As he says goodbye, Secretary Arne Duncan lays out higher ed priorities

Reflecting on a lengthy—and sometimes controversial—term as U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan reflects on the three things that can improve higher education, Albert Hunt reports for the New York Times.

"We have the best system of higher education in the world," Duncan tells the New York Times, "but have real and serious challenges."

Four-year schools have a 59% graduation rate—and at two-year schools, the rate sits at just 29%. Walking across the stage positively correlates with career opportunities and earning potential—and as seven in 10 students leave school with debt, increasing the graduation rate can help put a dent in the $1 trillion they owe.

Read more: For defaulters, completion—not debt—drives payment difficulties

Second, Duncan encouraged the government to continue making information transparent and accessible. He expressed pride in the federally run College Scorecard website—and called it better than the originally proposed college rating system that died in Congress. But Duncan pointed out that two-thirds of students only apply to one school, and he said better access to information will help families make better choices for their needs.

Finally, Duncan pushed colleges to rethink their model of the traditional student. During his tenure, Duncan said he observed a shift in student demographics. "The nontraditional student today is traditional," he said, referring to the increasing trend of 'non-traditional' students—those in their 30s or older—heading back to get their degrees.

The growing trends towards education transparency, embracing students in all walks of life, and improving graduation rates should be the key priorities for the future of American higher education, Duncan argued (Hunt, New York Times, 11/8; Mathewson, Education Dive, 11/10).

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