College Opportunity Across America Tour Focuses on Tough Issues in Higher Education

Posted By Eliana Osborn on March 17, 2016 at 11:58 am
College Opportunity Across America Tour Focuses on Tough Issues in Higher Education

John B. King Jr. may have just been confirmed as the new Secretary of Education, but he isn’t taking any time to celebrate. He and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell are traveling the country for the College Opportunity Across America Tour.

They won’t simply be pushing the Obama administration plan for free community college; the issues plaguing higher education campuses of all types will get real attention. That includes things like sexual assault, diversity and racial discord, graduation rates, student loans, and accountability.

In January, shortly after taking over for Arne Duncan, King visited primary and secondary schools to talk about educational excellence at all levels of the system. He drew some attention to, “returning America to the top of the rankings in college completion by ensuring more students earn an affordable degree with real value,” as a precursor to his current emphasis.

According to the White House Press Office, the many higher education initiatives focused on increasing access will be a focus of the COAA Tour. “Helping more students graduate with high-quality degrees can change the lives of students and strengthen the economic security of our country. In addition to giving families a clear path to the middle class, for many students earning a college degree on-time means lower costs, as well as better long-run outcomes; students with college degrees are more likely to be employed, have good-paying jobs, and pay back their student loans on time and successfully.”

Campus protests about faculty diversity, historical figures and naming rights, as well as current inequalities, have brought attention to the lack of inclusion on college campuses. Much effort has been made to get students of color to college, and only now is being addressed the challenges they face once they are there. King, as an African-American senior cabinet official, will bring additional attention to the inequalities and tensions facing today’s students.

The focus on Pell grants and increased scholarships, especially to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions, is an integral part of President Obama’s education strategy. As Marketplace notes, King may only have this year in the job as a new president is elected. He and the President may not be able to implement all their plans for reform, but they can move the conversation forward about how all levels of education are serving all segments of the population.

The College Opportunity Across America Tour won’t drop any policy initiative bombshells, but it will be a chance to get leaders interacting with real life college students—something that can only improve their understanding of the challenges faced by today’s youth.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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