Education Dept. to simplify college financial aid

The government has big, new plans for postsecondary education.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the launch of a federal higher education commission during a speech at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on September 19.

The commission, she said, will develop strategies to inform the public about new efforts being made to make college education more affordable and accessible.

“We have a responsibility to make sure our higher education system continues to meet our nation’s needs for an educated and competitive workforce in the twenty-first century,” Spellings said in a statement.

The commission will examine the rising costs of college and help parents and students find ways to afford it, Spellings said, emphasizing the commission’s plan to simplify the financial aid process.

“We should send students the clear message, ‘if you work hard, you can go to college regardless of how much money your parents make,'” she said in her speech.

Over half of all college students receive federal financial aid, according to the Department of Education’s Web site.

The education commission will emphasize the importance of finding employment and work to prepare college students to compete in the job market, Spellings said.

The commission, which consists largely of university officials and business executives, includes former North Carolina Gov. James Hunt, Jonathan Grayer, CEO of the test preparation firm Kaplan Inc., and Charlene Nunley, president of Montgomery College.

David Ward, President of the American Council on Education, has also joined the panel.

“The Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education will examine a number of significant issues facing our campuses, specifically in the areas of affordability, access, accountability, global competitiveness, and quality of teaching and research,” Ward said. “I appreciate the opportunity to represent the higher education community on the commission and to help shape the future of higher education in the United States.”

The goals of the commission mirror those of the Department of Education’s other endeavor, the No Child Left Behind Act, which was created in 2002 to raise K-12 student achievement, form early-age tutoring programs and more recently to encourage states to better assist students with disabilities.

But the new commission will concentrate more on informing and working with the public to encourage students to attend college to succeed in the workplace.

“Over 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require at least some postsecondary education. That means a college education is more important than ever,” Secretary Spellings said.

Spellings said the federal government is dedicated to “raising the standards of higher education.”

“It’s time to review this work and take stock of where we stand,” she said. We must have a plan for moving forward.”

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