Higher education is becoming an increased necessity for students and post-grads to become well-trained experts with a depth as well as a breadth of knowledge. And not only is college necessary for many jobs, but the Department of Education (ED) predicts $1 million more in lifetime earning by completing a college degree. The Secretary of Education walked us through the best ways to prepare our students to not just enter into higher education, but to finish strong.

Starting early

Education Secretary John B. King has made it his mission to ensure every student succeeds. In the modern global economy, this task is becoming more intensive. “There’s an increased emphasis on a well-rounded education,” says King, citing the need for creative, technological and critical thinking skills, “The fastest growing jobs require higher education.”

Because of the new skills needed in the modern world, getting ready for college now starts at the very beginning of a student’s career. ED is currently supporting the President’s “Computer Science for All” proposal, which aims to give $4 billion in funding to P-12 technology programs to ensure all students are learning today’s new technological languages.

CREATING POTENTIAL: King is working to ensure today's students have the tools for success, emphasizing higher education — as its completion yields more opportunity and greater earning.

“Technology will play a role across sectors,” says King, “We’re preparing students for jobs we can’t even imagine.” Computer literacy is crucial in the modern world, and preparing students early will get them ready to complete college and succeed in the new digital workplace landscape.

Getting informed

With more higher education institutions and more students attending them than ever before, there’s a greater challenge to find a school that’s a good fit. Many students will also be the first in their families to go to college, so having access to helpful resources in navigating the market of higher education is a high priority.

To help, ED has created the College Scorecard, which includes graduation rate, average earnings after graduation and information on paying back debt. “This is a valuable tool for making a well-informed decision,” says King, especially for students and parents who are “grappling with concerns about cost.”           

Financial prep

King understands that the price tag can often be a prohibitive factor in students completing college. “People who fail to complete are also more likely to default,” he says, which unfortunately has trapped many students in a vicious cycle. But King is looking to change that.

ED is increasing Pell grants, offering tax credits and streamlining the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is now available on Oct. 1 instead of Jan. 1, and can be filled out online with prior year tax info, imported directly from the IRS. ED has also provided their data for use in practical apps that help students more accurately determine the cost of colleges. King describes one student who “found out his dream school would actually cost less than the one he thought he had to go to.”

ON TRACK: To open up opportunity for more students, the ED is increasing grants, extending FAFSA deadlines and creating resources for students to make informed decisions about costs.

Staying the course

King doesn’t hesitate to re-emphasize the importance of actually finishing college. Education institutions and our nation as a whole will see a greater return on investment if we spend some extra time and money to ensure students are finishing their degrees and finding their ways into those crucial, new, highly-specialized jobs that need to be filled. “Students need academic advising and support,” says King “Investing in counseling nearly doubled completion rate.”

Some institutions are standing out by offering free community college, transportation stipends, or “just-in-time” loans for at-risk students who are in need of immediate financial assistance. In order to be prepared for higher education, students must have the support to complete it. King urges our nation’s institutions to provide greater assistance, and encourages students to be informed and ready to ask for the help they need.