Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defended the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request in front of members of the Labor-HHS subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, several of whom expressed concerns about America’s College Promise.
The Obama administration would like to expand what Americans consider necessary education, moving from a universal K-12 system to one that’s Pre-K-14, Duncan said. That “fundamental change of vision” would better prepare students for the job market, he added.
“I share your concern about getting people beyond high school, but community college is actually pretty reasonably priced,” subcommittee chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) said. “I’m a little mystified why that is the focus of so much of the resources, as opposed to bringing down the longer-term costs of higher education.”
Duncan said the reasoning is both psychological and financial: Universal community college would teach students that higher education is an attainable dream and would make a difference to families “on the edge.”
“Financially, while it does not seem that overwhelming, a couple hundred dollars here and there can literally be the difference between staying in school or not,” Duncan said. “The margin for error is so small for so many of our families that are on the edge.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) expressed concern that funding for the community college proposal would take away money from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). But Duncan said those institutions are either already community colleges or will ultimately benefit from having more students in the four-year pipeline.
“This investment in community colleges is actually a huge deal for HBCUs,” Duncan responded. “Anyone who thinks this is one versus the other I think totally misses [the opportunity] here.”
Several other financial aid issues were discussed during the hearing, including concerns about fraud and abuse within the Pell Grant Program. Duncan said the budget request includes funds for more resources to continue to tackle fraud and that he’s “more than open to concrete suggestions to do things better.”
Publication Date: 3/5/2015