Four Priorities- Access, Affordability, Quality, Completion

The Office of the Under Secretary, in partnership with the Offices of Postsecondary Education, Vocational and Adult Education, Federal Student Aid and the White House Initiatives, are working on four strategic priorities: Access, Affordability, Quality, and Completion. At the federal level, we believe that improving postsecondary access, increasing affordability, enhancing quality, and accelerating college completion is the formula to help us meet President Obama’s 2020 goal, and place the American Dream within reach of every American seeking to advance his or her knowledge and skills for 21st century careers, civic engagement in their communities and lifelong learning.

Improving Postsecondary Access

Improving access for Americans is important because it means greater numbers of students can complete postsecondary programs of study beyond high school to earn certificates, degrees and credentials for success in life. To increase access, we are building better bridges from adult education, career-technical education, apprenticeship, community-based organizations, and one-stop workforce centers through higher education. Our cradle-to-career agenda relies on a seamless education system for youth and adults who can enter and re-enter postsecondary education at different points in their lives according to their needs. Financial aid and financial literacy are essential elements to help students and families progress in their education and are major initiatives in our work plan.

Increasing Affordability

Increasing the affordability of postsecondary education is essential to reaching President Obama’s 2020 goal. Without financial aid, financial literacy, and affordable loans, many students feel that they cannot finish a college degree. The President’s 2014 budget fully funds the $5,785 maximum Pell Grant award in the 2014-2015 award year. We have also simplified the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which resulted in an increase of aid applications by more than 30%- with applications from the lowest-income groups increasing at twice the rate of application growth overall. By cutting out banks – which represent the middleman in federal student loan programs—we saved more than $60 billion and redirected those funds to student aid.

Enhancing Quality

In our quest to improve the quality of a postsecondary education, we are focused on four areas of work: 1) incentivizing, promoting and using high-quality research to identify and scale a broader and deeper base of postsecondary knowledge and skills and high-impact practices that increase student success; 2) Improving teacher preparation programs that produce teachers and principals who are better equipped to positively impact the educational achievement of students; 3) Supporting the development and use of high-quality P-20 integrated data systems that allow us to track progress toward President Obama’s 2020 goal, improve educational systems, and implement the best of what works to increase teaching and learning; and 4) Improving quality assurance and consumer protection efforts to enable student success.

Accelerating College Completion

We have an urgent need to increase college completion. In doing so, we want to increase the success of adult learners taking advantage of adult education and career-technical education programs to enter, re-enter or move up in the workforce AND continue their postsecondary education as far as they wish. Exemplars and specific strategies that increase student retention and persistence and lead more students to complete degrees, certificates and industry-recognized credentials is of paramount importance to reach the 2020 goal.