Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter discussed the future of federal financial aid Thursday in Intercultural Center.

Kanter, who was appointed by President Obama in April 2009 after serving as chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, described the U.S. Department of Education’s mission as bipartisan.

“Whatever administration is in or out of office, our responsibility is to educate as many students as we can to the best of our ability,” she said.

According to Kanter, the department aims to increase the country’s proportion of college graduates.

“We had that a generation ago, and we lost that in a generation,” she said of the fact that the United States no longer produces the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. “We need a huge sea change across the entire spectrum.”

The department’s agenda includes doubling work-study funding, increasing the number of Pell Grants — federal grants offered to undergraduate students — and providing incentives for graduates to go into the public service sector.

“Our president said, ‘It’s an economic imperative.’… College affordability is fundamental to the future of society,” she said.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education David Bergeron joined Kanter on stage for a question-and-answer segment.

When asked about the possibility for bilingual education programs, Bergeron was optimistic. “One of the things we have to recognize is that for us to be globally competitive we need to be global,” he said.

Kanter also emphasized the need for adapting national education policies to a modern world.

“One size doesn’t fit all. … I am for what works. I am not for these old models of a certain kind of curriculum that might seem good but is failing kids,” she said. “My dream is that every student in the country would learn more than one language early.”

Both speakers emphasized the importance of protecting the Pell Grant program and providing support for teachers in the public school system.

“Forty years ago [the Pell Grant] paid for all, or at least two-thirds, of a four-year education. … It’s now paying for less than a third at places like Georgetown as costs continue to rise,” Kanter said. “Is education a take it or leave it thing?”

Kanter also talked about the need to reduce student debt.

“Debt is something we’ve got to tackle in a very systemic way,” she said. “We don’t want Americans taking out any more loans they can’t pay back.”

Students said they had a more positive outlook on the American higher education system after the event.

“I thought it was very uplifting,” Dylan Gaffney (COL ’15) said. “[Kanter] was very optimistic, looking towards the future.”

Martha Kanter and David Bergeron outlined the Department of Education’s policy goals.
Martha Kanter and David Bergeron outlined the Department of Education’s policy goals.

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