Duncan Stresses Student Aid, College Graduation in Twitter Town Hall

Getting America’s students to college isn’t enough – we need to make sure they complete programs and leave with degrees. That was the message delivered by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a Twitter town hall hosted by veteran journalist John Merrow on November 14.

The event (see video here) marked the second time Duncan took to Twitter, the popular social networking service, to answer questions about the state of education in America. Several Twitter users asked Duncan to address the skyrocketing cost of college and what the federal role may be in helping college students succeed.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and journalist John Merrow during the Twitter town hall on Monday.

Duncan touted the Obama Administration’s efforts to secure $40 billion in additional funding for Pell Grants over the next decade, and claimed that the number of students accessing the grants has increased by 50 percent.

“We simply stopped subsidizing banks and put all that money into young people, investing in their education,” Duncan said.

Under the proposed 2012 spending bill from the House Appropriations Committee, more than half a million students and $4.3 billion would be cut from the Pell Grants program. But Duncan said that rolling back Pell was a non-starter for the Obama Administration.

“We’re going to fight that every single day,” he said.

Duncan also highlighted recent efforts by the Obama Administration to provide relief to students struggling with mounting student loan debt. He said President Barack Obama’s recently announced plan to allow students to significantly reduce their loan payments would save many students hundreds of dollar per month and provide relief in a tough economy.

While student loan programs have improved access to higher education, too many students are failing to graduate. Duncan said that the rising cost of higher education is a factor influencing the college dropout rate, but he stressed that K-12 schools need to better prepare students for college, and colleges need to strengthen their student retention efforts.

“We don’t have enough universities that have really built cultures around completion,” Duncan said. He pointed out that Obama’s 2012 budget includes a program to encourage states to produce more college graduates. Duncan said federal and state governments and universities need to continue experimenting with creative ways to incentivize and motivate students to stay in college and complete degrees.