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Renewing the American Dream: The College Completion Agenda

Eduardo M. Ochoa, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education for the Department of Education, highlights President Obama's College Completion Agenda for 2020 and the administration's commitment to helping all Hispanics acheive a college education.

President Obama’s 2020 education goal is critical to restoring America’s global competitiveness and long-term growth of our economy.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made the President’s goal the North Star of the Department, helping realign and prioritize our programs and activities by gauging how they contribute to advancing the big goal. 

As Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, my focus is on the last leg of the journey:  college completion.  The programs at the Office of Postsecondary Education provide support for colleges and high schools to insure that kids in school stay on track to attend college.  In Fiscal year 2011 under the Gear Up program, the Education Department awarded 47 partnership grants to educational institutions and 19 state grants.   Eight of those partnership grants, totaling $22,566,708, were to Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).  Once in college, grants from the TRIO programs helped insure that students transitioned effectively into college life, stayed in college, and graduated.  Twenty-nine hundred, forty-seven TRIO grants adding up to $87.5 million in funding, were awarded to institutions and agencies, which served an estimated 793,862 students, 21% of which are Hispanic.  Our Office also provides support to Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), to support their programs as well as capital improvements.  This past year we awarded 122 new grants to HSIs; this includes 109 to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related HSIs and articulation programs and 13 to new HSI development programs.  Our Office also works to generally enhance the quality of higher education programs through our grants to support international education, foreign language instruction that included 17 grants to Latin American studies and National Resource Centers; and to support innovative practices—the latter through the Fund for Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE).  We also promote quality education through our regulations and our oversight of institutional and professional accreditation.

It is an honor and a privilege to have been appointed by President Obama to this office.  It is also something that would have been inconceivable to me as a young boy growing up in Argentina.  The journey that brought me here is a testimony to the greatness of our country, in which immigrants are able to develop and progress as far as their abilities will allow without the barriers that exist in other societies.  It is also a testimony of the power of education to ease that transition.  My family migrated to the United States when my father was in his forties, but he came equipped with a university degree in biochemistry.  That allowed him to obtain professional work (but not without chasing fifty leads across the country on a Greyhound bus pass), and to then bring up the rest of the family.  I remember leaving Buenos Aires on a cold, gray day in July and flying down on a sunny summer day in Los Angeles, marveling through the airplane window at all the shimmering bodies of water in the backyards of houses that were…swimming pools! 

I was fortunate that with both of my parents being university graduates, there was never any question about going to college:  it was a given.  My parents understood the value of a university education, and they did everything possible to insure that I got one as well.  But I know that many other Latinos in our country are not so fortunate.  That is why I am passionately committed to provide more of us with the transformative benefits of a college education.  Such an education is essential preparation for the information economy of the 21st century; it is also the gateway to a fuller, richer life of civic engagement and enjoyment of mankind’s artistic and scientific accomplishments.   I couldn’t imagine my life without it, and I hope to share it with as many of my fellow Latinos and Americans as possible.

Eduardo M. Ochoa is the Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education for the Department of Education.