Back-to-school bus stops for college tour at University of Louisville

Bus in front of Jeffersontown High School

Secretary Duncan stopped to pick up students at Jeffersontown High School before heading to the University of Louisville for a college tour and discussion.

Secretary Arne Duncan told more than a dozen high school seniors from Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday that the challenges they face in attending college will also be their badge of strength.

Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell talked with students in a round table at the University of Louisville during a stop on the Ready for Success bus tour aimed at helping students think about navigating the college experience. Many will be the first in their families to attend college, or to do so in this country, and they spoke of a variety of challenges – particularly, that while their parents want to support their college-going goals, they don’t know firsthand how to help.

A student whose parents immigrated from Tanzania spoke of the language barrier they face: “English is not their first language. Or their second. Or their third.”

Secretary Duncan told them that their role as pioneers should give them pride, and should be a source of strength for them – and, together with Under Secretary Mitchell, laid out tools that can help them, including the new College Scorecard.

All of the high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools – and, while they were all interested in attending college, some had fears about getting there. Unfortunately, fear prevents far too many academically-qualified young people from reaching their full potential beyond high school. More than half of high-achieving students from low-income families – 53 percent – never apply to schools with median SAT and ACT scores similar to their own. In fact, most students apply to just one, unselective school.

Secretary Duncan on a college tourAlongside University of Louisville Executive Director of Admissions, Jenny Sawyer, and Department of Education Under Secretary Mitchell, Secretary Duncan answered questions from high school seniors about the importance of higher education.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined the conversation, and Secretary Duncan praised his 55,000 Degrees initiative, which aims to help the city transition from manufacturing to innovation by increasing the number of college graduates in the city. He urged students to follow the guidance of Muhammad Ali, combining vision and effort: “Think big, and do the road work.”

Duncan urged students to remember that graduating, not merely  going to college, is the goal, and spoke of his own experiences being homesick when he went away to college at Harvard.

But the most electric moment came when Sawyer called out one of the students in the discussion and announced that he had been admitted to the University of Louisville.

Following the conversation, the Secretary joined the students on a campus tour, where dialogue continued.

All Americans – regardless of their zip code – deserve access to high-quality education that makes the journey to the middle class possible. The Obama Administration has taken several steps toward that goal, including simplifying the FAFSA, raising the maximum Pell Grant, introducing new tools and resources, and more.