Talks with United States Department of Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell in Los Angeles and Sacramento

On July 27th and 28th, the Campaign for College Opportunity (CCO) was honored to host United States Department of Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell in Los Angeles and Sacramento. The two day event brought together business, civil rights, community, and legislative leaders to meet with the Under Secretary on pressing California public higher education issues and the work of the Obama Administration supporting access and success in higher education for more students.

In Los Angeles, CCO Board Chair, Thomas Saenz, led a discussion with the Under Secretary and 26 regional leaders highlighting our work that aims to strengthen public higher education in the state. This dialog included calling for a statewide plan for higher education, improving pathways between high schools, community colleges and four year universities, and improving the delivery of remedial education. The Under Secretary underscored the need for a statewide plan and discussed the importance of setting goals and benchmarks by race and ethnicity. The Under Secretary took questions on student indebtedness and expressed support for expanding income-based repayment programs, expansion of the Pell Grant to students on career pathways, and further simplification of FAFSA. The Under Secretary also spoke about America’s College Promise, the Administration’s effort to make two years of community college free given the growing demand for college-educated workforce. Several attendees were intrigued by the proposal and gave their thoughts on what could support California students should the proposal come to fruition including: 1) Addressing remedial education and moving toward multiple measures of assessment; 2) Increasing accountability of colleges and universities for closing persistent gaps by race and ethnicity; and, 3) A reinvestment in public higher education by the state.

In Sacramento, a group of twenty key legislative allies–including representatives from the Department of Finance, Assembly, Senate, California Department of Education and public systems of higher education– were treated to an intimate Capitol roundtable conversation led by Under Secretary Mitchell. The discussion focused on preserving college opportunity while boosting student success for all Californians.  The Under Secretary recognized that after years of challenging budget shortfalls, this had been an extraordinary year for California higher education with the state making critical investments in quality, affordability and increased access across the segments of higher education.  Again, the Under Secretary noted key elements of America’s College Promise that sparked a lively debate on California’s current low fee community college system and the “real cost” of a California college education (books, housing, transportation and extended time to degree).  Policymakers expressed a need for the continuous exploration of success models, college promise programs and work to address the root barriers to student completion.  Under Secretary Mitchell also paid special tribute to Former Secretary of Education and Vice Chair of CCO Gary Hart stating, “Gary taught me everything I know about California education”.

We’d like to thank Under Secretary Mitchell for spending his time with us. The Campaign for College Opportunity looks forward to continuing to partner to advance a statewide plan to boost student access and success.