March 13 2013 12:00 AM

An Obama administration official visits Lansing to make the case for higher education funding


Left is Eduardo Ochoa, right is Guillermo Lpez, treasurer for the Lansing Board of Education.

Monday, May 14 — A federal education official appeared at Eastern High School Friday to highlight the importance of higher education, financial aid opportunities and a push for federal programs that could help keep college costs down in Michigan.

Eduardo Ochoa, assistant secretary of education at the U.S. Department of Education, spoke to students, parents and teachers as part of his nationwide tour highlighting the issues.

As a lifelong educator, Ochoa said he knows first-hand the importance of a college education. He said it not only gives students a better shot at landing a job and improving their income, but it also “enriches” and improves their lives, allowing them to contribute more to the community and become more informed citizens.

By 2018, in “the world we’re moving into,” only 38 percent of the jobs in the U.S. will be available for people with a high school diploma or less, Ochoa said. All other jobs will require some form of higher education.

Even though higher education is becoming more vitally important to individuals and the country as a whole there has been a trend on the state-level of cutting funding to higher education, which Ochoa said is a “real problem.” Indeed, university officials in Michigan have been at odds with the state Legislature’s attempts to cut higher education funding in recent months.

A new campaign in Washington is aimed at three programs included in President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget, Ochoa said. If approved by Congress, it would take effect in October and have a large impact on the affordability of college in Michigan, he said.

The first is called the “Race to the Top College Affordability Competition,” which is a competitive grant program targeted at state governments. Michigan would have a shot at $1 billion dollars in federal higher education funding if state legislators applied for the grant and demonstrated a commitment to stable funding for colleges and universities, improved credit transferring between universities and community colleges, and logged adequate results in performance-based areas like graduation rates.

The second budget initiative is called the “First in the World Program” a grant program aimed universities and nonprofits that foster innovation in the areas of information technology, cognitive science and learning theory.

The final piece of the higher education puzzle is a major expansion of campus-based financial aid programs like Perkins loans and work-study programs similar to those available at Michigan State University.

Ochoa said parents and students should keep informed leading up to July 1, when a federal statute that has kept federal student loan rates at 3.4 percent expires. Ochoa said Republicans want the rate to increase to 6.8 percent.

Keeping the rate down would be a “huge win for students,” Ochoa said to the applause of the roughly 50 people in attendance.