Earlier this month I had the great opportunity to address the national meeting of the American Student Association of Community Colleges (ASACC) in Washington, DC. ASACC’s student members are America’s future leaders, and they were in Washington to help spread the word about community colleges among policymakers and their elected representatives. Their energy and enthusiasm were infectious. Community colleges are an important part of America’s higher education system, and they are also where a majority of Latinos and other minorities who are traditionally underserved by higher education are now reaching for a college degree in ever-greater numbers.
At the Department of Education, we know that community colleges play an important role in strengthening the American workforce, which is why we recently launched a series of Regional Community College Summits. However, community colleges are just one part of America’s education system, and under the dynamic leadership of Secretary Duncan, we are transforming the face of all American education.
When I joined the Department last July, I became part of a team that is deeply committed to insuring America’s students of higher education are receiving the best value for their money. We continue to distribute billions of dollars aimed at providing support for college students—especially disadvantaged groups, including Latinos—through such grant programs as TRIO, GEAR UPand institutional programs for historically black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions.
We have also made it a priority to ensure that the institutions of higher education our children attend have top-notch academic quality. We continue to work with the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) in reviewing the accrediting agencies that ensure academic quality. Additionally, in today’s global economy we know how important international and foreign-language education is for our students, which is why we are supporting faculty and institutions in their efforts to strengthen this essential aspect of a 21st century education.
All these actions are taking us one step closer to reaching President Obama’s transformational goal of becoming the most educated country in the world by 2020. Recently I spoke at a seminar series on “Reimaging the Academy” at Duke University, and through thoughtful dialogue in venues like this and others like it, I have found great support for the President’s goal. There is a hunger for higher education to come together and speak with one voice about what it will take to reach the President’s goal, and what higher education as a whole will do to make it happen. I find it tremendously exciting that the American Council of Education and the six presidential associations under it have made a commitment to launch a conversation and a visioning process to work towards this goal. Such positive steps are having a major impact on higher education, and are providing America’s students the tools they need to ultimately win the future.
Eduardo M. Ochoa is Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education at the Department of Education