In a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. and Roberto Rodriguez, deputy assistant to the president for education, stressed the importance of colleges playing a role in increasing access to higher education.
“A college degree is the surest path to the middle class for many students, especially for students from low-income families,” King said. “But there are far too many barriers preventing low-income students from enrolling and graduating from college.”
King said higher education institutions have a responsibility to expand opportunity and target support to lower-income students, particularly Federal Pell Grant recipients. Federal Pell Grants are need-based grants for students given in a maximum amount of $5,815 yearly.
“These institutions must ensure the degrees students receive prepare them for the 21st century economy and success after college,” he said.
Currently, King said only 10 percent of schools in the country are enrolling their fair share of Pell recipients and also graduating more than half of them on time. He said the United States must do better.
While noting that department officials realize the rising cost of college makes it hard or impossible for some students to attend college, King said under the Obama Administration the maximum Pell Grant amount has increased and will now be indexed to inflation. Pell Grant recipients now encompass 40 percent of all college students.
King also touched on Obama’s 2015 pitch to make community college free as a key to making higher education accessible for more students, a sentiment Rodriguez echoed.
“The president firmly believes that anyone who works hard should not be priced out of a college opportunity and college education, particularly with the demands of today’s economy,” Rodriguez said.
He said the administration has also made progress by working to keep interest payments low and cap student loan payments at 10 percent of their income.
As well, by putting the Free Application of Federal Student Aid online and making it both easier to complete and available three months earlier, Rodriguez said the administration is trying to give hard-working students as much time as possible to search for the college that’s right for them and receive the aid they need.
“We will continue to work with more communities to strengthen education access, affordability and success for their students,” he said.
Ted Mitchell, U.S. under secretary of education, also joined the call, mentioning how federal aid can only do so much, and states need to reinvest in higher education to keep the cost of college tuition down.
“It’s important to recognize the major driver of the increase in costs and the increase in tuition prices is a result of widespread state disinvestment in higher education since the Great Recession,” Mitchell said.