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Equity, excellence, and innovation: Arne Duncan on how the federal government can help the US education system amid the pandemic

Reggie Wade
·Writer
·3 mins read

According to a new report, first-year college enrollment for this semester had fallen by 16%, and overall undergraduate enrollment dropped about 4%. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Yahoo Finance to discuss what can be done to help the state of higher education amid the pandemic.

Duncan tells Yahoo Finance that he hopes that college enrollment reduction is just a “one-time hit” amid the pandemic.

“Lots of young incoming freshmen are taking a gap year … so I don’t see that lasting. I hope that doesn’t last. What’s going to change in terms of higher ed, a couple of things. I think this is challenging for all of us, higher ed and K-12 as well,” Duncan said.

“What should stay online? What should stay virtual, what gets better delivered? Is it more effective, more efficient online versus in person? How do we continue, to reduce the cost of college? How do we make it more affordable for young people and families who are struggling before with the cost of college?,” he asked.

Students in a computer class. Students in front of computers in a computer class. Soft focus
Students in a computer class. Students in front of computers in a computer class. Soft focus

Duncan tells Yahoo Finance that so many families are struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and he believes that making education more affordable and accessible is the key to turning things around for millions of Americans.

“And so many families have taken a huge financial hit through the pandemic. How do we make things more affordable, more accessible for them? So in a really dark time, I think we’ll see more innovation. I think we’ll see more creativity in the long term that actually might be a good thing.”

One way the former education secretary believes that higher education can be more accessible to U.S. students is an implementation of the K-14 education model.

“We need to just change our model. We have a K-12 model that served us pretty well for the past 100 years, but that’s insufficient now. I think we need to move to a K-14 model starting earlier with our babies, and then a high school diploma is obviously critical, but it’s insufficient — some form of education beyond that. Four-year universities, two-year community colleges, trade, technical, vocational training, every high school graduate has to have a plan for furthering their education once they come out of here.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addresses a crowd of teachers and politicians in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. February 28, 2013.   REUTERS/Jeff Haynes/File Photo
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addresses a crowd of teachers and politicians in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. February 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes/File Photo

Despite the call for bold plans and actions, Duncan tells Yahoo Finance that he is not advocating for a federal takeover of public education in the U.S. but believes the federal government has a role to play when it comes to educating American children.

“When you have a pandemic that affects us all, you need a national response to it. This pandemic doesn’t know red versus blue. It doesn’t know liberal versus conservative. When you have massive unmet need, that is the role of the federal government to step up.”

Duncan says that there are three things he thinks the federal government can do for education.

“One is to fight for equity … Secondly is to fight for excellence. In third, is innovation. How do we continue to scale and build upon what’s working? I think those are the appropriate roles of the federal government.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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