Teacher Appreciation Week: Inspiration from Teacher Educators

The Under Secretary asked the Department’s Teacher and Principal Ambassador Fellows to share a professor and/or practitioner who positively impacted their career in the classroom in recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week. Read on to be inspired by these teachers who have trained great teachers.

Dixie GoswamiProfessor Dixie Goswami
Director, Bread Loaf Teacher Network
Coordinator, Writing Curriculum, Bread Loaf School of English, Middlebury Professor
Emerita, Clemson University Director, Write to Change Foundation

“Professor Goswami (pictured at right) transformed my life as a teacher when I was in my second year of teaching in at a middle school in NYC. I would describe the change in my teaching from being one where my students sat in straight rows where my voice was the most important to sitting in a circle with my students and listening to them develop the voice that was within them as readers, writers, and thinkers, who could speak with power about ideas important to them and our community. My curriculum went from reading from a textbook and grammar drills to students reading independently and in collaboration with peers from around the country.”

“I am grateful to Professor Goswami who has transformed my teaching. Prior to Professor Goswami’s classes, I did not consider myself someone who had a voice about educational policy, but through her courses and books, I have developed my capacity as a teacher researcher who has been engaged in teacher research for more than 20 years and have conducted studies with my students as co-researchers that have helped inform policies beyond the walls of my classroom. Thanks to Professor Goswami’s invitation to become a member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network and her writing courses, I have learned ways for my students to become better writers and researchers, such as studying the wetlands in NYC with other students in Alaska and Hawaii, publishing stories and conducting action research on state mandated testing, and providing critical feedback to policymakers at the state and national levels.”

“As a result of my teacher education from Professor Goswami, I see the trajectory of my career as a teacher as one that is still rising . . . .” – Robert Baroz, 2011 Teacher Ambassador Fellow

“Professor Goswami changed my entire conception of what it meant to be a teacher, and she impelled me to leadership (without ever using that word). I met her the summer after my first year of teaching, and in few moments of conversation, she drew out of me the nature of the most important literacy work my students had been doing that year. After our first summer discussions, I realized that my students’ writing and reading skills could be most effectively developed if I were to co-research with them the nature of the discourse they did every day for differing functions, and that I could co-engage with them to find meaningful, authentic contexts for their writing. Ms. Goswami also positioned me– through those summer mentoring sessions — to CREATE pedagogical understanding and knowledge by enacting online work with colleagues, and in the process by holding each other professionally accountable for valuing and inquiring into the complexities of our students’ work. After that first summer being challenged and supported by Dixie, I never felt like I was doing my students justice if we weren’t actively corresponding and engaging with different sets of students and classrooms, and if we weren’t co-inquiring, researching, and publishing together.

“I’m grateful because Dixie Goswami helped me develop the common sense and deeply theorized notion that a teacher’s first source of knowledge is the work and experience of his or her students.

“During the 1991-92 school year, having been awakened to the huge range of “real world” function and contexts of writing through summer work with Dixie, I led my rural Aleutian Island high school students to create a taxonomy of everything they wrote for a week. We then categorized the types of writing and engaged in descriptive research about the features of each type of writing. What was the average sentence length (or reading level) of a journal entry, a grocery list, a set of class notes, an email, a love letter? What about the nature of the diction?  This simple exercise transformed us into a team of literacy researchers, AND helped us to enact Goswami’s mantra in the Bread Loaf Teacher Network: ‘Students are not problems to be solved, but resources to be tapped.’” –Tom McKenna, 2013 Teacher Ambassador Fellow

Mr. Marc Turner
Lead Teacher, The Learning Collaborative
2005 National Council for Social Studies Outstanding Secondary Teacher

“I am grateful because Mr. Turner helped me develop an understanding that student learning is more about promoting the process over focusing only on the product.

“This lesson continues to shape my teaching every day.  As a result of Mr. Turner’s guidance and training, I am a teacher that is constantly asking questions and reflecting on whether or not my instructional strategies are ones that are truly teaching students how to become independent learners and apply the skills and content used in my class in order to become contributing members of society after high school.”—Patrick Kelly, 2015 Teacher Ambassador Fellow

FullSizeRenderDr. Sandra Harper President, McMurry University
Professor, Communications and Servant Leadership

“I’m grateful Dr. Harper (pictured at right with JoLisa) involved me in the pilot year of Servant Leadership as a preceptor because her classes in communications and leadership in Servant Leadership sparked my interest in leadership and especially in teacher leadership.  She helped me develop communications skills to advocate on behalf of my students and taught me leadership skills that have been useful in multiple settings, including my work in Teach to Lead here at the Department.

“Her classes in public speaking laid a nice foundation for classes in teaching and gave me confidence to speak in front of others.  She has been a fabulous mentor after graduation and I’m thankful for her investment in students.”—JoLisa Hoover, 2008 and 2014 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, 2015 Washington Fellow

Mr. Bil Johnson
Field Supervisor, Teacher Preparation Program, Brown University

“I’m grateful because Bil helped me to develop an appreciation and responsibility for crafting intellectually challenging and highly personal history education experiences for my students. In my history teaching practice, and during my later roles in leading history education programming in a school district and on a standards review committee with the National Board, I’ve been proud to be a fellow champion for the lasting importance of social studies and history education.”—James Liou, 2008 Teaching Ambassador Fellow,  2014 Fellow in the Offices of Education Technology and State Support

Ms. Andrea Lowenkopf Consultant, LitLife
Former Teacher, middle school, high school and graduate school
“Andrea was my staff developer when I was in my second year of teaching at Baruch College Campus High School.  I was new to the school, and had taught my first year in the South Bronx.  She supported me in teaching my 11th grade American Literature course, as I was developing a curriculum from scratch.

“I’m grateful because Andrea helped me develop my teaching practice to include all students in active learning.

“Andrea showed me how teachers often will talk to the right side of the room (if you are right-handed) and unconsciously students are not engaged by the teacher.  As students held a whole-class, student-led discussion, I learned to move and stand in different points of the room, so that all students would be directly engaged with the teacher.”—Alicia Pérez-Katz, 2015 Principal Ambassador Fellow

Mr. Kim Marshall 
Leadership Coach Publisher, Marshall Memo

“I’m grateful because Kim taught me how to observe quality teaching, time management and the power and importance of having difficult conversations.  Additionally, Kim writes and publishes The Marshall Memo, which helps teachers across the country stay current with reviewing educational research.

“As a school leader and teacher, I have continued to work with Kim as my mentor and coach.  He is often very supportive in helping me plan out appropriate professional development for teachers that help them improve their teaching by leveraging their strengths.”—Jessica Nauiokas, 2015 Principal Ambassador Fellows

Dr. Kelvin Santiago-Valles Associate Professor of Sociology, Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies, and Africana Studies, Binghamton University-SUNY

“Dr. Santiago-Valles is an outstanding, no-nonsense, and yet fun educator who has transformed my life. At a critical moment in my undergraduate studies, Kelvin helped me understand that the discipline of sociology is not an aspiration, but rather a gateway to understand and influence how the arts, sciences, and society are interdependent. Kelvin encouraged me to explore the construction of personal and social identity while helping me to situate my findings in an academic context.

“I’ve have repeatedly returned to Kelvin’s lessons as strategies to engage my K-12 students. In history classes, we’ve used students’ essential questions to better understand African American history, politics, and culture. And in science classes, we’ve used STEM principles to develop students’ understanding of eco-literacy. In both cases, our subject-area studies were a launching point for exploring how students’ individual experiences are both differentiated and integrated.”— Gamal D. Sherif, 2011 Teacher Ambassador Fellow

Professor Heather McKean
Senior Associate Faculty, Eastern Washington University

“I am grateful to Heather because she helped me build inquiry lessons and partnered with me to do research showing these lesson were the best way to teach students (young and older!).  She also helped me design a presentation given at NSTA and then co-presented with me.  These lessons are still being used in classrooms and during Professional Development.”—Tammie Schrader, 2008 Teacher Ambassador Fellow

Dr. Katherine K. Merseth
Graduate School of Education, Harvard University Faculty Director, Teacher Education
Faculty Director, Teacher Education Program

“I’m grateful because everything I learned about teaching and education, I learned from watching Professor Merseth who is a great teacher.

“Professor Merseth started her course by asking us to write the answer to the question: What is the purpose of education? This is something that all of us who work in education should ask ourselves on a regular basis so I always start my class on Education Policy the same way. Professor Merseth also assumed that the people sitting in front of her had good ideas and knowledge to bring to bear in discussions; not empty vessels who needed knowledge poured in their heads. Every student in my class now has to write three policy memos where their job is to develop their arguments. My job, over the course of the class, is to give them the tools they need to make any argument that they believe in to the best of their ability, because at the end of the day, that’s what matters – not what I think, but rather can they, as citizens in a democracy or a policy maker in any field argue for what they think is right.” – Gillian Cohen-Boyer, Director, Principal and Teaching Ambassador Fellowships, Office of Communications and Outreach


Celebrating Teachers and Those Who Teach Them

As we celebrate America’s great teachers we must also recognize the professors and practitioners who prepared them for the classroom. We know what comes first in producing great teachers – great teacher educators. During this Teacher’s Appreciation Week, I gathered with both.

In a roundtable discussion to kick off the week, teachers and teacher educators shared memorable moments in their training. In the words of one educator, “To this day, student teaching is the hardest thing I have ever done. I thank Mr. Turner for reminding me to focus not on the perfect lesson plan, but on the learning process for students. It’s all about the students.”

They shared the importance of having pre-service and novice teachers understand the social context in which they teach. We discussed the necessity of having both the desire and skills needed to connect with hard to reach students. And we all agreed that loving the work and children is non-negotiable in teaching.

The educators also shared their challenges: understanding why a 4 year old child was chronically absent only to find that her family was homeless; addressing internal biases that impact instruction; recruiting highly trained staff in rural communities, and finding student teaching placements for deaf and hearing impaired teacher candidates. As they shared barriers and struggles, I also heard resounding pride – a celebration of learning, transforming, and growth — the rewards of teaching.

Teaching makes all other professions possible so our teachers deserve our deepest appreciation and respect. To recruit and retain outstanding teachers we must value and support their work – recognizing that training teachers must be an on-going process of professional development and continuous learning. To develop an effective and diverse teaching corp, we must elevate the profession and encourage our best and most passionate to teach.

In short, appreciating teachers must be a daily and continuous goal, and here at the Department, it is. Elevating the teaching profession – by seeking input from teachers and teacher educators, calling on Congress and communities to invest in the teaching profession, and shining a light on their good work—is at the heart of what we do.

Celebrating great teachers is personal for me. My grandmother taught English in Brusly, Louisiana for 30 years and was fully committed to the academic success of her students and each member of our family. I also fondly remember teachers like Mrs. LaFleur in elementary school and Mr. Methvin in high school who challenged me and caused me to stretch and grow.

America’s students must experience the transformative growth that comes from great teaching and I am grateful for those who are on a mission to educate students. I appreciate the teachers and teacher educators who are committed to our nation’s children and especially those who have taught me and now teach my daughter every day. It’s true — great teachers do more than educate they inspire. That’s why I thank a teacher. How about you?

Dr. Kim Hunter-Reed is the Deputy Under Secretary




Better Information on Accreditation

Accreditation’s historic function offers important protection for both students and taxpayers by assuring the quality of our postsecondary educational system. Today, the Department published a draft guidance letter in the Federal Register that, once finalized, will update the protocols for federally recognized accrediting agencies to share with the Department information on the actions the agencies have taken with their institutions and programs.

The draft guidance is part of our broader efforts to improve accreditors’ and the Department’s oversight activities and move toward a new focus on student outcomes and transparency. Since accreditation is a prerequisite for schools’ participation in the federal student aid programs, it plays a “gatekeeping” role in institutional access to the annual $150 billion investment in federal student aid. Accreditors are responsible for ensuring baseline levels of acceptable quality and performance across diverse institutions, degree types, and academic programs.

In the end, students, employers, colleges, and other stakeholders that rely on accreditation information to make important decisions will have better, clearer information. That heightened transparency is critical for everyone. For instance:

  • Students use accreditation information when deciding where to apply and enroll
  • Colleges use accreditation information when assessing transcripts for transfer credit
  • States use accreditation as a quality benchmark in overseeing schools and programs and making determinations for state approval and licensure
  • Employers use accreditation information when hiring new employees and allocating professional development funds
  • Federal agencies count on accreditation information as a reliable heuristic for identifying college and program quality

Based on information submitted by accrediting agencies, the Department makes accreditation information publicly available in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. This same information is used to inform the Department’s oversight of accreditors and is listed within our consumer tools like the College Navigator – where accreditation status can be viewed alongside graduation rates, price, and other factors.

Given the critical uses of information on accreditation, we must collectively do all we can to improve the accuracy and usefulness of the information by strengthening the reporting system.

For example, accreditors are required to report their actions on institutions and programs on a timely basis, such as granting or revoking a school’s accreditation status, or putting a program on probation – but they don’t all use the same the terms or definitions. A “probation” decision by one agency may be the same as a “show cause” decision by another. And members of the public may not know what either term means. As a result, it’s difficult to compare apples to apples.

And while accreditors share detailed justifications for their actions with the affected institutions and programs, they do not always volunteer the context to the Department or the public. Consequently, it is often unclear why a particular action was taken, limiting the utility of that information for the Department staff responsible for ensuring institutions are in compliance with the rules of federal financial aid. For example, it would be valuable to know whether an accreditor took a particular action because of an institution’s lack of compliance with the agency’s facilities and equipment standards, or because the institution was found to have systemically weak fiscal and administrative capacity.

Finally, the information is not currently required to be submitted by accreditors to the Department in a consistent format that is easy to read, understand, and act upon. Accrediting agencies’ updates are often received in large compilations that mix positive, negative, and other actions, making it much less actionable.

Clearly, the current reporting and information sharing process can be improved. We hear it from the students, employers, colleges, and other stakeholders who have trouble getting the information they need. We also hear this from accreditors themselves, since they sometimes spend extra time double-checking information they’ve already submitted when the Department isn’t sure how to categorize it.

The draft guidance we published today aims to make reporting to the Department more standardized and usable so everyone benefits. We believe this updated approach will help Department officials who need accurate and complete information for our own institutional oversight work; it will help the students, families, institutions, states, and employers who depend on publicly available accreditation information to make important choices about pursuing higher education and hiring new employees; and it will help accreditors who will have greater confidence in publicly available information about their accredited institutions and programs.

The U.S. Department of Education believes it is important to ensure that the public can have confidence in the current accreditation system. We encourage members of the public to submit feedback before we finalize the guidance; the deadline is June 6, 2016. Your feedback will help us ensure students and other stakeholders have the accreditation information they need, in a way they can use.

Lynn B. Mahaffie is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Planning and Innovation, Delegated the Duties of Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education


Strengthening Accreditation’s Focus on Outcomes

America is home to the best colleges and universities in the world. These institutions provide students with quality degrees and certificates that prepare them for a good career, a good salary, and full participation in their community and our democracy. But there are still institutions that fail to offer hard-working students a quality education. These schools over-promise and under-deliver, leaving students without the education and skills for success in the job market and in life.

To ensure all Americans have the opportunity to succeed in higher education and that federal investments to help students and families pay for college are well spent, we need the federal government, states, and accrediting agencies all to step up and fulfill the critical role each plays in ensuring the quality of colleges and universities.

For more than half a century, the accreditation process has sought to help colleges and programs set standards and continuously improve the education they provide. And it is one stamp of approval the Department requires—an indicator that is intended to ensure a school offers a solid investment of public dollars—before an institution is eligible to receive federal student aid.

But while this system is meant to focus our higher education field on quality, it is all too clear that we all must do more to address substandard and underperforming institutions, variations in quality and student outcomes, and the challenges facing today’s more diverse group of students. This includes our accreditors.

Students and families trust that accreditation indicates that a school or program will offer them a worthwhile education that prepares graduates for work and life—in other words, positive outcomes for students. Accreditors’ evaluations must increasingly put a premium on student outcomes. We do not intend to impose specific standards on institutions, but want to ensure that accreditors establish and enforce strong and meaningful outcome standards, evaluated by the Department, that effectively address educational quality, including student achievement. Agencies need to do more than certify that institutions make quality offerings available; they must gauge the extent to which the institutions actually help more students achieve their goals. And because of our belief in the importance of equal opportunity to learn and achieve, that means strong outcomes for all students, not just some.

The Obama Administration continues to work on shared efforts to update the accreditation process and better protect students and taxpayers. In November 2015, our Department announced a set of executive actions and legislative proposals to improve accreditation and improve transparency and accountability. At that time, Secretary Arne Duncan also invited further recommendations, specifically on improved information-sharing and coordination with accreditors and clearer guidance on the flexibility accreditors have to focus resources on problematic institutions, which we are sharing today.

The Department will undertake additional steps to achieve these goals, including:

  • Meeting more regularly with accreditors to increase their knowledge of Department policies and, where possible, share information on schools of concern.
  • Sharing more information with accreditors about actions the Department plans to take, once we have safeguards in place for sharing sensitive information.
  • Requiring information submitted by accreditors to the Department to be structured to better distinguish where additional action is needed, and categorize key terms and definitions to promote consistency.
  • Requiring—and sharing publicly when possible—more information from accreditors on why institutions were placed on probation, placed on warning, or found out of compliance with one or more of the accrediting agency’s standards.
  • Clarifying the flexibility agencies have to differentiate review processes for institutions, with guidance on specific standards and criteria that accreditors could use to strengthen their focus on outcomes.

The focus on outcomes is essential to increase the rigor of accreditation and to provide the flexibility that can foster the innovation we need in higher education in order to serve all students well. All of us—colleges and universities, accrediting agencies, the Department, states, and the public we serve—share a stake in ensuring quality outcomes for all students.

The actions we’re announcing today represent another important step in this direction. But we can’t do it alone. In November, we announced a suite of legislative proposals that will enable accrediting agencies and the Department to conduct more rigorous, outcome-oriented reviews of institutions, and to take more forceful actions where appropriate. We look forward to working with Congress to complement the measures we have announced with new reforms that provide even stronger support for students and families.

Ted Mitchell

Advancing the Student Aid Bill of Rights – An Update on Deliverables

Last week, continuing the Obama Administration’s ongoing efforts to help Americans manage their student loan debt, we announced that all Direct Loan student borrowers could cap their monthly payment at 10% of their discretionary income. This plan – Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) – is a game changer for the millions of such borrowers who may be just starting their careers or who need more room in their budget to pursue their dreams.

However, it’s just one part of a larger effort to protect student loan borrowers. President Obama’s Student Aid Bill of Rights included actions and a directive to coordinate across multiple agencies to improve service and outcomes for struggling borrowers. Today, ahead of the President’s January 1st deadline, the U.S. Department of Education is announcing more progress toward the set of goals laid out by the President in March. This release complements the improvements and recommendations that we announced in August 2015 and the October 2015 Strengthening the Student Loan System to Better Protect All Borrowers report that we published at the President’s request.

Specifically, we have:

  • Completed a pilot program to learn how to increase our success at reaching delinquent borrowers to bring them current on their loan payments. Based on the variety of options available to borrowers, it is clear that the ability to have a conversation is key in helping determine which solution best fits their unique circumstance.
  • Published the first Quarterly Private Collection Agencies’ Performance Report to the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) Data Center to provide greater transparency on their activities.
  • Implemented a new set of student loan statement disclosures to provide clear and direct information to borrowers.

Improving the student loan experience, including through transparency in data and improved customer service, and helping Americans manage their student loan debt are core priorities of this Administration – and have been since the beginning. We will continue to carry out the steps the President laid out in March to make college more affordable and ease the burden of student loan debt.

Late-Stage Delinquency Pilot

From March through June 2015, FSA conducted a pilot project to explore the impact of increased outreach efforts on the rate of late-stage borrowers who address their delinquency by making a full payment, qualifying for a deferment, or changing their repayment plan. Our goal was to learn how to best reach these borrowers and, ultimately, decrease the rate of student loan delinquencies. The pilot found that:

  • Using the Department of Education’s name and seal on letters and emails to borrowers appeared to increase the likelihood that borrowers responded.
  • Increasing the volume of communication and varying the outreach technique had a positive effect, especially when communications were sent at the same (or near the same) time.
  • Sending communications to borrowers that were tailored to other borrowers like them appears to increase the likelihood that a borrower will respond.

As a result, FSA will use ED branding, such as the Department seal, on more of its communications to borrowers and will make such branding a key requirement of a new student loan servicing acquisition beginning in early 2016. FSA will also continue to analyze and identify the most effective ways to contact the hardest-to-reach borrowers and share those best practices with its servicers. However, the pilot is just the beginning of the process in understanding how to reach delinquent borrowers and help them get back into repayment.

Quarterly Debt Collection Performance Report for Private Collection Agencies (PCAs)

Today, FSA posted the first Quarterly PCA Performance Report to the FSA Data Center. Going forward, this report will be part of the regular quarterly updates to the Data Center. The initial report reflects data from July, August, and September 2015. The report includes, for each PCA, initial inventory size at the beginning of the quarter and the total amount recovered during that quarter via consolidation, rehabilitation, voluntary payments, and wage garnishments. Future releases of this report will include information about PCA compensation.

Enhanced Servicing Disclosures

FSA has directed its servicers to begin providing certain enhanced disclosures and notifications by January 2016.

Quarterly Statement to In School/In Grace Borrowers

All “in school” and “in grace” borrowers with federally held student loans, including PLUS and Grad PLUS borrowers who are in an in-school deferment will now receive a notice, generated quarterly beginning after the first disbursement of a loan. The notice will end at the beginning of repayment. The new notice will provide a real-time view of the borrower’s loan portfolio including actual borrower data for: total principal disbursed, total outstanding interest accrued, current total balance, and interest rate, allowing the borrower to make more informed borrowing decisions as they progress through their college career. The new notice also provides information on the various repayment plans including the initial payment amount, what a borrower would pay monthly based on sample data, the total interest paid, and the total amount paid, as well as a link to the servicer repayment calculator.

Pre-Transfer Notification

When borrowers have been transferred to a new servicer, sometimes they are confused or are cautious of working with a new servicer because their prior servicer had not informed them that their account was being transferred. Now FSA will require the old servicer to tell the borrower, at least 14 calendar days prior to transfer, that they will be transferred to another Federal servicer with the receiving servicer’s contact information. If there are fewer than 14 days until transfer, the notices must go out no more than 4 calendar days after the sending servicer was notified. Servicers will be required to notify via the borrower’s preferred method, or by mail, and the notices will include any current action required of the borrower (based on the borrower’s most recent payment activity).

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and TEACH Promotion

Loan servicers are now required to provide additional information on all initial correspondence to borrowers to promote awareness of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TEACH) programs. Both PSLF and TEACH are beneficial programs in which borrowers can access student loan benefits based on their work and/or occupation. At the time borrowers apply for forgiveness, they will be required to submit an Employment Certification form for each employer where they worked while making the required 120 qualifying monthly payments. The form, which should be updated annually, is used to calculate borrowers’ progress toward meeting the PSLF eligibility requirements before and after its initial submission. This information will also be available on each servicer’s website and as part of the online Exit Counseling tool at studentloans.gov.

Monthly Billing Statement Enhancements

All servicers are now required to include specific information on every billing statement, similar to what is typically available on other financial statements such as credit card bills or mortgage statements. The additional information will also assist borrowers in understanding how their payments were applied. The required information includes the amount of and effective date of the last payment made, as well as the breakdown of what portion of the last payment was applied towards principal and interest.

Next Year

FSA will institute additional billing statement enhancements and disclosures for all servicers by the end of 2016, such as:

  • An email with the Department of Education’s seal that is an introduction to repayment processes and options will be sent 10 days after notification of borrower’s withdrawal from school.
  • A letter or email from a borrower’s servicer with an introduction to repayment including payment estimate and due dates 15 days after notification of borrower withdrawal from school.
  • Repayment plan information notification after receipt of exit counseling completion confirmation.
  • Department of Education-branded email notice 35 days prior to every due date.
  • Every billing statement for a borrower who has certified his or her employment for PSLF will include the borrower’s current number of qualifying PSLF payments.
  • Department of Education-branded email notice 45 days before income-driven repayment (IDR) renewal due date.
  • Required phone and email follow-up for days 1-15 on all IDR applications that are pending or rejected due to incomplete or missing information.
  • For delinquent borrowers, servicers will be required to send a repayment notification letter with repayment options at 30 and 90 days of delinquency. At 20 days of delinquency, an ED-branded email will be sent indicating the benefit of automatic payment (ACH). At 45 and 180 days of delinquency, an ED-branded email will be sent. Starting at 60 days, servicers will be required to make phone calls every 30 days until 240 days of delinquency.

Innovation in Higher Education through EQUIP

To increase innovation in higher education, ED recently announced EQUIP, which encourages partnerships between colleges and universities and new providers of education.  It is designed to increase access to high-quality programs and encourage experimentation in outcomes-focused quality assurance.

To increase awareness and understanding about EQUIP, ED will host a series of public calls and meetings.  These are all open to the general public.  The list below will grow over the coming weeks, so please check back here for further information.

Questions and comments about the program should be directed to: innovation@ed.gov.


Upcoming EQUIP events

  • General EQUIP information
    • Call with Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, Friday, October 23, 2:00-3:00 (Eastern)
      • Dial-in info: 888-456-0282, 448 9657#
      • Note: Participation is limited to the first 500 callers; the call is not intended for press and is off-the-record
  • Higher education innovation town hall meetings
    • New York discussion with Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, Thursday, October 29, 1:00-2:00
      ED’s NYC Regional Office in the Financial District
      32 Old Slip, 25th Floor, New York, NY 10005
      RSVP: northeast@ed.gov
    • Boston, Friday, October 30, 2:00-3:00
      ED’s Boston Regional Office
      5 Post Office Square, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02110
      RSVP: innovation@ed.gov
    • Silicon Valley town hall, Wednesday, November 4, 2:00-3:30
      GSV Labs
      425 Broadway Street, Redwood City, CA
      RSVP: innovation@ed.gov
    • Denver town hall, Friday, November 6, 2:00-3:00
      Community College of Denver
      Confluence Assembly Room
      Confluence Building, Community College of Denver (Auraria Campus)
      800 Curtis Street, Denver, CO
      RSVP: innovation@ed.gov
  • December 8
    • As the deadline to submit letters of intent approaches, please see the information about what to include here [link].
    • Also, this is excerpted from our EQUIP Q&A [link]:
      • EQUIP-Q1. What should an institution do if it cannot develop programs and form partnerships by the priority deadline of December 14, 2015?


      • EQUIP-A1. The details of the partnerships between postsecondary institutions, non-traditional providers, and quality assurance entities (QAEs) do not have to be formed or finalized by December 14. By that date, postsecondary institutions interested in participating must submit a letter of interest, which must include the following:
        • A  brief  description  of  the  educational  program  or  programs  that  the  postsecondary  institution  is considering for inclusion in this experiment
        • The name(s) of the non-traditional provider(s) with whom the postsecondary institution intends to partner
        • An estimate of the number of title IV-eligible students who will be enrolled in the program
        • The name of the QAE(s) to be engaged, if known
        • Which of the following two title IV student aid program options the postsecondary institution will choose (in all cases providing title IV aid only to otherwise eligible students):
          • allowing students to be eligible for Pell Grants only; or
          • allowing students to be eligible for Pell Grants, undergraduate Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct
        • Unsubsidized Loans, and the Campus-Based Programs. [Direct PLUS Loans for parents and graduate
        • students and Direct Unsubsidized Loans for graduate students are not included in this experiment, and the Department will therefore not consider applications for graduate program]
    • As always, please let us know if there are questions or comments.
  • November 28


Promoting Innovation in Higher Education


By Ted Mitchell, Under Secretary of Education


Empowering the higher education sector to innovate to serve students better is a key goal of the Obama administration.  We know that to reach the President’s goal to have the best educated workforce in the world will require new thinking and new models.

We also know that the best ideas almost always come from outside of Washington, so as we design our programs to empower the field, ED is seeking input from a broad array of stakeholders.  On both the 2015 First in the World grants program and the Online Skills Academy, we are actively inviting this input.


First in the World

First in the World (FITW) is a $60 million grant program to enable institutions of higher education to implement innovative activities designed to improve student success, especially for low-income students, while simultaneously running a rigorous evaluation that builds evidence of what works.  We recently published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Priorities (link: https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-03502). We are looking for your input on our proposed priorities, including whether these priorities will enable the most successful competition and encourage innovation in key areas of higher education.  As you’ll see in detail in the Federal Register, we are considering focusing the competition in a number of areas:

  • Improving Success in Developmental Education.
  • Improving Teaching and Learning.
  • Improving Student Support Services.
  • Developing and Using Assessments of Learning.
  • Facilitating Pathways to Credentialing and Transfer.
  • Increasing the Effectiveness of Financial Aid.
  • Implementing Low Cost-High Impact Strategies to Improve Student Outcomes.
  • Improving Postsecondary Student Outcomes at Minority-Serving Institutions.
  • Systems and Consortia Focused on Large-scale Impact.

Please provide your thoughts on whether the specific priorities outlined in the Federal Register effectively encourage innovation that significantly improves degree completion across all sectors of postsecondary education.  From the broad list of priorities in the notice, we will select a subset for the 2015 competition, so please provide your input on the substance of the priorities and those you believe would be most impactful.

Another way that we seek the engagement of innovative thinkers and experts is by expanding our pool of peer reviewers for First in the World and other grant programs.  Peer reviewers play the central role in the selection process for each of these competitions; therefore, having a strong pool of reviewers is critical to their impact.   We hope you will consider serving as a reviewer and hope you will help us spread the word to other potential reviewers.

Visit http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/frs.html for more information on the review process and instructions on how to register as a reviewer.


Online Skills Academy

To meet the needs of Americans to access high-quality education and training online, and to encourage the creation and use of free, open, and sharable resources, the administration will launch a competition to create an Online Skills Academy (OSA).  As outlined in Vice President Biden’s report, Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity (link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/skills_report.pdf), the Online Skills Academy will be a $25 million competition from the US Department of Labor to a consortium of institutions to create educational pathways leading to credentials and degrees, each of which would include open-source competencies as articulated by industry and academia; learning resources; high-quality assessment tools; and a technology platform that is scalable and allows for continuous improvement.

The administration has been receiving input from partners across the country in the education and workforce areas.  For example, at a convening about innovation in higher education at the White House last year, ED solicited input on some of the forces shaping the market in which the OSA will be launched; at another, ED convened Chief Learning Officers from small and large companies to learn about their workforce needs.  We have recently held a public listening session and are hoping to hear from the general public about the OSA.  Please submit your comments to the Education and Training Administration at the US Department of Labor by emailing skillsacademy@dol.gov and innovation@ed.gov.


Thanks for your input on these initiatives and for your commitment to making higher education more accessible, affordable, and effective for all Americans.

College Value and Completion: “Righting the Balance on the Side of Students”


Students discuss college affordability during a recent town hall. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

“Who thinks college is affordable?”

Secretary Duncan and new Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell posed that question to a packed room of college students and freshly-minted graduates at a recent town hall on college costs and access.

Almost no one raised a hand.

A college education is still the best investment students can make in their future. It is also a critical investment that we can make as a nation. But right now, this important rung on the ladder to opportunity is slipping out of reach for many low- and middle-income families in America.

That’s something President Obama is determined to change. Since taking office, the President has made key investments in education and advanced an ambitious agenda to combat rising college costs; to make college more affordable; to increase quality; and to improve educational outcomes. On June 9, 2014, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum that will allow an additional 5 million borrowers with federal student loans to cap their monthly payments at just 10 percent of their income.

But during the town hall meeting, the feeling in the room was clear: this country needs to do so much more, to ensure that students – regardless of their circumstances – have the information they need to make good choices and the financial support to pay for and complete their education.

The town hall was part of a series of events to encourage conversations and gain insights from the people most directly affected by the rising costs of college. Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Mitchell were there with one purpose: to hear from students. This was an opportunity to listen to students’ stories, needs, and ideas.

One student panelist, Jonathan, said, “My mom always told me I could go to my dream college. Then when we started to look at the cost, we had to slow down and think again. It’s not something parents want to have to say: ‘Let’s see what we can afford. Let’s pick something lower on your list.”

Jonathan saved on expenses for his family by spending his freshman year at a lower-cost college before transferring to that dream school, Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Wendy, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania and daughter of immigrant parents, shared her mother’s response when she was asked if the family was saving money for Wendy’s college education. She quoted her mother, “Are you kidding me? I’ve been trying to survive in this country. You have to figure it out.”

Student after student took the microphone, eager to share experiences and challenges, and offer ideas about how the federal government, states, and individual colleges and universities could help ease the financial aid process for students and families. Student participants attended institutions coast-to-coast—from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, to the University of California at Berkeley.

Several students recommended community college as a strong option for securing the first two years of a 4-year degree at a reasonable cost. One explained, “I feel like there is a stigma about promoting community colleges; [but] I have been able to stay debt free until my senior year.” Still many others raised their hands when asked if they were working their way through school. Several students described the challenge of juggling studies and the need to keep their grades high with the demand to work, in order to keep their loan balances down. Others spoke about the realities of being first-generation Americans, with parents who value a college education, but who encounter cultural taboos about borrowing money to pay for it. Still others spoke about having parents who attended college abroad and were unsure about helping their kids navigate the U.S. higher education system.

The consistent message at the town hall was that with better information, students and families can make informed decisions about higher education, manage their loans and finances wisely, and not have to defer their dreams.

“I want to be clear,” Under Secretary Mitchell told the room of promising young people, “the balance has shifted in ways that are not fair to students and families. We need to be guided by righting that balance on the side of students.”

Robert Gomez is the director of higher education outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Making it Easier to Pick and Pay for College through Ratings

Cross posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog

For so many, this season of college commencements is a joyful one filled with visions of the future. College holds the promise of a good job, lifelong learning and community engagement. Yet for too many families the price of that vital ticket to the middle class is increasingly out of reach. That undermines the opportunity that is core to our American values, and threatens our economic growth and the common good. As a nation, we have to make college more accessible and affordable and assure that students graduate with an education of real value.

President Obama has set a goal of regaining our world leadership in college completion, and has made a commitment to keep college within reach for all students. He has also set forth specific steps to ensure that quality education beyond high school can be a reality for all families. As part of a broad plan to promote postsecondary access, affordability and meaningful outcomes, President Obama charged the Department of Education to design a college ratings system to promote these goals by increasing accountability for the federal investment in higher education and making better information available to consumers.

This is my second update on that plan, following an earlier post in December.

The President’s call for a ratings system is already driving a necessary conversation about exactly the right kind of questions: What colleges are taking on the vitally important role of educating low-income students, and assuring that they graduate with good results? What educational practices might help schools lower the cost to students while improving or sustaining quality learning? Across the country, from Georgia State to Franklin & Marshall, Purdue to Arizona State, Los Rios Community College to University of Central Missouri to CUNY and SUNY, there are exciting examples of colleges and universities engaging constructively with those questions and shaping their priorities to advance the same goals.

In an effort to build this system thoughtfully and wisely, we are listening actively to recommendations and concerns, starting with a student leader session, four open forums in California, Iowa, Louisiana and Virginia, and a national listening tour that grew to 80-plus meetings with 4,000 participants.

We hear over and over – from students and families, college presidents and high school counselors, low-income students, business people and researchers – that, done right, a ratings system will push innovations and systems changes that will benefit students. We’ve heard strong support for the President’s plan from state education leaders, who are working to figure out sensible ways to drive positive change, and also from students, educators and parents who have spoken passionately about the need to improve access to higher education.

At the same time, we’ve received useful feedback on the creation of the system and dangers to avoid. Many have spoken strongly about the need to reward schools for completion in ways that do not lead them to turn away struggling students. A viable system, they remind us, must capture the wide variety of schools and students with sensitivity. And it must thoughtfully measure indicators like earnings, to avoid overemphasizing income or first jobs, penalizing relatively lower paid and public service careers, or minimizing the less tangible benefits of a college education such as civic engagement and critical thinking.

In all of these conversations, nothing has touched me more than a young woman who testified with remarkable openness at our forum in Los Angeles. “I want to repay the government and private lenders for the unforgettable education I received, but it’s nearly impossible,” she said. “I feel like I’m drowning every day.”

Her college debt was destroying her and her brother’s credit records. We’ve met many students, from Iowa farm families to Louisiana working adults, struggling to find a good and affordable college option and worried about debt and repayment. By contrast, I think of the astonishment and delight of a Hispanic mom at a community center parent meeting who discovered that her family didn’t have to rule out for cost reasons the respected and selective schools for which her daughter was well qualified. Sensible college ratings could help all of them.

As this conversation has evolved we’ve sought the help of higher education leaders and experts. In December, we asked technical and subject-matter experts about measures, data sources, and formulas that might be used to generate ratings. We received more than 140 responses, including some fully-developed recommendations for designing an effective system. In February, we convened a technical symposium on ratings systems with people knowledgeable about measures developed by institutions, states, and publications. The scope of responses, complexity of the task, and importance of doing this thoughtfully and usefully led us to decide that it is worth taking more time before publishing a proposal for comment, interchange and improvement. In the meantime we are continuing conversations with educators, families, leaders and researchers. We are on track to come out with a proposal by this fall and a final version of the new ratings system before the 2015-16 school year. I look forward to updating you again on progress in the coming months.

Ultimately, we are committed to significantly increasing college access, affordability and results for the good of America’s students and of our national competitiveness. Fair, clear and powerful incentives and information will let us recognize colleges’ success and scale their innovations.

Washington doesn’t have all the answers. But with the guidance of thousands of wise voices, we can take action that will help more Americans realize the dream of a college education.

Jamienne Studley is deputy under secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Jamie Studley

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How Can the Department of Education Increase Innovation, Transparency and Access to Data?

Cross posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog

Despite the growing amount of information about higher education, many students and families still need access to clear, helpful resources to make informed decisions about going to – and paying for – college.  President Obama has called for innovation in college access, including by making sure all students have easy-to-understand information.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education needs your input on specific ways that we can increase innovation, transparency, and access to data.  In particular, we are interested in how APIs (application programming interfaces) could make our data and processes more open and efficient.

APIs are set of software instructions and standards that allow machine-to-machine communication.  APIs could allow developers from inside and outside government to build apps, widgets, websites, and other tools based on government information and services to let consumers access government-owned data and participate in government-run processes from more places on the Web, even beyond .gov websites. Well-designed government APIs help make data and processes freely available for use within agencies, between agencies, in the private sector, or by citizens, including students and families.

So, today, we are asking you – student advocates, designers, developers, and others – to share your ideas on how APIs could spark innovation and enable processes that can serve students better. We need you to weigh in on a Request for Information (RFI) – a formal way the government asks for feedback – on how the Department could use APIs to increase access to higher education data or financial aid programs. There may be ways that Department forms – like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – or information-gathering processes could be made easier for students by incorporating the use of APIs. We invite the best and most creative thinking on specific ways that Department of Education APIs could be used to improve outcomes for students.

To weigh in, you can email APIRFI@ed.gov by June 2, or send your input via other addresses as detailed in the online notice.

The Department wants to make sure to do this right. It must ensure the security and privacy of the data it collects or maintains, especially when the information of students and families is involved.  Openness only works if privacy and security issues are fully considered and addressed.  We encourage the field to provide comments that identify concerns and offer suggestions on ways to ensure privacy, safeguard student information, and maintain access to federal resources at no cost to the student.

Through this request, we hope to gather ideas on how APIs could be used to fuel greater innovation and, ultimately, affordability in higher education.  For further information, see the Federal Register notice.

David Soo is a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

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