The White House hosted University President Steven Knapp, students and college affordability advocates from across the country Thursday for a discussion that grappled with student loans and the rising costs of higher education.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Second Lady Jill Biden led the talk, asking experts to pitch their ideas for ways to ease the financial burden of a college degree.
“We all recognize that going to college has never been more important than it is today. Unfortunately it’s also never been more expensive. Somehow we have to find ways to reduce that,” Duncan said, according to a pool report. “Tell us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear.”
Knapp said in an email that he told the group about GW’s outreach to local high schools – an effort to raise awareness about the aid options that the University offers.
GW has looked to entice low-income students with initiatives such as the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship program, which has awarded about 150 full rides to District high school students over the last 25 years.
He said he also expressed his concerns about shrinking support for public universities.
“This is part of a tendency across the nation to see education as a private benefit rather than a public good. I think that’s a terribly short-sighted view,” Knapp said.
He added that he left the White House feeling optimistic about the group’s recommendations for tackling costs.
“It was encouraging to hear such a variety of suggestions from so many people who care about individual students struggling with the burden of debt and about what all of us… can do together to address this national challenge,” Knapp said.
The second lady announced to the group that senate Democrats are working to craft legislation that will help graduates pay back debt.
“I’m proud to be part of this administration that has made college affordability a priority, reforming the student loan system and doubling Pell Grants, but we all know that we need to do more,” Biden, who teaches classes at Northern Virginia Community College, said at the gathering.
Knapp joined more than 100 other college leaders at a White House summit in January as part of President Barack Obama’s pledge to expand college access. Knapp launched a task force a week later to examine the University’s support systems for low-income families and offer workshops to D.C. high school students applying to college.
Dexter McCoy, a former Boston University student body president, shared his personal experiences at the White House. McCoy said he graduated this spring with $30,000 in debt and struggled to pay his way through college.
“It’s the story of many people my age across the country,” he said.
— Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) June 5, 2014