Cardona Urges Higher Education Leaders to ‘Fight Complacency’ in Year Ahead

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

In a wide-ranging conversation at the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Annual Meeting on Friday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona shared some of his hopes for the Biden administration's higher education policy efforts, as well as how he hopes to see leaders in higher education move forward, with the pandemic behind them. 

The speech comes at a precarious time for the Department of Education (ED), as President Joe Biden’s student loan cancellation plan awaits a decision from the Supreme Court and the agency presses forward with a number of significant initiatives, including a new income-driven repayment plan, a significant overhaul to the FAFSA, a continued campaign to increase the maximum Pell Grant, and more. 

“I always say we came in to fix a broken system and targeted debt forgiveness is just one aspect,” Cardona said. “We're introducing income-driven repayment in a way that hopefully opens doors. We're still fighting for Pell [Grants] …. But we're also going to increase transparency and accountability, and go after bad actors. And we have to do that unapologetically, or else we're going to be in the same spot [in] five years that we were in when we took office.”

ACE President Ted Mitchell asked Cardona a year from now, what achievements he would like to see from the group of college presidents, chancellors, and other higher education leaders attending the conference. Cardona said that in the coming year, he would like to see the higher education leaders in the room fight complancely and continue to have a dialogue with the department. 

“I would also want to see in a year from now that we have the same level of urgency that we had three years ago when we were trying to reopen our schools, to fight for improving our education,” Cardona said. “I always say the last few years we fought COVID, and the next three years let's fight complacency.”

Earlier on Friday, ACE President Ted Mitchell, former under secretary of education under the Obama administration, urged college presidents and chancellors to improve college financial aid offers. In the coming months, they will be asked to sign on to principles and standards from the Paying for College Transparency Initiative, Mitchell said. NASFAA is currently asking members to give feedback on the initiative’s aid offer standards, principles, and glossary.

Also of note for financial aid professionals, Cardona was also asked how concerned he is about the upcoming United States Supreme Court decision on Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard University and SFFA vs. the University of North Carolina, two cases that challenge race-conscious admission policies.Institutions need to have a “game plan” on how they’re going to provide equitable access and support for students, Cardona said. 

NASFAA has resources for members on how the Supreme Court decision could impact aid offices

“I argue that the challenge we have ahead of us with these attacks on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) are greater than the challenge of reopening schools during a pandemic, because at least back then we were all united,” Cardona said. “Now, it seems that division in education sells, and some are looking to make national headlines by doing it.”

Cardona also touched on the benefits of dual enrollment, noting how taking a course at a community college when he was in high school changed his life. Cardona said he’s spoken with superintendents about creating dual enrollment programs for high school students to get college credit or have a paid internship.

“Dual enrollment programs are critical,” Cardona said. “And I think it's a purple issue. There are a lot of issues that are divisive. This is a purple issue that I want to make sure we're providing you support, and learning from you as well so that we can lift up your great models across the country.”


Publication Date: 4/17/2023

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