‘Paying for College Is a Shared Responsibility,’ Education Secretary Says

By Jon Street | September 7, 2012 | 10:21 AM EDT

Public Health graduates celebrate during commencement at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Helping millions of students pay for higher education is a “shared responsibility,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent webcast with reporters.

“The federal government can’t do this alone. This is a shared responsibility,” Duncan said on Aug. 24 in response to the following question from CNSNews.com: “What is Secretary Duncan doing to lower the cost of higher education and relieve the burdens of student debt?”

Duncan said states must “continue to invest, and universities need to do a better job of keeping down costs and building cultures that are not just about access, but are about completion, too.”

(President Obama echoed the "shared responsibility" theme in his speech to the Democratic National Convention Thursday night. "Government has a role in this [education]," Obama said. "But teachers must inspire; principals must lead; parents must instill a thirst for learning, and students, you've got to do the work. And together, I promise you – we can out-educate and out-compete any country on Earth.")

Duncan said the Obama administration has made a “historic investment” in Pell Grants.

“We raised the maximum award to $5,550 (for 2012-2013) and proposed going to $5,635 next year. Three million more low-income students have access to federal aid than three years ago. We're also making it easier for millions of graduates to pay back their loans through income-based repayment plans and loan forgiveness for public service.”

Duncan said it is “crucial” to have a strong, public higher education system.

“They educate the vast majority of students and provide a good value for students. It's important to share in the responsibility to invest in public universities. To incentivize them to do the right thing, we've proposed $1 billion for a Race to the Top for higher education. This will reward states that continue to invest in higher education and take steps that ensure more students graduate on time.

Duncan also said the Obama administration has “given every state clear targets for what their contribution needs to be to this national effort,” adding that his department is helping those states that “need to accelerate their work to increase completion.”

“We've made historic investments in student aid and in community colleges. We also are proposing new programs to support states and colleges as they enact reforms to increase the number of students completing their degrees,” Duncan said.

During a speech at a state higher education policy conference on Aug. 9, Duncan said boosting college completion is an “urgent national mission.”

“I can't stress enough that this is a national mission with shared responsibility for all stakeholders. As President Obama has said, "there is no better economic policy than one that produces more graduates... [And] that's why reforming education is the responsibility of every American--every parent, every teacher, every business leader, every public official, and every student,” Duncan said.

Duncan added that President Obama’s message of “shared responsibility” is also “in keeping” with that of state higher education officials, who wrote in a recent letter to the president:

The letter, in part, states, “"Neither the states, nor the federal government, nor students and their families can reasonably be expected to bear the full burden of maintaining [college access]. All of us will need to make hard choices about priorities among the activities consuming scarce resources within and beyond education."