get those skills that will enable them to really compete.

With this audience I also have to make a plug. A tough economy, a tough job market; we need a million new teachers over the next four to six years, a million new teachers. (Applause.)

And so whether it's our undergrads here who are thinking about it, or whether it's 25 year-olds, or 35 year-olds, or 55 year-olds thinking about that next career and really want to make a difference, we need that next generation of talent to step up and make a huge difference in our classrooms. And I'd encourage everybody here to think about that.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me give you one example of new teachers that you don't think about. We obviously need new teachers, and better-equipped teachers, and from everything from pre-school through the university. But you know one of the things that Jill's community college, Delaware Technical Community College, where she was for 15 years -- there's an overwhelming need for nurses in high-paying jobs. Nurses are finally beginning to get paid what they should have been paid. (Applause.)

By the way, after seven months in the hospital, two craniotomies and a major embolism, a lot of time in ICU -- if there's any angels in heaven, they're all nurses, I can assure you of that. (Laughter.) But all kidding aside, here's the deal. Guess why these community colleges can't accommodate training all the people who want to be nurses. They don't have enough professors. They don't have enough people nationwide -- I don't know about your individual colleges, but I can tell you that Delaware Technical Community College has a great program. They are oversubscribed by I don't know what, I mean, probably double or triple what they can accommodate. Why? We are not paying to send registered nurses back to get advanced degrees to be able to come into the community college and teach. There's an example of retraining.

So there's a lot of places you don't think about that -- where there is vast needs in growth industries that in fact can pay very good jobs that can be available for their whole life and that can better the community.

Next question. This gentlemen right here, and then the young woman over here.

Q Why is it so difficult to reach you, to reach Barack Obama and to reach you? Since January 3rd, we are trying to convey this material which is --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's the reason I came, so you could give me this. (Applause.) I heard you wanted to talk to me. (Applause.) And that's why I came.

Q (Inaudible) -- leadership certificates for the Democratic Party and for the nation -- it creates both a technological evolution, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and it also creates a spiritual revolution. And so I wonder why since the third of January -- we were trying since the third of January for President-elect, we tried all the time to convey this material --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'll tell you why. We've been on vacation. (Laughter.) We've been on vacation. We haven't had much to do, and I don't know why we didn't get to you right away. (Laughter.) If I had known that, Professor, I don't know. (Applause.) No, look, it's a legitimate point. It's a legitimate point.

Well, I am your conduit. You've got me now, and I promise you, I assure you, I commit to you that we will look at this, we will read it, and we will get back to you specifically. But --

Q (Inaudible.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm sorry, Professor.

Q (Inaudible.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right. (Laughter.) If you need a professor of physics and nanoscience, I got it right here, okay. (Laughter.) No, I'm only kidding. But, look -- I will make sure that everyone -- I will make sure we copy this and get everyone on this stage a copy, as well as the President.

But, look, one of the problems here is that there are an awful lot of brilliant people like the professor here -- and I'm not being solicitous or facetious -- there's a lot of brilliant people who have really great ideas. And one of the hardest things to do is sort of get outside the bubble. That's why, if you noticed, I'm here. We're not holding these meetings in Washington, D.C. We're not having these fora listening to ourselves. So we try. (Applause.)

But, Professor, I will -- I promise you we'll follow up with you. I promise you. And thank you.

Ma'am. Here you go, you got a mic right behind you.

Q Thank you. Thank you, Vice President Biden. Unlike working-lass families who oftentimes don't earn enough money to sustain basic family needs, some parents with expendable income used it to indulge in America's highly-commercialized society.

My question is, in addition to helping their children to attend college, could the parents be required to participate in a family debt-reducing program, and possibly their children as well, so as not to repeat the mistakes of their parents?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. The federal government shouldn't be in the business of mandating everyone be in a program. But what we should do, we should be teaching economic literacy in our schools.

Why don't you talk about this a little bit, Arne. (Applause.)

SECRETARY DUNCAN: The Vice President hit the nail on the head, that part of the reason we're in this -- tough times and this crisis is because we don't know how to use money wisely. We don't know how to spend. We don't know how to save. And I think the best thing we can do is, starting in kindergarten, teach children about money and teach children to make good choices. (Applause.)

And in so many ways, I think we have to educate our way out of this tough economy. And part of that quality education is about financial literacy. So the Vice President is exactly right on this issue.

MS. ROUSE: Well, and let me just add there is something I think that the Vice President will agree with, and that is we do have a role in Congress making sure that the information that consumers get is simple and easy to understand.

Right now, if you go out to one of -- a major department store and you try to pay for your purchase, they'll say, well, save 15 percent. Let us give you a credit card. And that sounds pretty good. And you think, well, I'd like to save that 15 percent, maybe I need to get that credit card. And they don't tell you that if you do that at two or three stores this weekend, your interest rate could go up on all your credit cards, because the agreements you signed when you entered into credit cards was they had the right to adjust your interest based on how thinly you're spreading your daily and monthly income.

So if you get those credit cards -- now, most Americans don't know that. They just know that if they sign up for that credit card, they're going to get that extra 10 or 15 percent. That's the kind of literacy that people need to embrace.

But the credit card companies ought to be able to explain it more simply. I'm a lawyer. The Vice President is a lawyer. Jay is a -- the Governor is a lawyer. And I guarantee you when I tried to pay off my mom's credit cards and I started reading through that stuff, I said, are you kidding me? This is ridiculously complicated, and it doesn't have to be.

So we are -- and Senator Dodd, a long-time colleague of the Vice President's, has a bill that's being marked up right now that is going to simplify consumer information so you can be more in control of your debt decisions. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: A very good point. The gentleman here.

Q Good morning, Mr. Vice President.


Q Good morning to the panel. My name is Steve Warmeck (phonetic.) I'm principal of an inner-city school in St. Louis. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No purgatory for you, straight to heaven. (Applause.)

Q Our school's name is Clancy Miller Career Academy. (Applause.) Thank you very much, folks. And we have a great school in the inner city. Contradictory to all of the data that you read about city schools and what's happening, we have an outstanding student body and an outstanding staff. And I would like to get with you, Mr. Duncan, to talk about maybe coming and looking at us, because the model that we use is what the U.S. Department of Education recommended 10 years, five years ago. When we opened, we did it. It works. And so I would like to make that possible.

But getting back to the topic, the topic being how do we afford to go to school, what you are presenting this morning is just tremendous -- because we have good kids, but unfortunately, last year, 85 percent of our top-level kids, who should have qualified for loans and scholarships, got red-flagged in the system because they didn't come from a normal, typical household, all children underprivileged.

And consequently, we had to go to bat and really do some battles just to get them into school and get them financial aid. I'm trusting and hoping that what we're presenting this morning is what's going to help that kid get into school.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me make two very brief comments, and turn it over to Arne, who's forgotten more about this than I'm going to learn, because he did exactly what you're doing, and system-wide.

My mom -- and Arne has heard me say this a hundred times. My mom has an expression that I've heard her say -- she's 90, almost 92; lives with us -- my mom had an expression by the time I can -- as long as I can remember, she said, remember, children tend to become that which you expect of them. Children tend to become that which you expect of them.

And one of the things I'll bet folks like you -- you specifically, and I know, Arne, real leaders in education have done is you've made demands. You haven't bought into this, well, this is from a low-income household; this kid is a minority; this kid is in a broken home; well, we just can't ask as much, we better dumb it down.

The second point I'll make, specifically relating to access to college, one of the things that I've had a pet peeve about -- me, Joe Biden, not an educator -- about the Pell grants. One of the problems with the Pell grants, in my view, is in most of our public school systems and private school systems that have kids within -- family incomes below $40,000, and some are there on scholarships -- they are unaware of the existence of a Pell grant almost until it's too late. Most of them get told by their college guidance counselor, or someone who walks into the classroom when you were a junior to say -- and those of you who come from families, you can borrow automatically -- you get a grant up to a -- now, for us, $5,600 or $5,400 -- $5,600 -- four or six?


THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- $5,500? I was close. (Laughter.) I know we raised it. I wasn't -- $5,500. Now, look, that's enough to pay for almost full tuition for any four-year state university per year. You could with that, coupled with a job, especially if it was in your community and you didn't live on campus, you could go to a four-year college.

I think we got to start having teachers tell kids, but more importantly tell their parents who didn't go to college, who don't understand; who have this dream for their kids, but think it's never going to be achievable. It's about expectations.

I think you should learn when you show up, bring your kid in second grade to the parent-teacher meeting -- you know, Mrs. Jones, if Johnny does well, by the time he graduates, he'll be able to go to college basically for free. There is this program that's there. It's called a Pell grant.

Now, I know one of the reasons we haven't done it is because it has to be appropriated every year. But it's going to stay in existence. Nobody has the nerve -- and I think any future President -- to get rid of it. So part of it is letting parents know, in my view, who aspire for their kids to go to college but can't even dream about how they're going to get them there, to let them know there's a path.

But anyway, Arne, why don't you --

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Just a couple quick thoughts. First of all, I just want to thank you and your teachers for your extraordinary commitment, and in every city. (Applause.) A big reason why I'm so optimistic that in every city and every tough community, in every inner-city community there are extraordinary educators every day where this is not a job, it's a passion, where they are making a difference in students' lives.

The St. Louis public school system is going in the right direction. It has had some huge struggles I'm very aware of. They've had nine superintendents in seven years. That's a recipe for disaster, not for success. It's starting to head in the right direction. I will do everything -- whatever I can to help the system continue to improve. But your leadership is so extraordinarily important.

That access is huge. What the Vice President and the President have done -- this is the biggest investment in higher ed since the GI Bill. It is absolutely staggering: increased Pell grants, Perkins loans, the tuition tax credit; all of this stuff that the President talked about. But as he said, this is not a slam dunk. This is an issue that's going to be fought very hard in Congress.

And it's interesting this is not a fight along party lines. There are both Republicans and Democrats who think we should keep investing in banks rather than put more money into kids. And so this is one where we are going to need you, as the Vice President said, to step up, to speak loudly, and to clearly --

MRS. ROUSE: I'm with him. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY DUNCAN: -- say, let's put all that money -- (applause) -- let's put all that money -- what's fascinating in this piece, all this new money for college, there's not one extra taxpayer we're asking for a dollar. All this is being more smart, more wise, more strategic, more focused on kids. No new money. No new taxes to do this huge increase. So we need all of your collective help to make this -- make this thing happen.

The final thing I would say is I'd just urge you -- and I'm sure you're already doing it, and others -- we need our fourth and fifth and sixth graders on college campuses. It's hard to dream about what you don't see. And so the more you can provide that exposure, the more you can get them out here, the better they're going to do. (Applause.)

Last comment, the thing we haven't done yet, but for next year I promise you we will, we have to dramatically simplify the financial aid form. It is a disaster. (Applause.) And we're going to work very, very hard. Bob Schime (phonetic) is in the front row. He's my point person on this. We're going to work with Treasury. And we have to come back with something that is not a barrier, but actually helps to catapult students into college. So we got some work ahead of us.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Speaking of people in grade school being on campus, why don't you introduce your class here.

Q One, I'd like to say I am the proud principal of Imagine Academy of Careers Middle School in North St. Louis, and I've brought here today some -- our sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Why don't you kids stand up. Everybody from the academy stand up. (Applause.)

Q I guess I didn't really have a question. But I wanted from the panel, and for you, Vice President, to just speak to our students and give them a ray of hope, and talk to them about what will -- what should occur for them in the next five to six years, and how what you're talking about can impact them directly.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can do that right now. And Secretary Duncan can do that. And maybe you guys can hang around a little bit after this and we can get some pictures taken, too, okay?

Number one, how many of you want to go to college? Well, I promise you -- look at me now -- I promise you if you guys continue to work hard in school, if you guys actually get good grades you're going to get to college. We are going to get you to college. You're going to be able to afford it, even if mom or dad doesn't have the money to send you to college.

That's not -- we're not making this up. This is not make-up stuff. This is real. You will be able to go to college. And when you go to college, what that's going to mean is it's going to open up a whole new world for you, a whole new place.

I never got -- my mom or dad never went to college. I remember my dad from the time I was a little kid, he used to use the phrase, you're going to be a college man. And I'd say, dad, why is that so important? He said, if you have a college degree, no one can take that away from you. You can't take it away from me like they took my job away from me. You can't do that. (Applause.)

Well, guess what, I never understood it -- I never understood it until it happened. But you can get a college degree. You can be able to do that. And, by the way, any one of you can be a President of the United States of America. (Applause.)

Yes, by the way, anybody doubt that now? Anybody doubt that now? (Laughter.) You know, it can be done. It can be done. So this is one of these things that you got great teachers and principals like the man standing here with you. Just remember, it matters. It matters what you do in seventh and eighth grade and fifth and sixth grade, because it makes it a lot -- you're either way behind the curve or ahead of the curve when you get to ninth and tenth grade.

And so you're not going to get to college automatically if you don't have the grades to get to college. But you're capable of doing anything anybody else has done -- anybody else has done. Not a joke. Not a joke. (Applause.)

So we'll talk a little more backstage, okay? All right. (Applause.)

Let me ask you all a question. Let me ask the audience a question. Those of you who are in college now and are going to graduate, how many of you are going to graduate in debt? (Laughter.) Seriously, stand up, all those who are going to graduate in debt.

Now, let me ask you -- please keep standing -- please keep standing. How many of you -- how many of you because you are graduated -- you're going to be graduating in debt -- are not inclined to look at being a teacher or being a social worker or being a community activist, because you're not going to be able to make enough money to pay back the money you owe to go to school?

How many would -- are going to pick occupations that maybe you wouldn't want -- wouldn't be your first choice -- because you're in debt? Raise your hand.

I want the press to see that. That's my experience all over the country -- all over the country. Please sit down. So the point here is these connect. Some of these are the brightest kids in America who are going to be graduating, and Arne wants them to go become teachers -- I do, we want them in -- but they look and say, wait a minute. And some people are -- by the way, the average person graduating from a public institution -- a private institution, has graduated with over $20,000 in debt. That's a lot of money.

Young man right -- or did you want to add something to that, Arne?

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Yes, I do want to add something, because this is really, really important. What people are changing now, what's different today than before is we were making it much easier to repay those loans. So we're now indexing repayments based upon your income coming out. So if you come out making $200,000 a year, we're going to have you pay a higher rate than if you're making $35,000 as a teacher.

So really think -- this is a different world now. Again, folks are really pushing hard on this. And that challenge, which has been a huge challenge, and many folks have gone on to do things they literally didn't want to do because the interest rates that you had to pay back, the loan repayments were identical whether you made $30,000 or $300,000. That has changed. This is a new world. Again, this administration is going in a very different direction.

And if you come out making $30,000-$35,000, your repayments will be much, much easier than if you're at a much higher salary range. And again, I'm going to keep pushing. On the teacher side, we also have new programs where we will basically repay those loans at the end of the day after four or five years of teaching if you stay in the profession. So we're making it much more affordable, much easier. (Applause.)

But we're trying to reverse the thing where the best and brightest too often -- who wanted to teach, who had a heart and passion for it, went on to do other things. We are trying to make sure they can follow their heart and make a difference in these children's lives.

GOVERNOR NIXON: Mr. Vice President, and Secretary and others, I mean, we're at this point in which the newest graduation gift is debt instead of opportunity. (Laughter.) And that is also having a tremendous effect on our economy.

I mean, when folks used to graduate they would buy those new cars, they would buy those new houses, they would invest. Those dollars are not now being spent. They are being spent looking in a rear view, financially. And that is a huge drain on our economy.

And these leaders here in Missouri institutions of higher education have joined with us already this year, Mr. Vice President and Mr. Secretary, to strike a historic agreement in which we agreed to keep our funding level predictable for them. And they agreed; each and every one of them, over this year, not to raise the tuition or academic fees for any students in Missouri. (Applause.)

Truly managing through their excellence, managing these difficult budget times, managing the challenges they are, they have joined with us in a partnership in Missouri, saying we are going to make this corner, we're going to begin to invest in higher education, we're going to begin to invest in opportunity. And I think, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Secretary, you should know that these fine leaders here that represent our public community colleges and higher education institutions have joined with us to begin this journey with you and your administration. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: A young lady here has a question.

Q First of all, I just wanted to say I'm one of those angels of mercy, so thank you for those comments. My question is, I have a daughter that did Teach for America for two years in South Central in LA. She graduated with $60,000 in debt from a private college in Memphis, Tennessee. And because she did the service, we were expecting that the loans would be maybe forgiven.

They were deferred for those two years. The interest continued to accrue. With the administration encouraging folks to go into service, what kinds of breaks will you give students that go into the Teach for America program to make those loan -- maybe forgiveness rather than just deferring the interest.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I have a -- we have a son who did a similar thing between undergraduate and graduate school, and joined a thing called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which is not proselytizing, but did similar things, but ended up in the same situation.

So why don't I have Cecilia respond to that.

MRS. ROUSE: Well, I would just reiterate what Secretary Duncan just mentioned, which is that this administration is really trying to emphasize that it -- the jobs that you take shouldn’t be contingent upon having debt. And therefore, your daughter really should look into the option of repaying what she's able to repay -- that there's this option with repaying loans that depends on your income. And because she has gone into teaching and her income is lower, she won't be responsible for as much of the debt as if she had become a corporate banker, who are not doing so well now, either.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: But I think the question is this: She may not go into teaching. We had talked about, and we are still trying to work out the possibility that if you go and you devote time to teaching in the inner city, you go in -- even if you don't end up deciding to be a teacher, you teach for America -- not everybody who teaches for America stays a teacher for the next 20 years -- the debt -- the college debt that they went into the Teaching for America program with actually increases because the interest rate -- although it's differed -- increases.

One of the things we have not settled yet, but we've been talking about -- Barack and me in the campaign, and we've been talking about with Arne is, is there a way for us to literally move in the direction that if you give time to the community in the inner city or rural areas, which are really in fact in need of teachers, and/or when you talk about medical school doctors or so on, is there a way for us to be able to "forgive" your -- pay off your college loans, pay off your college -- or at least parts of what you owed as a consequence of going to college, to put you in this position.

Did you want to respond to that? And so we haven't done it yet. We are -- this is a process that we're beginning here. But Cecilia is correct. In the meantime, those college loans -- if she did Teach for America, she's probably -- I was hoping we'd have one kid who wanted to be a millionaire, so that when they -- instead of one daughter is a social worker and doing -- with over a 3.9 in graduate school at Penn, where it's costing her more than she gets paid as a social worker; another kid who decided to go off and be in the JVC; another kid who had a great job and decided to become Attorney General of the state of Delaware. We taught them all the wrong things. (Laughter.) I mean, we wanted someone making money, so when I got put in a home I'd get a window with a view. (Laughter.)

I don't know your daughter, obviously, but my guess is if she did Teach for America she's probably not going into investment banking. Nothing wrong with investment banking, but that's --

Q (Inaudible.) _

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay, well, there. Cecilia is correct. She can take advantage of this program, so that whatever she does owe, she will owe less and pay less over time. But in the meantime -- in the meantime, for some of you graduating, our hope is we can come up -- and part of the things we're exploring now, a policy whereby you give to your community and you go to college for free; you give to your community and you go -- we try to pay back for your effort. We're not there, yet. We're not there, yet.

Somebody in the back here -- I'm sorry, I'll go back. Why don't you, sir --

Q My name is Hubert Hussman (phonetic). I want to touch on financial literacy. You have students graduating with educational debt, consumer debt combined with the lowest credit scores ever. The impact of this to the average household in the country is $400 additional dollars per year in acquisition of goods and services. So let's talk about quality education. The National Endowment for Financial Education has existed for years, complete with textbooks, teachers guide. It's been around for years. The Accrediting National Association has endorsed it.

Now is the time to get traction. I just want to make sure that you're aware of it, because the long-term impact is we have honor students that are graduating with low-credit scores, taking entry-level jobs after four-years of commitment to universities. The materials are there. They're written at a high level, high school. It's not just credit cards -- how to buy a house, how to buy your home mortgage, how to get auto insurance, what does points mean, what does an index over a margin mean? These are the type of things that we have failed, as a county, in educating our community. And it's hurting and impacting everyone.

SECRETARY DUNCAN: No, I'm fully aware. Just to push a little bit, I honestly think high school is way too late. And when I talked about kindergarten, I meant that -- that I think from the earliest of ages -- (applause) -- we have to work on the high school side as well, but this has to begin very, very early.

And just quickly, I got my start in public education, where I started a small public school that had a financial literacy based curriculum where we started this very early. And by sixth grade, students were investing real money in the stock market. And in eighth grade, they returned that investment back to the kindergarten class, they could save some money for college; they could also make a philanthropic gift back to the community.

And the more we can give students not just the knowledge, but give them real hands-on experience of real dollars, that's going to change those student's lives forever. And so I'm committed to it, but it's got to start earlier than high school.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me go to this young woman right here. And I'm going to ask -- as you can probably tell, we're prepared to stay here all day, but I'm going to have to get some guidance from -- I shouldn't have said that -- one more question. You're lying aren't you? No, we're going to do a couple more questions, okay?

Q Hi. Thank you, Vice President Biden, and all of you for coming to talk with us today. My name is Brittney. I am a student at Wash U. You've talked a lot today about training students for a life with long-term plans and having a better plan for students to graduate with life plans and opportunities. I believe that all students of all abilities should have these opportunities. And in elementary school, and especially as students age and get older and go through school, special education resources become harder to find, and especially, less affordable. Oftentimes, families who can't afford services for their children are forced to give up, and their children stop going to school.

What do you have planned to offer students of different abilities that they, too, can take advantage of these opportunities that we've been talking about today? (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, as you know we have put a lot of money into the IDA program. But rather than speak to it, I'm going to ask either one of my colleagues to --

SECRETARY DUNCAN: It's a ton of money, an unprecedented investment. And the Vice President talked about $100 billion new money for education; north of $10 billion, more than $10 billion is specifically for children with special needs. And in many states and districts, this amount of money is literally doubling their budget. When I was back in Chicago public schools, I would have loved this influx of resources.

So, again, is it ever enough, as the Vice President said? Maybe not. But there has never, ever, ever been this kind of money. I actually checked these statistics -- for the schools here in St. Louis, it's more than double, 109 percent increase in their IDA funding -- so unprecedented resources.

What I'm very concerned about, honestly, is that money is spent wisely, in a way that makes a difference in students' lives. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm going to take this question. I'm going to do one over on that side. And I'm going to ask the young man in the sport coat to pick somebody, because I'm not going to do it. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you very much. Thank you for coming, Vice President and panel. I'm a parent. I'm Johnny's mom. I'm the mother who made last year just over $17,000. My son academically was accepted to Purdue University. I spoke with him last night in West Lafayette, Indiana, and he's concerned whether or not he's going to be able to stay there. I have another daughter who is also at Texas A&M right now in -- teaching debate. She is a teacher. She has answered that call.

I've been a single parent since the fourth child, and divorced. And so I'm Johnny's mom, wanting to know how can I be reeducated so that I can earn a paycheck. My job yesterday was reduced to 24 hours a week. So I want to know how can I keep my son at Purdue and my daughter at Texas A&M, and two more still to go to college -- that's 15 and 13.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't -- I'm not being facetious when I say this. You're making $17,000 a year. It means that your daughter and your son in college now are there not based upon your being able to pay for them. They've gotten scholarships, academic, or they've gotten loans. And so one of the things I think my wife would advise you -- and I'd invite any one of the community college presidents up front to maybe respond to this -- this is the perfect fit for a community college.

You are able to, under the legislation we've passed that is in this Recovery Act, and our tax policy that Claire is going to pass in the United States Senate and we've already done it in the Recovery Act -- you are going to be able to borrow enough money, and/or get grants to be able to go to one of these community colleges right now.

Do one of you want to respond to that, a community college professor or president? Would you stand up here? Here's a microphone.

MRS. HARRIS: Thank you, Vice President Biden. I'm Zolima Harris (phonetic), chancellor of St. Louis Community College. And as you were speaking, I was pulling a card from my purse so that I could give it to you. Dr. John McGuire is here with St. Louis Community College, and we would be more than happy to provide you with information about retraining, training depending on where you are in the education process. But we serve and focus on adults. And so we would be happy to work with you and give you -- provide you with knowledge of our resources.

So thank you for mentioning this.

MR. GEORGE: I want to dovetail on that. My name is Tom George, and I'm the chancellor here at University of Missouri-St. Louis. (Applause.) Three-quarters of our first-time students transfer from the community college. So after you enroll in these outstanding college communities, look to transfer to a four-year institution. And we'll be here waiting for you at UMSL. Thank you. (Applause.

In addition to the federal support that the Secretary mentioned, we also -- all community colleges and the four-year schools, we have a considerable amount of private support, which can also help you with your education. And we'd love to have you and provide that support to you.

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Mr. Vice President, if I could just add quickly, and this is really important, that what we've tried to do is -- unfortunately, your story is not atypical. We have parents losing jobs, taking pay cuts, less hours. What we've really tried to do is empower the financial aid officers in colleges and universities to on the spot be able to adjust financial aid packages. And historically, they sort of had the right to do it, but they were always scared that we were going to audit them or they'd get in trouble for doing the wrong thing.

So I would strongly encourage your son now in school to go talk to his financial aid officer, get to know him, and if your financial situation is declining, as are, unfortunately, many people around the country, they can adjust that package. They have the power to do that locally. They don't need our approval. There's no bureaucratic strings or issues around it. Make sure that he goes and talks and gets that package fixed going into the fall.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Now, one other thing I want to say, again I'm going to get kidded here by the press because I'm always quoting my mom or my dad, but mom has said, of everything bad something good comes if you look hard enough. Now, here's what I mean by that -- I'm not joking. I guarantee you can get yourself into one of these community colleges, and you can get there economically. And you can also probably -- your job has now been cut to 24 hours a week you said? That gives you the opportunity to do what -- the majority of my wife's students are working full-time, and are working part-time, and going to school.

It's not easy, kiddo. I'm not -- it's not one of these just go back and it's a piece of cake. I ask all of us who have college degrees how would we like to all of a sudden get back in the classroom and start taking those tests again. You know, you've been away a while, it's hard. It's hard. But you can do it.

So take advantage of this bad situation of getting your hours cut to talk to these folks -- literally, before you leave. I imagine the invitation is they'll literally, physically talk to you know when we break up.

But this is what the Professor was talking about. Am I correct? This is the continuing education. So not just Johnny, but Johnny's mom.

And so -- what is your first name? Madeleine, welcome to college, because you're coming. (Applause.)

Q Thank you. Thank you.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: This has to be the last question. I promised the Governor and I and the Mayor are going to be over to Boys and Girls Club. We have a great program we're talking about for them. And I apologize for cutting this short. This, by the way, is the reason why we have these sort of town fora; we learn a lot. Hopefully you can learn from us. We also -- I'm going to ask the staff -- this is my Deputy Chief of Staff -- he is going to, when I walk out of here, give you all an address or telephone number -- questions you didn't get answered, you can call us and we'll try to get you -- not try, we will get you an answer to your question.

Yes, I'll be happy to sign that if we -- (laughter) -- okay. But anyway -- I say that -- oh, I'm going to get in trouble. (Laughter.)

Anyway, gentleman here, last question.

Q Hello, Vice President Biden. My name is Chancellor Thomas -- no relation to the actual chancellor of this university. (Laughter.) As a college student, I know that we have been repeatedly emphasized to be well-rounded, full functional students and fully functional members of society. And that's why we have general educations which every student I know bemoans, unfortunately. And of course, that means service is part of it. As you can clearly see here I'm a university ambassador, which is part of service within this university.

So what would be your actions in expanding the Peace Corps specifically in terms of presenting different types of financial aid options, not just to graduate students and expanding that, but to undergraduate students and providing that as an opportunity for financing for an undergraduate education?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Look, that's exactly what we are working through right now. We are, by the way -- if you mean the literal Peace Corps, which you can't do from this university, you got to go out and do it -- that we are going to vastly expand the Peace Corps. One of our colleagues was mentioned, Chris Dodd, who was a Peace Corps volunteer himself, has been pushing that, on the Foreign Relations Committee; the President is strongly supportive of expanding the Peace Corps.

And, by the way, it is an incredible bang for the buck. Not only is it a significant learning experience -- I just got back from Central America and Latin America previewing the President's Latin American summit meeting with five national Presidents of their nations in Chile, including the Prime Minister of England and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands and the Prime Minister of Spain who attended. And then I came up and met with the Central American country Presidents, all seven -- two sent representatives, five were there. And guess what they all want. They all want not only our attention and to see our economy grow, because their economies depend on the growth of our economy in many ways, they also want us to send you students down.

Oscar Arias, a Nobel Prize winner from Costa Rica, he sat and talked with me about the average age, the average grade-level achieved in the Caribbean in Central America is sixth grade. Now, it's overwhelmingly in our interest to see that that radically changes. Why? We want to see the living standards of all that part of the world rise now.

We don't -- if I had my way, and wave a wand, I don't want to build a fence, I want to build an economy in Mexico. I want to build an economy in Costa Rica. I want to build an economy in -- (applause) --

And so they're looking for you all. And one of the things I personally have told the President I'm going to put together to see whether or not the administration can

-- I'm looking to put together an educational program for Central and South America that would be relatively small investment in terms of our foreign assistance, and I think a significant long-term investment in the health of those countries, and quite frankly, our own national health.

Look, you've all been a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful group of people. As you can tell, we don't pretend we have all the answers. But I guarantee you, the collective commitment of this administration and the people on the stage with us exceeds, I would argue, the last seven Presidents I have served. And they've all been good men and women that have run those administrations.

This is something that starts in the gut with President Barack Obama and me, and the people we've asked to join this Cabinet. So we are not taking our -- that old trite expression, our foot off the pedal here. This is the beginning. We think -- we're proud. We think it is a significant, significant departure from the past, a significant investment in education, the kind we always talked about.

You noticed we've been criticized for being so ambitious. Many people say, just get us out of this recession. Just deal with that. Don't worry about anything else. But it does us no good to just merely get out of the recession, if we leave the vast majority, the heart and soul of this country behind.

So we got a chance. This is a gigantic opportunity to seize the moment here.

Every major -- major leap forward we've made as a nation, it's been almost in the direct aftermath of a natural tragedy or a national crisis, economically, socially, politically, and/or in terms of our foreign policy. So we're going to take advantage of this with your help.

Closing comment: Help us, help us, help us -- talking to those -- telling vote with Claire on the banks. Vote with Claire for direct lending. That's $94 billion more dollars without a single increase in taxes. Without one single increase in taxes, this one thing would allow us to transfer $94 billion into education that is now being spent financing loans we can take care of and we guaranteed anyway.

As my mom would say, God love you all. Thanks for being here. And may God bless you. And may God protect our troops, there are still a lot of folks out there. (Applause.)

Thanks an awful lot everybody, appreciate it. (Applause.) Thanks. (Applause.)