RaiseMe Community
Arne Duncan: How Education – and RaiseMe – Can Transform Lives

Arne Duncan: How Education – and RaiseMe – Can Transform Lives

Former Secretary of Education sat down with Preston Silverman, our CEO, and Aneesh Raman, our VP of Growth, at the annual NACAC conference on September 23rd, 2016. Here’s the transcript of our talk, which ranged from college affordability to access to government funding.

Aneesh Raman, VP of Growth, RaiseMe: Good afternoon. My name is Aneesh Raman and I am the VP of Growth at RaiseMe, and the reason I am kicking this off is because I handle all of our student outreach. So I wanted to make sure we started off this lunch by saying to all of our college partners who are here today “thank you” on behalf of all of our students.

I joined RaiseMe from the White House, where alongside getting to see up close what a powerful advocate for students Arne Duncan is; alongside hearing incessantly how good a basketball player Arne Duncan is; I got to write speeches for President Obama. I wrote about how we can grow our economy by getting more kids into and through college so that we can get more families into the middle class. I wrote about how that was the way we could get families into the middle class. That’s why, when we think about what we’re building at RaiseMe with all of you, we think about it as a movement. And to all of you respective college partners out there, it’s a movement that we hope you’ll join, because every day we’re reminded that we actually are changing lives.

I get the fun job at RaiseMe. I get to talk to our students who tell us so often how your programs on RaiseMe help them see that college isn’t just attainable, but can be affordable. It’s a powerful thing when you think about the power of education to transform a life. And so on behalf of them, on behalf of the 200,000 or so students who, with your support, we’ve served this year, on behalf of the 1 million or so students that, with your support, we plan to serve this coming year, and especially on behalf of the 40% who will be the first in their family to go to college, and who will go to college more prepared, more likely to complete college, and to go on to a career because of the programs you have on RaiseMe, thank you. Thank you for being leaders in your field. Thank you for expanding access to education. And thank you for helping us expand opportunity in America.

So, enough with the thank-yous. With that, I’ll bring Preston up, and our special guest.

Preston Silverman, CEO and Co-Founder, RaiseMe: Hello everyone, thank you again for being here. We all know Arne Duncan as our former Secretary of Education, and as a child of two educators, Arne has dedicated his entire career to improving America’s education system so that every child can have a chance to realize their college and career ambitions. A particular focus of Arne’s throughout his career has been serving underserved students, and that’s one of the topics we’re most excited to speak with him about today. Thank you for coming and let’s all give him warm welcome.

In terms of the format, it’s going to be all Q and A for about 30 minutes. We have about half the time set up for structured questions that were prepared in advance, and the other half will open up to everyone in the room. There should be note cards on each table — if you have questions, you can write on those. Someone will be around to collect them and bring them up.

Arne, now that you’ve had some time away from the Administration and are back in Chicago, we were wondering what have been some of your reflections on your time there and some of your major takeaways?

Arne Duncan, former Secretary of Education: Obviously I’m looking forward to having a brief conversation here, and then to open up to all of your questions. It was a life-transforming opportunity, I still pinch myself that I had the chance. Let me quickly try to walk through successes, you know, a huge increase in funding for early childhood education, which I think is the best investment we can make. K-1, seeing high school graduation rates go to all time highs.

On the higher ed side, which is mostly this audience, a big focus on community colleges. Putting an additional 40 billion dollars behind Pell grants without going to taxpayers for a nickel — that was pretty controversial in Washington, but we really just cut out the middleman there. And with high school graduation rates up and dropout rates down, we saw more than 1.1 million different students of color go on to college. So that’s the plus side.

The failures, or the places we didn’t do as much as I would’ve liked — we needed billions of dollars on the early childhood side to go to scale.

On the higher ed side, I desperately hoped and thought that some kind of immigration reform would pass, which means we’d be able to give college scholarships to dreamers. The fact that we were unable to do any of that is heartbreaking. And, not the point of the conversation today but another huge, massive failure was not doing anything around gun violence. And back home in Chicago that’s a major focus right now. As a country, just the policy choices we make allow a lot of kids to be killed, that doesn’t happen in other countries. So, lot of things I’m proud of, lots of work we didn’t get done.

But in the presidential debates on both sides there is very little focus on outcomes in education. No one’s talking about getting high school graduation rates to all time highs. No one’s talking about making sure high school graduates don’t need remedial class when they go to college. We should try to lead the world in college completion rates, which you guys are all focused on today. We’re twelfth — you shouldn’t be proud of that. Would love to take out politics, take out R and D, and left and right. I think if we could have nation building goals, if we could have vigorous debate about best strategies to achieve those goals and a focus on outcomes educationally that I think we need.

Preston Silverman: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges around financial aid today for colleges and universities?

Arne Duncan: You guys know this better than me — financial aid isn’t cheap. College is a lot of hard work. But, it sort of started where my life’s work is in education. Obviously I care a lot about education, but really for me it’s always been a means to ending poverty. That for me was the driver. Growing up working for my mother at an inner-city tutoring program, that was the only way to give students a chance in life. The fact of the matter today is that if you come from the bottom 5th in terms of income quintiles — you guys probably know these stats better than I — you have a 9% chance of graduating college. So less than 1/10, and so I worry a lot about the lack of upward mobility. I worry a lot about income inequality. Because so many people are left out. And the only way I know how to fix that is to help a lot more young people at scale — not just to graduate from high school, but to graduate from all of your institutions. And if they do that, they’re going to have pretty good lives. But if they don’t, they’re sort of on the margins. So the financial aid part is hard, nothing easy about it, but if we don’t radically increase those numbers — I mean — we could double them tomorrow and we’d be at less than 1 in 5, and so our rate of change is way too slow. We need to become much more impatient, and find ways to accelerate that. And again that’s why I’m happy to be here, I’m so supportive of your work. I think we need some innovation, we need some new ideas about how we help kids who don’t have family members that’ve been to college, might not have anyone on their block who has been to college. How do we start to open this door of opportunity for them. Things like what you guys are doing, all that you are working on, I think will help us get there faster.

Preston Silverman: You’ve been a part of several policy solutions that are working toward these goals that could have a big impact on college access and affordability, including expanding scholarship opportunities for undocumented students, giving students in high school the ability to use Pell grants for dual enrollment courses, among many others. Which of these do you see as most important and why? And are there any that you think aren’t getting enough attention or focus?

Arne Duncan: Obviously Congress was pretty dysfunctional, so we weren’t able to do as much as we would’ve liked together. But we could do a lot with what we call experimental sites. So we did Pell for incarcerated folks, second chance Pell. We did dual enrollment as you talked about. We’re starting to do Pell for short term competency-based programs. Again, not every kid needs a four-year degree. If they can get real training at least some real jobs, we should be able to put Pell grants behind that. So we did some really cool pilots which was fun. Again it’s not at scale, but it gets us in the game. What we were never able to do, which again would probably be controversial in this room, is at the federal level, we put out about 170 billion in federal grants and loans. All of that is based upon inputs, it’s based upon access. None of it is about outcomes. None of it incentivizes universities to take more first-generation college-goers and more Pell recipients. And so, if we could move in that direction, there’s a bill that two of my friends — Senator Isakson from Georgia and Chris Coons of Delaware — have introduced in a bipartisan way, just to have a few carrots imposed. They’re showing the courage, and really trying to increase access and affordability. And I think long term our incentives — we at federal level are part of problem, we don’t incentivize good behavior — and if we were able to put some resources behind those that were really committed themselves, again, I think that would celebrate the pace of change.

Preston Silverman: Are there any innovations outside the policy arena that you are particularly excited about or changes that you see happening in higher education?

Arne Duncan: So I’ll take it down and talk a little bit about why your work is important, and I’ll go back to higher education. For me, financial aid is important — all that is a big piece of the puzzle. At the end of the day, we have a lot of students who think college isn’t for them, they think it’s for rich folks. And it’s just not a part of their world, it’s not a part of their reality. And so, for me, what you’re doing in providing scholarships to, not seniors, but to 9th graders and having 8th graders in these conversations.

The money is important, but to me it’s not about the money, it’s all about creating hope, a sense of what’s possible, and whatever we can do to make that dream of going to college real. Yes, in 9th and 10th grade, but for 6th and 7th and 8th graders. Again, the level of social isolation and disconnect — I can’t tell you how large that is. Whether it’s in my home in Chicago, inner city, south and west sides, or whether it’s in Appalachia, or whether it’s in Native American reservations. So yes, the money’s important, but I honestly think it’s a small piece of the overall strategy. It’s really about creating hope and the sense that this is a world I can fit into. So whatever you guys can do there is fantastic.

On the higher education side, again not surprised there’s some real innovators here. More folks need to start measuring themselves not based on exclusion, which is a huge part of US News & World Report rankings, but around inclusion, and the more you can start to evaluate yourself not just based upon inclusion, but around outcomes — not just letting people through the door but finishing — the better. Those are the kinds of innovations that I think are game changers and it’s a cultural shift, you’re fighting against lots of other things. But again if we’re really serious about creating opportunity for those historically who have been locked out educationally and therefore economically, we have to do this in radically different ways. That’s the kind of work I love and want to find a way to support.

Preston Silverman: Thank you for your support for our program, we really appreciate it. One concern we’ve heard from some prospective partners is that it can be seen as tying extrinsic motivation for something that should be intrinsic for students. How do you think about that? What would you share with people that might share that concern?

Arne Duncan: Well, I don’t share that concern. I think that’s a very academic and philosophical concern and I’ll just go back to where I started, which was that this is not about scholarship money, it’s really not. It’s about having 9th graders who don’t have anyone in their families going to college who start to think “Boy, if I work hard, maybe I’ll be successful. Maybe I’ll have a chance in this world.” I don’t know if it’s extrinsic, intrinsic, that’s a little philosophical for me. I just think there’s so many kids across the country who don’t believe.

And if we save all our school money until 12th grade, well that’s not when kids drop out. They drop out in 9th and 10th grade. They’re gone. So you’re preaching to a choir in 12th grade, but I want more kids in the choir. I want more kids coming in your direction. So the more you can pull this down and make it real and tangible, it’s hugely important.

The other thing is obviously — it’s a generational thing. Kids today need — I don’t want to say instant gratification — but they need to know early on, in real time — and this is what got me so excited about what you’re doing — that what they’re doing matters long term.

If you’re working hard freshmen and sophomore year but still have no sense of where you can go, it’s hard to sustain that. There’s so many pressures for you to leave school and do other things. So knowing in that first year, second year, whether it’s $300 or $3000 or $6000, I honestly don’t care, but knowing in real time that you’re starting to put money in the bank for college, just the psychological impact is so profound.

And so the debate intrinsic vs. extrinsic absolutely misses the reality of what so many our kids are dealing with. If people spent more time with these kids in these communities, the debate wouldn’t be there. The debate would be how can we do this 10X bigger and quicker than we’re doing it right now.

Preston Silverman: There’s been a lot of talk in different circles about how higher education can foster and evaluate character traits, like grit, that correlate with success moving beyond the traditional academic factors. What’s your current thinking on that?

Arne Duncan: So again, just your most recent innovation, starting to put some scholarship dollars behind people who are helping out in the community or helping out at home, again, I think is brilliant. Because they’re a set of kids, that’s their reality. They have to take care of younger siblings, they have to take care of mom, they have to go to work after school, and they don’t get to do the fun things that I did like play basketball, things that I was lucky enough to do and privileged enough to have those chances.

So the fact that you’re starting to recognize that in a very concrete way is hugely important. How do universities teach that, build that, how do high schools, middle schools, elementary? It’s not easy — for me, all this stuff is less academic, less classroom work — more community engagement, service, and involvement. All the work I did early in my career, all the early work I did working with kids in the inner city, we spent lots of time doing tutoring academic work. We spent a huge amount of time trying to help build those traits and characteristics in the kids we were working with because what they were dealing with at home in their community was so horrific, was so tough that without that they weren’t going to make it. What haunts me to this day, honestly, is that I have no clue whether we were successful or not. We had no measurements, no way of evaluating ourselves. We cared passionately, we tried extraordinarily hard, but I don’t know if we were successful. So the more we’re in this game, the more we’re trying to build these traits and characteristics. And then over time, figuring out are we getting better or not? All of you guys are also employers, I’ve built teams in different places, candidly I hear a lot more about these traits in the workplace than I hear about a math score or a reading score. I would absolutely say that those traits are as important for long term success in life than any academic skills that any universities are also teaching.

Preston Silverman: Once we do get students to campus how can colleges and universities better support low income and first generation students?

Arne Duncan: Yea, so honestly, this one for me isn’t rocket science. It’s first just a real commitment to doing so. It’s a commitment not just to admissions, but to completion. So when you commit, I mean a couple of things — data can obviously help to drive this, being much more thoughtful, tracking stuff, jumping on a problem early. Peer relationships and mentoring — have a faculty or staff member who’s got a caseload and who’s on this every single day. For young people, there’s young people who are just on the precipice financially — it’s one car breakdown away from dropping out, it’s one babysitter that doesn’t show up away from dropping out. Having some ability to deal with that in real time, not three months later when it’s too late. That kind of stuff, it’s not rocket science, it’s not a cure for cancer, it’s just deciding that student-by-student, we’re going to — with resources, with facts, with data, with upper class juniors and seniors — just build a culture of support that’s going to help them not walk out the door as a freshmen, but walk across the stage as a senior.

There’s lots of good examples — I want to point them out. Is Vassar here? I don’t know if Vassar’s in the room. There they are. If I’m wrong, tell me. They basically doubled the number of Pell recipients students in Vassar. The Pell college completion rate is actually slightly higher than the rest of the college. I can go Vassar, I can go Franklin Marshall, I can go right down the list. There’s a whole set of you that are making this work. I think people at Vassar are very smart. I don’t think they’re any smarter than anyone in the room. I just think they had commitment from the top, from the leadership, that this was hugely, hugely important. They’ve executed against it, they haven’t done it perfectly, they keep getting better, but there are enough examples out there that when people are serious about this — Arizona State, I mean, there’s a whole set of folks — they aren’t just talking about this, they’re walking the walk every single day. So we know it’s possible.

Preston Silverman: We’re all very interested to hear what’s next for you. We know you’re working on some very important projects in Chicago focused on gun violence.

Arne Duncan: I’ll take a second here, because it’s not the point here. But basically — little bit of a shift, not a total shift — but I’m basically working with those in Chicago who all of us have collectively failed, quite frankly. Who were not educated well, did not have community support, did not have family support. Unfortunately, their trajectory has basically led them to become shooters in Chicago. Me coming home has been fantastic but also extremely painful. The level of violence, the level of shootings, it’s just sort of stunning — more in Chicago than New York and LA combined. This was not my life ambitions but I just couldn’t come home and not try and work on this. It just didn’t feel right.

So what we’re trying to do. We’re starting with a set of guys, many of them who have done some pretty horrific things and we’re working to bring them out of a illegal economy and give them social support, wraparound services, and the trauma care, as well as real jobs and real job skills to move them from the illegal economy to the legal economy. And if we do that, I think that’s the only long term way to reduce the level of violence. I don’t think we can arrest our way out of it and I don’t think we can police our way out of it. I think a lot of that’s actually making it worse. And so not to put any pressure on you guys, but I’m going to say 100% of the guys I’m working with did not go to college. There’s no one I’m working with who had the benefit or privilege of having a college opportunity. And so when our systems fail, the price we’re paying now, not just in Chicago, though it’s particularly acute there — the price pay for education failure around the country now is pretty extraordinary.

Preston Silverman: How are you getting started — it’s an incredibly huge and systematic problem across the country — how do you even begin to tackle a problem like that?

Arne Duncan: We’ve funded 4,700 summer jobs for kids in south and southwest side of Chicago. This summer, we gave kids a chance to work in a legal economy. We’re now working with a set of our guys who have been shooters in the far south side in Pullman, and doing a bunch of work with them, and now starting to have them do work in the community.

We’re still in our infancy, we’re still crawling before we can walk. There are 15 neighborhoods that produce 75% of the violence. That’s pretty concentrated. And so pretty quickly we’re going to try to move from one pilot to pilots in multiple neighborhoods. It’s early and it’s tenuous work every single day, and there’s ups and downs, but I’ll just say, these are some extraordinary young men. They’re smart, many of them are entrepreneurs, they just didn’t have the kinds of opportunities that so many of us in this room were blessed to have. Working with guys in the county jail — I’m going there pretty frequently — and they’re giving us their guys on the outside, to feed into our program, to move their fellow gang members out of that life and into something else. It’s a long term play but there’s a huge interest. Lots of people are tired of being out there — it’s extraordinarily scary and dangerous. And they’re looking to do something different, but we just have to provide that chance and they have to be able to make a living. They have to be able to eat, be able to feed their kids. Without the job part of this, I think we can’t get there.

Preston Silverman: Before we turn it over to everyone for questions, are there any major takeaways that you think people should be focused on in this next year?

Arne Duncan: No, again, I just want to let you know personally, it means a lot to me that you’re focused on higher education, and I’m not that, that old, getting a little older. Back when I grew up in south side in Chicago, if my friends dropped out of high school or didn’t go to college, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the end of the world. They could go get job in the stockyard, steel mills, buy a home, support a family, be part of the middle class. Those jobs in Chicago and across the nation are obviously gone.

To end, like I mentioned before, when we fail to educate, just the divide between the haves and the have-nots now is staggering. Whatever you can do to increase opportunity, whatever you can do to have your universities not just work with college students, but work with your K-12 systems, and build pipelines, and reach down, do whatever you can with a particular focus on Pell recipients, first-generation college-goers. This is a tough time for our country. Without being political, so much anger you see on the left and the right are people that feel they’re being left behind. Guess what? They’re right. They’re accurate in that assessment. And when we don’t give people chances to get a great education, the cost is extraordinary high now. So whatever you can do to increase access, increase success. When young people graduate from your institutions, they’re going to have pretty good lives. I don’t worry about them much at all. Debt might be a little high, we could talk about the cost of college, but they’re going to do just fine. It’s those that don’t have the opportunity to learn who are basically condemned to the marges, and there’s a pretty steep price we’re paying right now as a country for that academic failure.

Preston Silverman: Let’s go to questions from all of you. There is always debate to if raising Pell grants and other federal aid in turn raises cost of attendance. Can you share your thoughts on this?

Arne Duncan: Yes, it’s a false debate, and the answer is that’s not true. We did all of the historical analysis, and college tuition has gone up whether you raise Pell or you don’t raise Pell, whether you raise financial aid or not. So yes, we have to challenge institutions to contain costs and I don’t want to give you guys a pass on this at all, but that increased aid has not led directly to increases in tuition. It’s just factually not accurate.

Preston Silverman: Could you share what you believe are top three priorities right now for the Department of Education?

Arne Duncan: Lots of priorities. Always start with early childhood education, again trying to increase a lot of access there. On the K-12 side, continuing to raise graduation rates, reduce dropout rates, ensure that high school graduates are college ready. Talk about Common Core and all that, but the goal there was simply trying to make sure young people weren’t having to take remedial classes in college and pay college tuition for high school classes, which cost the nation a couple of billion dollars a year. On the higher ed side, again we’re twelfth in the world in terms of college completion rates, we were first in the world a generation ago, and it’s not that we dropped — we’ve stagnated, we’ve flatlined. A dozen other countries are out innovating and out investing and in a knowledge-based economy, jobs are going to go to where the knowledge workers are. I desperately want that to be United States, but if you think Singapore and India and China are just, sort of, sitting back and watching us, they’re not. They’re passing us. So those would be three goals at each level — end goals at each level — that would just be hugely important. And again, for me, it’s just so important that these — I don’t think — can be or should be Republican goals or Democratic goals. These are goals for our nation.

Preston Silverman: A little more practical — can you share any advice about working with faculty to understand why articulations are needed?

Arne Duncan: Articulations with K-12? Or with groups like RaiseMe?

Preston Silverman: Educators, colleges…

Arne Duncan: Again, I think people in this room understand that education is complicated for a whole host of reasons but at the top of that is this silo effect. And when higher education doesn’t talk to high schools, when high schools don’t talk to middle schools and elementary schools, when they don’t talk to early childhood, everybody points fingers and lays blame about why kids aren’t prepared and why things aren’t working. At the end of the day, they’re our kids and we’re losing them.

And you guys are producing the nation’s teachers. I’m sure some of you are doing an amazing job, some of you in this room aren’t doing an amazing job. So whatever we can do to build that articulation.

I talk sort of downstream, the other huge part of articulation is upstream with our employers. Are you guys really teaching skills employers are looking for? Some places are doing an amazing jobs, other places aren’t having those conversations. Again, this is about more than education, it’s about economic opportunity, social mobility, and giving kids a chance to be successful, it’s about inclusion, not exclusion. Only way you get there are hard, difficult conversations and partnerships that take time and aren’t always efficient, but the long term benefits are huge. So whatever you can do to build those relationships downstream, whatever you can do to build them with employers, whatever you can do to build them with nonprofits, others coming in, like RaiseMe, trying to create opportunity, you can’t do enough of that. It’s just got to be part of your DNA.

Preston Silverman: Claudia Sanchez mentioned this morning on NPR when people go into voting booth to pull the lever, they don’t necessarily pull it for education. How can we change that?

Arne Duncan: That’s the billion dollar — trillion dollar — question. I have yet to meet a politician who says they’re anti-education, who doesn’t love to visit schools. We don’t hold them accountable for education results. And that’s at the local level with mayors, state level with governors, congressmen, senators, and presidents. We don’t hold them accountable.

We’re getting better far too slowly as a nation, we have to accelerate the pace of change. Again, to the question, I don’t blame the leaders, I blame us as voters. If you watch the presidential debates, education doesn’t come up. When it does come up, candidly on both sides it’s a little bit about cost of college, which is your world, but that’s a strategy, that’s not a goal.

For me, the goal should be to lead the world in college completion rates. No one’s talking about that. The goal should be to get to 100% graduation rate as fast as we can. The goal should be to lead the world in early childhood access, and equality. These things don’t come up. So I guess I’m stating a problem — until we as voters across the political spectrum, go to the voting booth and vote on this, politicians get a pass, and will continue to be sort of mired in mediocrity.

The only answer I know — or two answers — are we have to create demand among parents. Parents are fighting for this at every single level, that’s sort of the grassroots strategy. I think there’s has been a massive of lack of investment from the philanthropic sector. In terms of demand, we’ve seen lots of work funding great teachers and great principals, and that’s hugely important, but not enough grassroots demand. The second is really challenging every CEO in the nation to go from altruism to self interest. CEOs should be challenging us on education much harder than they are, saying we’re not producing what they want, which we clearly aren’t and they know that, but they aren’t putting enough pressure on political candidates. So we need an absolute grassroots bottom up strategy, plus absolute top down, and until we vote on this issue, we’ll struggle.

One quick anecdote, just a counterpoint.I spend a lot of my time on looking at international comparisons and benchmarks, comparing our competitiveness. In virtually every measure, South Korea is trouncing us. I don’t want to do everything Korea’s doing,they can be pretty extreme, but this is pretty interesting stuff. Whenever President Obama met with other nation’s leaders, he always asked about education. And we talked to the President of South Korea and asked, “What’s your biggest challenge?” “Right now,” the president of South Korea said, “my biggest challenge is that my parents are too demanding. Even my poorest parents, my poorest parents, demand world class education.” And I just so desperately wish that people were knocking down my door, and the President’s door, and their mayors’ and governors’ doors, saying “Damnit, you guys aren’t working fast enough!” I’ve never, ever, ever gotten that pressure. All my pressure was, “You’re going too fast, slow down, slow down, slow down.” I had no one pushing me to go faster. So we just need to think about, again, in a globally competitive economy, how we start to have the will, and do some things very differently and break some china, to get better much faster than we are today.

Preston Silverman: What do you think of Secretary Clinton’s proposal for free college and how would you compare it to dramatic expansion of Pell grants?

Arne Duncan: Yes, so I would say on debt — you all are better experts than I am — debt’s a real challenge. College costs more than it should. But honestly, the vast majority of people who graduate from college pay back their debt. I would say the worst debt is debt without a degree. Debt-free? That’s great. Let’s go to college for free? That’s fantastic. But if our college completion rates are still 40–42%, if you go to college for free and don’t get that degree, you’re still not going to get a good job. You might be in less debt. So for me the whole conversation should be how do we go from forty-something percent college completion to sixty, sixty-five, seventy, which is where the nations who are leading the world in college completion rates are at. That gives younger voters — it’s less motivating maybe, it’s less of a political issue — but my whole focus would be is how do we dramatically increase graduation completion rates for the nation and, very specifically, how do you dramatically, dramatically increase college completion rates for that bottom quintile, or bottom two quintiles in terms of economic income?

Preston Silverman: We’re coming up on time here, so we’ll leave you with a lighter one. We’ve heard lots of talk about who is better on the basketball court, you or the President, we want to know who it is.

Arne Duncan: I plead the fifth, one more real question.

Preston Silverman: Alright, what do you think states roles are in the funding question?

Arne Duncan: This is a better one to end on. I’ll both encourage you and challenge you a little bit. So I say all the time that budgets are numbers on paper, and budgets reflect our values. You can tell me what you care about, but show me your budget and I’ll know what you actually care about. I’d love to see the analysis over the past 20 years of how many states have increased what they spend on incarceration versus higher education. Incarceration has gone up. We as a society are very happy to lock people up at forty, fifty, sixty, seventy-thousand dollars a year, and somehow find it more difficult when it’s on the higher education side, or K-12, or early childhood.

Obviously I believe that an ounce of invention is worth pound of cure. So again, that has become the politically safe path to go for Republicans and Democrats, and I don’t blame them, I blame us. Until we start to vote on funding for education, and less on incarceration, we’re going to continue seeing these trends that are absolutely devastating. Mass incarceration has been a travesty, particularly in Black and Latino communities — anyway, that’s a separate subject. That’s where, just to encourage you, and also challenge you — I’ve talked to many governors across the political spectrum, and for me it can’t be more money for higher education.

You’ve got to have a conversation about outcomes, it can’t be free lunch, it has to be about outcomes.In this political climate, you can’t go back to taxpayers, you can’t ask for a nickel, if you’re not talking about outcomes. I am always, always the greatest advocate for more funding, for education at every level, but if you can’t talk about early childhood kids actually being ready for kindergarten, then it’s hard to justify that. If you can’t talk about high school graduation rates going up, and eradicating dropout factories — it’s hard to justify it, and I will tell you the number of governors on either sides of aisle, who say “Arne, I want to fund but I’ve got to know I’m getting something for my money.” And trying to talk to the higher education community about outcomes? Sometimes they’d rather shoot themselves in the head. It’s so hard to do, and it’s hard to measure learning, of course it’s hard to measure a lot of things.

This is where leadership is needed from your sector, from your universities, from you. And say “With X amount of additional funding, here’s what we’re going to better in terms of graduation rates, here’s what we’re going to do better around access, here’s what we’re going to do better around low income students and first-generation college-goers.” And it can’t be a blank check, or it’s just not going to happen. And again, to be very clear, I’ve had painful conversations with governors on both sides of the aisles, who back in their home states, were trying to get a little movement around accountability and outcomes, and, to put it on the table, cost containment in higher education. And those conversations were just painful.

For me, it’s always about grand bargains — greater investment for greater accountability. And you can’t ask for greater accountability without more resources. And you can’t ask for more resources without accountability. Unless you’re willing to play on both sides of that equation, were not going to get there. So yes, we should advocate for more resources and challenge governors to put more money behind this and not behind locking people up, but at same time, you’ve got to be very, very clear about what you doing — what you’re doing to increase outcomes, results, and student achievements, in the fight for equity in your state.

RaiseMe is a social enterprise that, in partnership with the White House, is focused on expanding access to higher education, especially among low income and first generation students. Rather than waiting until the end of high school to earn scholarships, which is often too late to impact a student’s college ambitions or choices, RaiseMe enables students to earn scholarships throughout high school, starting as early as 9th grade, for doing all the things that best prepare them to succeed, whether that’s getting good grades, volunteering in the community or joining an extracurricular. At RaiseMe, we’re focused every day on making sure every student has the opportunity to achieve their college ambitions and go as far as their skills and smarts will take them.

Cecilia is the Senior Manager for Content, Community, and Brand at RaiseMe. She leads all of RaiseMe’s communications efforts and got her career start working in higher education marketing. She loves to connect with different members of RaiseMe’s community of students, educators, and parents! In her spare time, Cecilia enjoys hiking, taking road trips, and spending time by the water.

Follow RaiseMe on Social!