Under the Dome

Duncan calls for better student outcomes, more accountability in higher education

As debt-free college becomes a hotly debated topic in the 2016 campaign, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants to shift the conversation to student outcomes at the nation’s colleges and universities.

“If we confine the discussion to cost and debt, we will have failed,” Duncan said in a speech Monday at University of Maryland-Baltimore County. “Because we will have only found better ways to pay for a system that fails far too many of our students.”

Nearly half of all U.S. college students in the United States do not graduate in six years’ time. The student debt problem is severe for those who don’t graduate or earn a degree that employers don’t value, Duncan said in a conference call with reporters. “We know the most expensive degree is the one you don’t complete,” he said.

He called on accreditors to consider graduation rates in reviews of colleges and universities, and he called on states not to walk away from investment in higher education.

The education department released data showing that states with lower student loan default rates tend to have higher graduation rates. North Carolina rated better than many states on that score. The default rate for students at four-year universities is 9 percent in North Carolina, where the six-year graduation rate is 60 percent. Nationally, the default rate is 11 percent and the graduation rate is 55 percent.